Takoma Park competing for $5M Energy Prize -- Gazette.Net


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Takoma Park was the lone city in Maryland chosen as a quarterfinalist in a $5 million energy-saving competition run by Georgetown University.

The city is now putting together a more detailed two-year action plan on what it will do to reduce energy consumption, said Gina Mathias, who became Takoma Park’s first sustainability manager a few months ago. The deadline to submit the plan is Nov. 10.

“This will include more of the nuts and bolts about what we intend to do,” Mathias said.

The Washington, D.C., university’s first-time Energy Prize hopes to encourage the 52 quarterfinalist cities to save more than $1 billion in total energy costs and cut millions of tons in carbon dioxide emissions. They have to go through more qualifying rounds before the $5 million winner is announced in 2017.

Despite many energy-efficiency initiatives, the adoption rate for such programs remains at about 5 percent, said Francis Slakey, a Georgetown physics professor and executive director of the competition.

“We need radical thinking, starting at the community level, to fix this ‘stuck’ problem,” Slakey said in a statement. “And that’s what the prize is all about.”

Takoma Park’s plan involves not just what the city is doing, such as installing solar panels on buildings, but homeowners, business representatives and others. The city recently offered residents a chance to borrow a Belkin meter from the library that helps customers identify what appliances and gadgets use the most electricity.

Mathias is working on projects such as one with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. It helps apartment residents reduce their bills through tips like adjusting the thermostat when they leave and unplugging electronic items when not in use. Other projects involve helping homeowners purchase solar panels at reduced bulk rates through a cooperative arrangement and creating a sustainability website.

“Takoma Park is way ahead of the pack in many regards,” Mathias said. “But I think we are just at the tip of the iceberg as far as our sustainability efforts.”

Four places in Virginia were chosen for the Georgetown competition, including Arlington County. Others nationwide include Berkeley, Calif., Knoxville, Tenn., Madison, Wis., Aspen, Colo., Atlantic City, N.J., and Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Cities had to have between 5,000 and 250,000 residents. None in some well-populated states, including New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Texas, made the cut.

Competitors will be whittled down to semifinalists based on their long-term plans. Starting in January, those cities will compete for two years to reduce utility-supplied energy consumption. Finalists are slated to be selected in early 2017, with the $5 million winner chosen later that year.

Many competitors obtained commitments of collaboration from electric and natural gas utilities and community organizations. Funding for the prize is being provided by private donations.

Mathias said officials are not really sure what the city will do with the $5 million if it wins that sum. Takoma Park’s fiscal 2015 operating budget is $26.7 million.

“But we know it will benefit the residents,” she said. “We can do a lot with that amount of money.”

kshay@gazette.net