A two-year energy-saving challenge in Bend wasn’t enough to take home a $5 million prize, but participants say a citywide energy reduction was still a win.

Bend ranked 17th out of 49 cities in the Georgetown University Energy Prize, which measured cities’ energy use in 2015-16 and will help the winning city obtain a $5 million loan. During the two years, Bend saved enough electricity to power 2,188 Oregon homes for a year and the city government cut its energy use by 11.5 percent, according to a press release from the Environmental Center’s Energy Challenge program.

Energy Challenge program director Lindsey Hardy was not available Tuesday, but said in the press release that the group was proud of Bend’s performance.

“When we joined the competition, we believed that win or lose, our work would result in real reductions in energy use that paid off for Bend,” she said. “The competition results show that’s exactly what happened.”

Georgetown challenged communities to reduce their energy use per capita. While Bend’s total energy usage went up in conjunction with the city’s rapid growth, the energy use per household decreased by 1.8 percent in the challenge period.

Bend residents found many ways to reduce their energy use, Hardy said.

“People turned off their lights, changed their thermostat settings, unplugged appliances, and washed clothes in cold water,” she said. “They completed energy assessments of drafty houses and then added insulation and replaced old furnaces with super-efficient heat pumps. And some converted to rooftop solar and built new homes that are super-efficient.”

More than 3,200 homes in Bend installed a total of 46,839 energy-saving LED light bulbs during the competition with help from the Energy Challenge. LED bulbs use less energy and last longer than incandescent or fluorescent bulbs, said Ani Kasch, LED project assistant for the Energy Challenge.

“The LED bulb lasts for 20 years at least, so that’s an advantage,” she said.

The bulbs are more expensive initially than incandescent or fluorescent light bulbs, but they’re five or six times more efficient than incandescent bulbs and can save homeowners an average of $100 a year on electric bills, she said. Homeowners in Bend, Redmond, Sisters, Tumalo and unincorporated surrounding areas can get up to 16 free LED bulbs to replace incandescent light bulbs by contacting Kasch at 541-385-6908 ext. 26 or ani@theenergychallenge.org or by signing up online.

LED bulbs installed by the Energy Challenge saved 2.8 million kilowatt-hours of power and about $333,000, according to the release. That doesn’t include bulbs installed by Pacific Power, so actual savings related to LED bulbs are likely higher, Kasch said.

The City of Bend reduced its energy usage in municipal buildings by 11.5 percent and saved about $30,000 on electrical bills between 2013 and 2016. The city achieved most of this through already-planned facility improvement projects, replacing inefficient light bulbs and making sure lights and computer monitors were off when people weren’t using them, Bend Senior Policy Analyst Gillian Ockner previously told The Bulletin.

Bend’s water filtration and wastewater treatment plants use the bulk of the city’s energy, and efforts are underway to make the two plants more efficient. The city also recently raised the money it needs to hire a short-term sustainability coordinator and create an energy action plan by the fall of 2019.

Many local businesses also signed on to the Energy Challenge’s goal. While Whole Foods in Bend was not among them, the grocery store has spent the past year trying to conserve energy as part of a companywide energy efficiency initiative and followed ideas similar to what the Energy Challenge recommended for businesses.

The store upgraded its heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, added doors to every refrigerated area and replaced 17-year-old automatic sliding doors with new models that don’t open unless someone’s actually trying to go in, spokeswoman Rebecca Burda said. It also recently added solar panels to the building it leases and wants to encourage other businesses to do the same, she said.

“We’re going to see a really big drop in our electric bill,” she said. “There is a real-time savings.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2160, jshumway@bendbulletin.com