So far, 2016 has witnessed the City of Bellingham’s unveiling of the Kilowatt Kitty and will witness the introduction of a major in energy policy and management, laying the groundwork for an important year for energy policy in this community.
Both the university and the city’s efforts in creating a sustainable community are tied to Bellingham’s participation in the Georgetown University Energy Challenge. Bellingham is currently in seventh place out of the 50 semifinalists, but if the city can become the most energy efficient community by the time the winner is announced in 2017, Bellingham could receive $5 million dedicated to sustainable development.
Publicity surrounding the energy conservation effort came to a head Feb. 3 when Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville dubbed 2016 the “energy year” highlighting the city’s collective effort to address energy conservation. She also introduced Kilowatt Kitty, the cape-wearing mascot for the effort, who danced down the steps of city hall and high-fived those in attendance.
“The city’s been a huge leader for this program and the campaign,” said Rose Lathrop, green building and smart growth manager at Sustainable Connections, one of the city’s partners in the conservation effort. “They have taken the initiative to be the main point of contact to Georgetown University.”
As an outgrowth of the Georgetown Energy Challenge, the Energy Transitions Research Lab has helped put together Project RENT, a student-led program that offers peer-to-peer education to help students living off-campus reduce their environmental impact.
This project was designed by students and is advised by Thomas Webler, Western professor and liaison to the city for the Energy Challenge.
“The idea for Project RENT is that students would respond to peer-to-peer mentoring,” Webler
said. “People like to figure out what the social norm is and follow it. So if we can establish a social norm for energy conservation, then people are more likely to want to adopt it.”
Project RENT allows students to schedule a meeting with one of the project’s conservation educators who will look through the student’s electrical bill and prepare some money-saving techniques by reducing energy use. Students can then follow up via email if they have additional questions.
The current educators have gone through training with Puget Sound Energy and Cascade Natural Gas, but Webler hopes to turn the project into a class.
Western student Stefanie Neale, who had the idea as part of her master’s project, has been working with Webler to establish a self-sustaining Project RENT program.
During the class, students will be taught by the conservation educators on energy saving methods. A small group of interested students from this initial class will then go on to become the conservation educators for next year’s class.
“It’s a student-taught, student-led course,” Webler said. “It’ll be a one credit [class] for as many students as we can get to sign up for it. I think we could even do 100 students.”
Sign-up for a free consultation with Project RENT at their website: http://www.energytrans.org/project-rent.html.
The city’s plan to meet the energy goal has focused on making energy improvements in three key sectors: residential homes, municipal zones and schools.
Partnering with RESources for Sustainable Communities, the city has started an educational campaign teaching energy saving techniques to students for both at school and at home. A 2014 pilot project was able to reach to over 1,000 students at 31 local elementary schools. Forty more classrooms registered in 2015.
In order to address residential power conservation, Bellingham has called on residents to participate in the Community Energy Challenge initiative, led by Sustainable Connections. The initiative allows residents to schedule home energy assessments, during which an analyst will identify opportunities for homeowners to save money through sustainable building projects.
In order to tackle the energy issues presented by multi-family units and apartment complexes, Bellingham has teamed up with Anacortes on the Multifamily Deep Energy Retrofit Pilot, which will focus efforts on improving energy efficiency in two multi-family buildings, one in Bellingham and the other in Anacortes.
If this project is successful, it could serve as an example for other multi-family buildings looking to save energy and money.
Sustainable Connections has also launched the Solarize Whatcom campaign, involving donating panels to the Bellingham Food Bank.
In 2015, Bellingham replaced 3,615 streetlights with more efficient LED lighting, predicted to cut about 2 million pounds of carbon dioxide output annually.