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Smaller Towns And Cities Get Aggressive On Energy Efficiencies

By Roger Valdez

Ambitious programs to build sustainable communities.

I have written about energy efficiency programs in Cascadia’s three largest cities and how each of these communities is working to combine federal, state and local dollars to incentivize energy efficiencies.

What about some of the region’s smaller cities? Small cities have as much to gain – and to lose – as the big urban centers.

When I was last in Oregon I was surprised to hear that Lincoln City was endeavoring to become carbon neutral. One of the last times I was in Lincoln City was to see George Jones at the Chinook Winds Casino. It seemed the last place in the world that would be making carbon neutrality a goal. But Lincoln city has a lot at stake.

At just 11 feet above sea level, Lincoln City is well within the danger zone for rising sea levels caused by global warming. So, they’re getting proactive. The City will combine a mix of energy savings along with purchase of renewable energy and carbon credits to achieve neutrality. There is some ongoing debate about whether these methods truly lead to neutrality. But it’s hard to argue with Lincoln City’s dedication to efficiencies and sustainability -- and even the Casino has taken measures to shed 900 tons of emissions annually. Because of this focus, Lincoln City became an EPA Green Power Community in 2007.

And speaking of Green Power Communities, Bellingham, Washington, was not only selected for the program but became the Washington's first green power community. The EPA’s program focuses on voluntary community-wide efforts to create energy efficiencies and reduce the environmental impacts of energy consumption including greenhouse gas emissions.

This fall, Bellingham will initiate the Energy Efficiency Community Challenge aimed at substantially reducing Bellingham and Whatcom County’s consumption of electricity through an incentive program designed to motivate retrofits of existing residential and commercial buildings.

The strategy is similar to Portland’s and Seattle’s, with low interest loans funded through the use of Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant money, a social marketing program to promote the loans, and training programs to prepare workers for green jobs doing the retrofits.

The goals of Bellingham’s program are ambitious. In the first 18 months, the plan seeks to have 100 Whatcom County businesses reducing their energy use a minimum of 5 to 15 per cent and 1000 residential housing units saving 5-30 percent of their energy use. The work of retrofits should eliminate 2,100 metric tons of CO2 per year, create $24,875,000 of economic activity in Whatcom County and create 35 new green collar jobs.

Smaller towns and cities in the region aren’t being left behind the race to create energy efficiencies and reduce their impact on climate change. And the side benefits – jobs, efficiency savings, and quality of life – may be substantial.

This piece originally appeared in Sightline Institutes blog, The Daily Score.

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Gibsons, BC, pop 4,200, is planning to heat a new neighbourhood with a district geothermal utility owned by the Town. The project hit a bump with the fall in the local housing market but should be ready to implement as soon as construction picks up again.

Posted by: Charman Ravine on 6 Jun 09

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