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Race for the Climate Cure 

Bend Energy Challenge aims for conservation and a cash prize

As the race against climate change continues, local efforts are well underway to make positive changes in Bend in support of the Bend Energy Challenge (BEC), an energy-saving competition, prompted by the Georgetown Energy Prize. As one of two Oregon semifinalists (including Corvallis), Bend is hoping its efforts will be enough to garner the top prize—$5 million.

The competition pits Bend against 49 other communities around the country to develop lasting, sustainable, energy-saving innovations. To make it this far in the competition, The Environmental Center, which is spearheading the challenge, partnered with municipal folks including the City, Bend Parks and Rec, the Bend La Pine School District, and the power companies—who are pulling all the data for the competition—to implement strategies to increase energy efficiency over the two-year period from 2015 to 2016.

"They were all really excited to do it," says Lindsay Hardy, project director for the BEC, "which shows how forward thinking we are here in Bend."

According to Gillian Ockner, senior policy analyst for the City of Bend, the City is participating through energy use reduction at its facilities, employee engagement, and policy changes. Many of these efforts are part of an ongoing attempt to better conserve energy at the City. For example, the City has been part of the Energy Trust of Oregon's Strategic Energy Management Program since 2012.

"We are on track to meet our goal of reducing energy consumption at our facilities by 15 percent from our 2012 baseline within a three-year period, through 2016. To date, we have saved 9.4 percent in electricity and 6.5 percent in gas compared to our 2012 baseline," Ockner explains. "Our estimated savings from reduction in energy consumption is $27,000 and we have received an estimated $5,600 in Energy Trust of Oregon incentives."

Thus far, she says, all those savings have come at minimal costs to the City. They've been able to achieve those reductions by simply fine-tuning building systems and educating staff in energy efficiency practices.

The BEC started at the beginning of this year, so it's well underway, but far from over. There are plenty of opportunities for Bendites to get involved and educate themselves about reducing energy usage, giving Bend a competitive edge for the competition—and the future. This week is a particularly good time to get involved because it's the Bend Energy Challenge Week and the 15th annual Green Tour—a week of energy education and inspiration for the whole family and building community.

"The tour is really exciting because we are celebrating people who are doing things right in the community, and these are great examples to see first hand what you can do. So even if you're not building a new home, there are takeaways from the tour about what you can do in your own home," Hardy explains. She also notes that there are two retrofits on the tour that show what's possible when doing upgrades and improvements on existing homes. One home was built in 1971 and the other in 2013, "showing that your home is never too old or too new to have a tune-up."

However, you don't have to buy a new home or do a major renovation to participate in the BEC. Hardy encourages community members to start by taking the pledge to be a Bend Energy Hero at bend.wattzon.com. The website offers online tips for saving energy that don't require a significant financial investment or a major behavior change. Next, she says, consider having an energy assessment done on your home. Local businesses like GreenSavers, Neil Kelly, and Button Up Energy are all available to do comprehensive analyses of how homes are using, and losing, energy. Another simple step: Get an energy kit from the Energy Trust of Oregon; the kits contain up to 12 free light bulbs, which provide instant energy savings. And finally, Hardy says, don't underestimate the power of word of mouth. Every person who learns about the Bend Energy Challenge puts the group one step closer to its 5,200 engagement goal.

"Just having this conversation is helpful," she says.

While $5 million is a good motivator for Bendites to make some positive changes in their homes, lifestyles, communities, and the climate, it's not just about the prize. Whether or not Bend takes home the top prize, it's already starting to reap rewards. While the data isn't in yet, the preliminary accounting shows that the community may have already saved more than a million dollars this year through conservation.

"If we win, we win," Hardy says, noting, "but even if we don't win, we still win."

Check out all the workshops and homes on the tour at

bendenergychallenge.org/events.

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