Knoxville Advances to Quarterfinals in Georgetown University Energy Prize

Saving money through energy efficiency is already a sweet deal, but the chance to win a $5 million prize sweetens the pot quite a bit. Today marks the official start of the quarterfinalist phase of the Georgetown University Energy Prize, a national two-year competition to reduce energy usage through coordinated community efforts in small- to medium-size towns, cities and counties. The 50 quarterfinalist communities are distributed among 26 states across the country, including the Southeast. Knoxville, Tenn. is one of the quarterfinalists, and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) is a formal partner in planning Knoxville’s energy-saving strategy. The other quarterfinalists in the Southeast are Huntsville, Ala.; Calhoun County, Ark.; Winter Park, Fla.; Chattanooga, Tenn.; Arlington County, Va.; Blacksburg, Va.; and Charlottesville, Va.

The competing communities will be judged based on residential and municipal energy savings in 2015 and 2016, and the quality of the energy-saving strategies employed. The finalist round will be announced in 2017, and the winning community will receive $5 million to support local energy efficiency programs.

Knoxville’s efforts are being coordinated by the city’s Office of Sustainability, but the competition is a community initiative. In addition to SACE, the formal partners in Knoxville are Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB), University of Tennessee’s Office of Sustainability, Knox County Schools, Alliance to Save Energy, Tennessee Interfaith Power & Light, Harvey Broome Group (Sierra Club), and Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment. SEEED, Southeast Energy Efficiency Alliance and Climate Knoxville have also expressed interest and intent to participate.

To focus the partnership’s work to educate residents about lowering their utility bills, several of the community partners have formed a group called Knoxville Scores. If you are interested in participating, please contact Climate Knoxville at climateknoxville[at]gmail.com. Also, if you would like to receive more information or submit an idea, you can fill out this survey.

To create its Community Energy Efficiency Plan, Knoxville incorporated several existing local energy efficiency initiatives, as well as new ideas to be implemented during the two-year competition period. One of the existing initiatives is the city’s Smarter Cities Partnership, which was formed following the May 2013 release of a Roadmap to Residential Energy Efficiency report provided through a grant from IBM. Based on one of the recommendations from IBM, KUB recently announced a new program called Round It Up, which will round up customers’ bills to the nearest even dollar amount and use the funds to provide energy education and free home weatherization for low-income residents. The program is set to launch in May 2015, and customers are required to opt-out if they do not wish to participate. Even if half of KUB customers ultimately opt-out, Round It Up could raise more than $600,000 per year.

Knoxville Scores will also be spreading awareness about the Tennessee Valley Authority’s (TVA’s) suite of Energy Right Solutions energy efficiency programs. We recently reported on the opening of TVA’s  new eScore program, which could make a big contribution to the total energy savings in Knoxville and across the Tennessee Valley.

The Georgetown University Energy Prize is an excellent opportunity for community organizations to rally around a united strategy for saving energy and reducing carbon pollution. The competing communities will serve as an example to the rest of the country as the Environmental Protection Agency works to finalize its Clean Power Plan for reducing carbon pollution from existing power plants. Energy efficiency is the most cost-effective way to reduce carbon pollution, and community support is essential to making sure that people have the tools and know-how to reduce their carbon footprints, lower their utility bills, improve home comfort, and protect the health and prosperity of current and future generations. Are you currently working to fight climate change in your community? Let us know about it in the comments below!

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