Davis competes for $5 million in national Georgetown University Energy Prize

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 11.08.06 PMThe Georgetown University Energy Prize (GUEP) announced the City of Davis as one of the 50 semi-finalists Jan. 14 in a competition that began in April of last year. The competition encourages medium-sized towns and cities to reduce energy use through creative strategies that can be implemented and sustained long-term. Participants are motivated by a $5 million incentive to engage their community and increase energy efficiency by working with local businesses and local government.

After completing an application process outlining the cities’ plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, GUEP announced the quarter-finalists, asking them to submit a more detailed description of their long-term plan. Now, the 50 semi-finalists from across the nation have until June 2017 to implement their strategies for increased energy efficiency.

“[The GUEP is] an opportunity to put forward a really well thought out plan for reducing greenhouse gasses. It’s an opportunity for us to do some of the work that we are interested in doing in terms of figuring out… actions that we can take as a community to reduce greenhouse gases. The planning process is really good for us no matter what the outcome is, and that’s why we are participating in [the GUEP], because it gives us an opportunity to really do some good, significant, community outreach planning,” said Davis Mayor Pro Tem, Robb Davis.

Davis adds that winning the GUEP would give the City of Davis the necessary money to implement further carbon emission reduction. This could be done through further community outreach and education.

Towns participating in the GUEP can either create a plan to reduce carbon emissions or build off of an already existing model. In 2010, the Cool Davis Initiative (CDI) was started as a way to implement strategies to combat climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. The CDI aims to engage residents and local businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Davis.

According to Nick Buxton, communications coordinator for the CDI, the GUEP encompasses many of the goals established by the CDI and adds to the city’s motivation to achieve those goals.

According to the CDI mission statement, the organization aims to “reduce carbon emissions to 15 percent below 1990 levels by 2015, achieve carbon neutrality by 2050,” and engage 75 percent of Davis households to participate in the initiative.

“We don’t have a coal plant in town or any really big industries so most of the emissions from the city come from how we live, how we work and how our houses are set up. So we look at three areas: energy, transport and consumption because those are the main ways we produce emissions….The Georgetown Energy Prize is part of our work and it galvanizes that work,” Buxton said.

The CDI partners with local businesses to improve their carbon emissions and find ways to save energy. In 2010 the Davis Commercial Food Scrap Collection Project (DCFSCP), initiated by owner of Café Italia Shar Katz, was launched as a pilot program to reduce landfill waste through composting.

According to Katz, the CDI was instrumental in getting the DCFSCP started and motivating other businesses to join. She explains that people in the community hear about these programs through hearsay and if more people are involved, others will join as well.

“Cool Davis has grown and has done a great job getting the word out there that there’s so many different avenues — be it your lights, your household, it starts there. For [Café Italia] as a business it was really interesting to see how on board our crew is. They see things, such as composting, which maybe they had never done before, and then those things can trickle into households as well,” Katz said.

According to a U.S. Census Bureau report, 18.6 percent of Davis residents commute by bike ranking the city number one in the US for percent of residents who do so.

“We’ve got a good track record,” Buxton said. “We want to win this prize and really model how to tackle energy efficiency, not just here in Davis, but in the whole country.”

Photo Courtesy of Georgetown University Energy Prize.