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Next city energy challenge could be worth $5 million

How much more energy-efficient could you become if you were in the running for a $5 million prize?

The good news is Claremont was selected as one of 52 communities to participate in the Georgetown University Energy Prize (GUEP). The competition challenges US communities to work together with local government and utilities to develop and implement plans for innovative, replicable, scalable and continual reductions in the per-capita energy consumed from local natural gas and electric utilities.

The competing communities hail from all points on the compass—from Alaska to Vermont, from Michigan to Florida—and comprise a representative sample of communities with populations between 5,000 and 250,000. Residences and all K-12 schools as well as municipal buildings, street lights and parking structures will be included in the two-year citywide challenge, with Claremont being the only community in Los Angeles County competing for the energy conservation prize.

Working closely with the city and spearheading the competition for Claremont are none other than Sustainable Claremont and the CHERP Community Home Energy Retrofit Project.

“I got into this because I was surprised that 80 percent of total energy use in Claremont is being used by residents,” said Devon Hartman, executive director of CHERP. “We feel we’ve made inroads to energy efficiency and we’ve got a great shot!”

More than 60 residents gathered at The Hahn Building on Monday evening for a Sustainable Dialog presentation, focused on the Claremont energy challenge. Detailing the goals of the program, Mr. Hartman explained the steps participants could take to contribute in their quest to achieve energy efficiency.

“The first step is education,” says Mr. Hartman. “When you learn what’s possible, you get inspired to change behavior. Narrowing the conversation between the city and residents, communicating all the benefits, has proved to be the hardest thing to do.”

Steps two through five, according to Mr. Hartman, include tasks ranging from switching out standard lightbulbs to LEDs to more ambitious endeavors like installing solar panels.

“We will set goals,” said Mr. Hartman. “Each household can choose any path that they want. They can start small and end up with some big changes. There is quite a bit of urgency around this, though. The more we can do sooner, then the more opportunity there is to create a difference between the next two years and the baseline two years.”

The GUEP is comprised of four stages that began in April 2014 with the application process and conclude in June 2017 with the winning community receiving a projected $5 million prize to be spent on energy-efficiency programs that reward the community as a whole. In order to compete for the GUEP, the city had to obtain the cooperation of The Gas Company and Southern California Edison.

Claremont has successfully completed the first two stages of the challenge and will begin Stage Three, the Semifinalist Performance Competition, from January 2015 through December 2016.

The utility companies must report the community’s baseline energy use from the two years prior to the competition. In the months that follow, utilities have committed to reporting the total monthly energy directly supplied by natural gas and electric utilities to all municipal and residential customers, as well as the monthly number of residential bills issued.

“The city will have access to aggregated data from the utility companies,” Mr. Hartman explained. “Every household will be included, but the city and the GUEP will not be privy to individual household data.”

During the 24-month competition stage, the utilities will provide the GUEP administrators and local community leaders with monthly aggregate energy data, and the community will provide informal progress reports at least once every two months. GUEP will publicize the reports as well as the competition status on a “Performance Dashboard” via a website, which will be fed monthly with the city’s energy data.

Earlier this year, Claremont participated in another energy competition, the CoolCalifornia Challenge, taking second place and walking away with $22,797 and the title of Cool California City. Claremont was one of only 10 cities that participated in the six-month contest in which thousands of households across California competed for the biggest citywide carbon footprint reduction. Participating households tracked their energy and household vehicle emissions to reduce their carbon footprints, and earned points in the program that resulted in a big win. The Georgetown program differs in that participants only get credit for cutting back on two things: natural gas and electricity.

“This program is based on actual energy usage as measured by Edison and The Gas Company. It’s adjusted to be per capita and also for the climate and things of that sort,” said Freeman Allen, Sustainable Claremont Chair. “Devon has done most of the work, devising a schematic to get the community involved with organizations creating individual sub-plans and contacting their members. We would like to crosslink with as many organizations as possible.”

There’s no denying that $5 million is a lot of money and would be a great benefit to the city in terms of its long-term sustainability goals. The city’s sustainability plan already includes a goal of reducing community-wide energy consumption by 13 percent of 2006 levels by 2015 and 20 percent by 2020. 

To learn more, visit guep.org or contact Mr. Hartman at devonhartman@cherp.net or Sustainability Coordinator Alexis Reyes at alexisreyes@sustainableclaremont.org.

—Angela Bailey

news@claremont-courier.com

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