The program began when Georgetown University created the competition to incentivize cities to conserve energy. Bellingham applied to the competition in 2013 and was selected as one of the semi-finalists to compete for the prize, according to Mark Peterson, who works for Sustainable Connections, a nonprofit organization in Bellingham that promotes environmental goals for the northwest, and has been helping spread the word about Bellingham Energy Prize,
Currently, the first, second and third place cities are: Huntsville, Alabama, Aspen, Colorado and Fargo, North Dakota. Bellingham is currently in a three-way tie for fourth place between Park City, Utah and Bellevue.
The benchmark energy test was taken in 2013-2014 and will be compared to the energy usage at the end of 2016. Currently, Bellingham has an 11 percent reduction in energy usage, approximately the same amount as Bellevue, Peterson said.
“Behavior change takes a long time, and it’s important that the reminders are out there, and that’s one more good thing about the Bellingham Energy Prize,” Peterson said.
The competition is based on the energy savings shown from municipal buildings and private schools, public schools and residential buildings as well as innovative and replicable outreach methods, Peterson said.
“We think we’ve got a great shot of winning it,” Peterson said.
Bellingham practices sustainability in a myriad of ways. It boasts one of the highest solar installations per capita in the state. It’s also one of the top ten green power purchasing cities in the nation and it has a food and farming program that supports local agricultural, Peterson said.
“Our general community seems to understand sustainability and get on board with it,” Peterson said.
Western Washington University is one of the partners of the Bellingham Energy Prize and helps promote the competition. The academic and dormitory buildings are not a part of the competition, however students living off-campus do make a big difference, Peterson said.
“I think there’s a great synergy between the university and the Bellingham community that helps promote innovative thinking and different ideas,” Peterson said. “A lot of people move to this community because they know we have a lot of green practices.”
Diana Meeks, who also works for Sustainable Connections, said she has received overwhelmingly positive feedback about Bellingham’s participation in the program.
“It’s a win for Bellingham and it’s a win for families and individuals,” Meeks said. “You can save some money on your utility bills and it feels good participating in a competition that’s good for your home and good for our city.”
The prize is judged on a baseline sample of energy usage compared to a new test after a period of time. Bellingham has to save more energy than it already has been.
“A lot of the stuff that’s left to do is capital improvement measures, there are things that cost a little bit more money,” Peterson said. “There’s still a lot of work to do.”
Simple energy saving practices include waiting to do a full load of laundry, making sure all lights are off and opting to walk to work or school a few days a week, Meeks said.
“The general residences within Bellingham are pretty excited about the possibilities of what that five million could do,” Peterson said.
Registering a profile on BellinghamEnergyPrize.org can give residents a list of ways they can save energy depending on the information they provide on their residence, Peterson said.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time, and one of the things that came up on the website when I created my profile was that felted wool dryer balls will actually reduce the static of your clothes and make your clothes dry faster, and you don’t have to use any dryer sheets,” Peterson said.
Jennifer Ewing, environmental stewardship program manager for the city of Bellevue, said the city had already been dedicated to reducing energy more every year.
“A lot of people I talked to are already doing these things and they’re already aware of ways to save energy, so I think that’s a bit different than other cities, people’s awareness is pretty high,” Ewing said.
Bellevue had a solar campaign with workshops that taught the benefits of solar energy, as well as financing mechanisms for solar energy. A total of 88 homeowners switched to solar energy after the campaign, Ewing said.
“People are excited about us participating in the prize,” Ewing said. “They see the grand prize is the five million dollars and recognize that’s a pretty significant chunk of money that we could do some exciting things with.”
Bellevue also participated in a Green Power Challenge with Puget Sound Energy, an outreach effort that encouraged people to increase their energy bills to buy renewable energy.
Bellevue has introduced similar incentives as Bellingham, such as asking its residents to take an energy pledge and reduce their energy use in six simple ways.
The pledge includes turning off electronics around the house, and a shorter shower with a high efficiency shower head, turning off lights, washing clothes in cold water and turning off thermostats.