Berkeley selected as semifinalist in nationwide energy-reduction competition

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The city of Berkeley was selected as one of 50 semifinalists in the Georgetown University Energy Prize competition for its citywide efforts in energy-use reduction.

The nationwide competition will award a $5 million prize to the region that most imaginatively and effectively reduces energy use over the next two years. Berkeley’s preexisting Climate Action Plan, which put the city in a competitive position in the Georgetown contest, outlines an intended energy reduction of 33 percent reduction by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050.

“They are looking to reward an innovative strategy that could be duplicated in other cities,” said Neal De Snoo, energy program officer for the city of Berkeley. “But the main criteria is the actual energy performance in the residential and municipal sectors.”

De Snoo said the possibility of winning the competition has “made things more exciting”, but hasn’t affected the way the city plans to move forward with energy reduction initiatives.

Current strategies upgrade city buildings — such as the west branch of the Berkeley Public Library, which has been renovated to use zero net energy — and incentivize homeowners to receive energy assessments, which help guide them in making their homes run more efficiently.

Federal stimulus funds contribute to a $6,500-per-home cash incentive, which De Snoo said would help encourage citizens to engage in energy reduction initiatives.

According to Aaron Barry, spokesperson for Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the company provided an endowment of up to $20,000 to all semifinalists in their service areas. In Berkeley, these funds will hopefully be used to further incentivize residential energy reduction programs, De Snoo said.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, whose district recently switched to LED streetlights, said that even with the Climate Action Plan, not enough is being done by the city to promote energy efficiency.

“Individual people are doing a lot of conservation,” he said. “But I think our policies don’t encourage conservation as much as they could.”

Worthington said the city actively subsidizes for earthquake protection but needs to funnel more funds into residential energy efficiency efforts. He noted that the PG&E funding would likely be “gobbled up in the bureaucracy.”

“$20,000 is not very much money to accomplish much. This is a giant subject. It’s not going to go very far,” Worthington said. “I don’t think it’s good enough to just say we’re going to compete. I think we need to be more specific in what we are going to do and how we are going do it.”

While criteria for the Georgetown competition focuses on energy use directly from electricity and gas utilities, Berkeley’s Climate Action Plan regulates all energy use in the city.

Five other Northern California cities were semifinalists in the competition. The finalist will be announced in 2017.

Arielle Swedback covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @aswedback.