Most people don’t think about energy use. In the United States, 86 percent of all energy generated is wasted. But now the pressure is on for Duluth residents to conserve energy and possibly win a $5 million prize. Due to the efforts of Jodi Slick, the founder and chief executive of Ecolibrium3 — an organization aimed at achieving a sustainable future through environmental and economic solutions — the city of Duluth has been nominated to participate in the Georgetown University Energy Prize.
Over the next 2 years, Duluth will compete with 51 other cities in the United States, including Madison, Wisc.; Berkley, Calif.; and Fairbanks, Alaska, to create and implement long term energy-efficiency plans to reduce their residential and utility-supplied energy consumption.
In 2017, a board of experts at Georgetown University will compare the amount of energy used in the residential and municipal sectors in 2013-14 to the energy used in 2015-16. The top-ranked community will receive a $5 million prize.
Slick views this prize as a valuable incentive to spark different problem-solving opportunities. Considering Duluth’s knack for competition and collaboration, Slick is very confident in Duluth’s ability to achieve that prize.
“Any community that can convince the world that they are the best outside city after 75 days below zero is pretty darn competitive,” Slick said of Duluth’s attributes. “On the flip side of the coin, Duluth is very cooperative — we look at problems and we solve them.”
One major challenge regarding energy conservation is Duluth’s population of people living in poverty. Low-income individuals spend the most on energy use because they are in the oldest and cheapest homes, according to Slick. In addition, the many historic houses of Duluth and the outdated energy systems they use is a main source of wasted energy in Duluth. Slick maintains it is fundamental to update the energy efficiency while preserving history of those buildings.
Another challenge Duluth faces, renters, stems from the city’s status as a college town. One out of every three Duluth residents are renters, and a majority are students. The renting system can hinder energy efficiency in the sense that if the renters don’t pay for energy, they aren’t motivated to conserve it. On the flip side, if the landlords don’t pay for the energy, they have no desire to invest money in making the house more energy efficient. “We need to figure out how to incentivize both sides to get efficiency work done,” Slick proposed.
To create change, it is fundamental to implement strategies to improve citizens’ behavior and interest toward saving energy, as well as improving how buildings use energy.
According to Mindy Granley, the UMD Sustainability director, there is not one big change that can be made to raise energy efficiency. There are, however, many little tasks that can be done.
“Little things times lots of people adds up to a big difference,” Granley said. “Especially if it is thousands of students doing them.”
Students can be indirectly involved by turning off the lights, closing windows or switching to LED lights. Students can also invest their energy and passion and contact Jodi Slick and her team at Ecolibrium3 to be directly involved with the Georgetown Energy prize effort. Artists and Graphic Design majors can develop fun ways to spread awareness. Engineers and Finance majors can focus on ways to save energy and money. Education majors can go out into the schools with fun lessons about conserving energy.
By bringing forth their individual talents and interests, everyone can contribute to Duluth’s performance in the contest.
“We’ll just find volunteers to go to the other cities and constantly leave the lights and heat on in the house,” Slick joked about strengthening Duluth’s chances of winning.
Though it would be neat for Duluth to win, Slick knows that the change created by this undertaking is the most important aspect. $5 million is a pretty amazing incentive, but achieving energy efficiency and conservation is a much larger reward.
BY MAKAILA MILLER STAFF REPORTER