If a sports announcer were broadcasting the Take Charge Challenge competition, here’s what you’d likely hear:
“At the bottom of the first quarter, Lawrence is trailing Manhattan 2 to 1. The Little Apple’s done a fine job of reaching out to students, homeowners and local businesses. If River City wants to win it, they’ve got to increase their focus on switching out incandescent light bulbs and post better numbers at community events. There’s a lot on the line here, folks.”
And really there is a lot on the line: as in $100,000.
Since January, Manhattan and Lawrence have been competing to see whose residents can save the most energy. The winner receives $100,000 to spend on a renewable energy project.
In the first two and a half months of competition, Manhattan has Lawrence beat in two of the three categories:
• Four percent of Manhattan residents, close to 2,500 people, have been involved in the process. The Take Charge Challenge Manhattan leadership team has reached out at home shows, basketball games and through Kansas State’s campus and Greek system. In comparison, about 1 percent of Lawrence’s population has participated.
• Both Lawrence and Manhattan have switched more than 3,000 incandescent bulbs to more energy efficient compact fluorescent ones. However, because Manhattan has fewer residents, the per capita amount of energy saved is higher.
• Lawrence has dominated in one area: the number of energy efficiency audits done on homes. In Lawrence, 51 audits have been done compared with four in Manhattan.
That’s good news because that’s the category that saves the most energy and money, according to Lawrence and Douglas County sustainability coordinator Eileen Horn.
“It’s great to be leading in this category because it is the one that requires the most front-end prep work,” Horn said.
At the start, Lawrence’s leadership team focused on reaching out to homeowners and neighborhood associations to encourage people to make significant changes to their homes, Lawrence’s Take Charge Challenge coordinator Margaret Tran said.
In the coming weeks, Lawrence’s Take Charge Challenge plans to reach out to more university students, something Manhattan has been more focused on and which partially explains its high community participation numbers.
“We are planning to be at almost every major community event possible to get the community engaged,” Tran said.
Both Tran and Horn think Lawrence can easily catch up to Manhattan.
“We are down, but we aren’t out,” Tran said.
Of course, no matter which city comes out ahead, the real winner is the homeowner who saves money. So far, the two towns have made energy efficiency upgrades that will save $13,000 in natural gas costs and $3,000 on electric bills.
So, want to be a team player? Here’s how you can help Lawrence be the Take Charge Challenge champion.
Whole house retrofits
• Through the Kansas Energy Office’s Efficiency Kansas program, homeowners can sign up for an audit that details what improvement projects will save the most energy and money. These audits typically run between $500 and $600, but until the end of September, they can be done for $100. To sign up, go here.
• Once the audits are completed, homeowners have the option of making those home improvements. To cover the cost, zero-percent interest loans are available through Westar Energy. The loans, which can be as much as $20,000, can be repaid through the monthly electric bill.
Other Energy Efficiency Measures
• The most significant measure in this category is the number of incandescent light bulbs that are switched to CFLs. As a step in the right direction, Take Charge Challenge will be handing out free CFLs at Saturday’s Earth Day Celebration in South Park.
• Anyone who has switched to CFL bulbs since Jan. 1 can earn points by registering the switches online. The Take Charge Challenge leaders also will have sign-up sheets at community events for residents to record the changes.
• Small businesses also can participate by switching T12 bulbs to the more efficient T8 ones.
• Another way to compete in this category is to install a programmable thermostat through Westar Energy’s Watt Saver program. Customers can sign up to have a free, programmable thermostat installed in their home (it comes with a $300 value). Residents can control their thermostats from any computer connected to the Internet. In return, Westar can cycle on and off air conditioners and heat pumps during the hottest days of the year to lessen the energy loads during the periods of highest demand.
So far, Lawrence has had 94 programmable thermostats installed compared with 17 in Manhattan.
• KU students should be on the lookout for Take Charge Challenge events around campus. Organizers plan to set up a booth at the KU Energy Conference from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Thursday at the Oread hotel. Afterward there will be a brown bag lunch for KU faculty and staff.
• On Saturday, Take Charge Challenge volunteers will be at the Earth Day Celebration in South Park. Stop by their booth and say hi. Visiting the booth is one way to help earn community participation points.
• Saturday afternoon, Westar is having a do-it-yourself home energy audit class that will teach homeowners how to assess the amount of energy being lost in a home and how to make energy-saving improvements. The class will be at the South Park Recreation Center in conjunction with the Earth Day Celebration.