By Kailey Fisicaro

The Bulletin

Free LED light bulbs

The Environmental Center will install up to 16 free LED light bulbs in your home, which can save as much as $160 on your utility bill annually. To sign up, go to:

Bend just missed the top 10 ranking so far in a national energy conservation competition among 50 communities.

Bend’s team, “Bend Energy Challenge,” made 11th place in a preliminary ranking. The team is encouraging residents to reduce energy use to compete for the Georgetown University Energy Prize of $5 million. The competition takes place over two years while teams of cities or counties work on conserving energy in ways big and small. In early 2017, the competition will be narrowed to 10 finalists, and the winner will be announced in July of that year.

Lindsey Hardy, project director for Bend Energy Challenge, said it was great news hearing Bend is already close to the top 10.

“It’s kind of a good strategic position,” Hardy said, adding it shows conservation efforts have been working, but that more needs to be done. “We have a few different things we’re looking at for the new year.”

When the competition began in 2015, Hardy said The Environmental Center, which is leading the team, focused on informing people about the competition. This year, more action will be taken.

“We just launched the ‘Do Just One Thing’ campaign,” Hardy said. The campaign asks residents to, quite obviously, do just one thing, giving people one specific tip each month, such as switching to more energy-efficient LED lightbulbs.

“This month we are focusing on furnace filters,” Hardy said. “People don’t realize they need to change their filter once a year.”

When a filter is clogged, your furnace has to work harder. Plus, Hardy said, a clean filter is also better for your health.

Another campaign Bend Energy Challenge is working on is educating Bend sixth-graders about renewable energy and conservation. Once the children go through the lesson, they become “Certified Energy Savers.”

The kids can do an energy assessment of their home to let their parents know tips on saving energy. They might recommend their parents install LED bulbs or lower the thermostat, for example.

There will also be a program in the Bend-La Pine district in which schools compete against one another in brackets to save the most energy. In that case, La Pine schools will be involved, too.

Hardy said the students will be able to help notice lights left on and computers left on but not in use.

And because the national conservation competition analyzes how much energy is being used by homes and governments, the city is stepping up to do its part.

Gillian Ockner, a senior policy analyst for the city of Bend, said she has scheduled weekly meetings with The Environmental Center and Facilities Manager Grant Burke to look at what the city can do to conserve energy.

“It’s been really a very collaborative and engaging experience to date,” Ockner said.

Ockner said the city was conservation-minded before this competition came along, embarking on an energy use reduction program, the Strategic Energy Program, through the Energy Trust of Oregon in 2012. The target was to reduce energy use 15 percent by the end of 2016, and the city is on track to meet, or even exceed, that goal.

Still, competing for the Georgetown University Energy Prize, the city has increased its efforts.

Six streetlights on the Bill Healy Memorial Bridge were converted to LED in October 2015, for example. There will likely be some policy changes for residents (such as with development standards), and there have been changes within city offices, too.

“In fact, we just implemented a program with our IT department that essentially promotes energy conservation through the way in which computers time out,” Ockner said. If computers go untouched for a certain amount of time, they are set to enter sleep mode automatically. That program is estimated to save the city $16,000 a year.

“Most of what we can do to meet this challenge is underway,” Ockner said, adding aside from looking at broader energy issues, staff has helped take on “the low-hanging fruit” like changing lightbulbs.

Ockner said city staffers have been piping up about the daily energy problems they encounter — a light they notice always on when they get to work, or areas of offices that are overheated.

“The Bend Energy Challenge is not an endpoint, but the start of continual improvement over time,” Ockner said. “I think we’re all very aware of that.”

The city is also looking at the feasibility of installing solar panels on existing buildings as well as future buildings. Ockner herself just had solar panels installed at her home so that 44 percent of its electric energy will now be powered by solar. She said it’s something she considered when she originally had the house built , but since then federal and state incentives have improved.

“We saw the opportunity to do the right thing at the right time,” Ockner said.

The Environmental Center doesn’t expect everyone to make such large-scale changes, but it does encourage other good habits, such as using LED lightbulbs. Right now, the center is offering to install up to 16 free LED bulbs per household, a program funded in collaboration with Energy Trust of Oregon, where Hardy is a board member. The center is also offering water-saving devices like faucet aerators.

Part of the competition, Hardy said, is to show that the community is engaged in the conservation efforts. Hardy said in that regard, among others, she feels Bend Energy Challenge has been successful so far.

“I think there are a lot of people who are excited about this,” Hardy said.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325,