Duluth advances in energy-saving competition

An energy-saving competition with a $5 million prize at stake entered its next phase on Wednesday — with Duluth one of 50 small- to medium-sized cities nationwide to be named a semifinalist.
The Georgetown University Energy Prize will go to the community that most successfully cuts its use of natural gas and electricity during the next two years. Duluth applied to take part, and simply being selected as a semifinalist for the prize is an honor, 1st District Duluth City Councilor Jennifer Julsrud said.

“The wonderful news is that entrance into this competition is an acknowledgement that Duluth is already a leader in community energy-efficiency programs,” she said.

But Julsrud called on residents to join in the effort.

“In order to be successful, we need to get off to a fast start. We’re asking you, every one of you, to get involved,” she said.

Duluth will need to harness residents’ competitive as well as collaborative spirit, said Jodi Slick, CEO of the Duluth Energy Efficiency Program (commonly known by its acronym, DEEP).

She noted that Duluth will compete with many warm-climate cities that see their energy demand peak in the summer.

“They have a little time to get prepared to really start saving energy,” Slick said.

“In Duluth, however, we have to kick things off quickly, because this is the season in which we use most of our energy. And that’s why today as part of the Georgetown University Energy Prize launch, we’re challenging all citizens to get involved in Duluth’s ‘dash to the cash,’ ” Slick said.

Despite the length of the competition, Slick warned of the dangers of complacency.

“We’re used to marathons in Duluth, and when we have to work for two years to reduce energy, it’s going to be a  marathon. But the best way to run this race is from the lead,” she said.

Slick laid out a campaign that will ask Duluth residents to take at least five actions in the next the next 50 days that trim their overall energy use by 5 percent or more. For conservation measures and tips, residents can visit duluthenergy.org.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness praised the team that is leading the campaign.

“We are poised to be very competitive, and I think that we are poised to win this contest and bring additional resources back to our community that will help us,” he said.

Ness contends that the whole city stands to benefit from the effort.

“When we invest in our energy efficiency, we are investing in our competitiveness and our ability to stay competitive into the future for many years to come,” he said.

Win or lose, residents can achieve tangible savings, as Tina Koecher, manager of energy efficiency at Minnesota Power, pointed out

“Regardless of where we end in this prize competition, there’s no losing proposition. We’ll be saving energy along the way. We’ll be making effective choices about how we’re using energy, and we’ll be understanding more about energy,” she said.

The competition is designed to demonstrate energy-saving strategies that can be replicated across the nation, and Julsrud said the potential stakes are high.

“While as a nation we’re experts in mining coal, America does a poor job of mining for efficiencies. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, more than half of the total energy produced in this country is wasted due to inefficiencies,” she said.