Athens County Chosen For Next Level Of Energy Conservation Competition

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Athens County has qualified for the next level of an energy conservation competition in which the winner will receive a $5 million prize.

In December, the county commissioners decided — at the suggestion of Commissioner Chris Chmiel — to submit a letter of intent to compete for the Georgetown University Energy Prize.

Since then, volunteers have been working to put together an application for the competition. This week, the county was notified it is among 52 applicants to qualify for the quarterfinals of the competition. The city of Oberlin is the only other Ohio applicant to qualify.

"The enthusiasm of these communities is contagious," competition Executive Director Francis Slakey said in announcing the quarterfinalists. "This is the first time so many governments, utilities and community groups will be working together to reduce energy consumption."

Susan Shroad, who has been working on the Athens County project, said that so far about 45 people have become involved in the local effort and more are being recruited. The core planning group has established 10 subcommittees, and people are still needed to serve on those.

To qualify for the quarterfinals, a proposal had to be submitted for bringing together the community to develop an energy conservation strategy.

"We essentially submitted a plan to plan," Shroad said.

Chmiel said part of that involved getting the cooperation of American Electric Power, Buckeye Rural Electric Cooperative and Columbia Gas to submit usage data.

By Nov. 10, a detailed plan for an energy-saving program must be submitted.

Shroad said the plan must include a strategy for reducing electricity and natural gas consumption on the residential level, in government buildings and in schools.

Chmiel said organizers would like to hear from schools and teachers who would like to get involved.

"One of our biggest challenges is the rental world," Chmiel said, because tenants have little incentive to save energy if landlords pay utility bills. Athens has a high percentage of rentals because of the university.

Based on the plans that are submitted, Georgetown University Energy Prize officials will select semifinalists. The semifinalists will then compete for two years to reduce their utility-supplied energy consumption. In 2017, finalists will be selected and they will submit final reports that will be judged.

The $5 million prize must be used to benefit the community in accordance with the winner's energy-saving program.

Shroad said that even if the grand prize eludes Athens County, participation in the competition has benefit because it will give the community tools for reducing energy usage, which will become increasingly important as energy costs increase.