Will Huntsville win the Georgetown Energy Prize? Why it matters.

single-meta-cal December 6, 2016

Here in football country, this is not an inappropriate analogy:

Huntsville has the lead, at least the last time it saw the scoreboard. But it’s late in the fourth quarter. There’s a push to make sure the lead is secure.

The “game” is for the Georgetown University Energy Prize, with a campaign that ends Dec. 31 and which awards $5 million to the winning city. Huntsville has been tops among 50 cities, according to intermittent reports during the two-year competition.

There is a bigger game. That’s the one to encourage residents and businesses in Huntsville to continually improve their energy conservation habits.

“Somebody who modifies their energy usage and they’re strict about it and it becomes a habit and a new culture, they could lower their energy bills by five to 10 percent.”

The City of Huntsville’s Operation Green Team and Huntsville Utilities have teamed up in the Georgetown campaign, with a strong partner in Huntsville City Schools, whose efforts have been key in both the prize competition and long-term.

“The City Schools have built a lot of new schools and they’ve put all energy-efficient innovations into them,” said Joy McKee, director of Operation Green Team. “They’ve made a huge dent in the amount of energy that is wasted.”

The campaign’s foundation has been the “Take Five” program, through which citizens can make a dent in their power bills and in overall conservation. The five items are:

  1. Change to LED lighting. Users should pick the five most-used lights in their homes and switch from incandescent bulbs to LED. A homeowner who changes 15 bulbs could save an average of $50 a year.
  2. Unplug! The phrase is “vampire appliances,” for those that suck up the most energy. Unplugging 25 to 40 consumer electronics when not in use – a toaster, a phone charger, game consoles or even a cable box while you’re traveling – can save up to $200 a year.
  3. Set the thermostat right. Heating and cooling make up half the average family’s home energy bill. Set it to 78 degrees in the summer and to 68 degrees in the winter; thicker socks and a flannel throw are a good trade-off to cutting energy and costs.
  4. Take a 5-minute shower. Water heating makes up 18 percent of the average bill. Shorter showers, clothes washed in cold water and making sure the dishwasher has a full load before using reduces waste heat.
  5. Keep it closed. Though a full weatherization can be costly, do simple things like closing a garage door and making sure windows are closed if heat or air conditioning is running.

“That’s five easy things that most people can do,” McKee said. “Let’s just say they did the ‘vampire.’ Look what that impact would do, no longer wasting that energy.”

“It’s like what Grandma said. When you’re not in the room, turn the light out,” as As Dr. Harry Hobbs, the Public and Government Affairs Liaison for Huntsville Utilities put it.

“Somebody who modifies their energy usage and they’re strict about it and it becomes a habit and a new culture, they could lower their energy bills by five to 10 percent,” Hobbs said. “A full modification, with LED lights, insulation, etc., it could approach 20 percent.”

Huntsville Utilities’ HEEM (Huntsville Extreme Energy Makeover) Program has certainly been a strong asset in impressing the Georgetown panel. With a $11.7 million grant from TVA, Huntsville Utilities has led the way in helping low-income families retrofit homes that are 20 years or older to become more energy efficient.

This last-quarter push toward the Georgetown University Energy Prize will be a continuation of the awareness effort that’s been going full-bore for months.

As McKee put it, “We’ve been preaching from the rooftops.”

Huntsville Utilities hosted some 1,500 fourth-graders this fall in a session to teach energy awareness, billboards promoting “Take Five” are all over town, local media have provided public-service announcement opportunities and McKee, Hobbs and others have taken advantage of those figurative rooftop opportunities, whether it be at halftime of a high school basketball game or a civic club luncheon or home-owners association meetings.

Then, beyond that, as McKee said, “we’ll be holding our breath” awaiting word on the Georgetown prize. For the bigger game, the efforts won’t stop.

Watch these videos to learn how to save energy and $$$