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Cambridge is among 52 small- to medium-size communities getting to the quarterfinals of the Georgetown University Energy Prize with its energy conservation ideas, possibly winning $5 million for those ideas when the competition ends in 2017.

Just by taking part, the communities are saving up to $1 billion in total energy costs nationwide, as well as cutting millions of tons of greenhouse gas emissions, organizers said, and the real prize of the competition would be showing the country painless ways they can do the same.

Energy conservation efforts under way in Cambridge include solar panels installed by the Gravestar company on Porter Square businesses.

Energy conservation efforts in Cambridge include solar panels installed by the Gravestar company on Porter Square businesses. (Photo: Google)

The entrants selected to compete “are leaders in energy efficiency who will develop innovative approaches that will inspire and enable others to follow in their footsteps,” said Dr. Francis Slakey, founder and executive director of the Georgetown University Energy Prize.

Cambridge is motivated to succeed because it pays some of the highest energy prices in the country, so the next challenge is to motivate renters, landlords and homeowners to tackle energy efficiency and solar installations, according to a press release announcing the competition that goes on to say “significant energy efficiency strides are necessary for the Cambridge community to achieve net zero emissions for all energy use in buildings.”

Aligned goals

Despite the goal of achieving net zero emissions, the citizen-written Connolly zoning petition that proposed net-zero-emission rules for the city and the municipal Net Zero Task Force resulting from it have not played a role in the competition, city director of communications and community relations Lee Gianetti said.

The city started to consider competing in the Georgetown University Energy Prize in June 2013 – the same month the citizen-written zoning proposal was filed with the city – but the Connolly petition “was not the impetus to compete,” Gianetti said. “The work that is happening around net zero and the Georgetown prize complement each other in terms of goals.”

Cambridge assembled a municipal team, outlined a plan and secured signed commitments of collaboration from Nstar, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Home Energy Efficiency Team to enter the competition. The Net Zero Task Force hasn’t played a role in the prize yet, “but the goals of the task force and prize certainly align well,” Gianetti said.

The competition

The participating communities are asked to develop a long-term energy efficiency plan and show that it is sustainable over a two-year test.

From July 2013 to April of this year was the pre-launch period in which communities filed letters of intent to take part in the challenge, and the quarterfinals run from this month to November so detailed plans can be filed and judged. The two-year trial runs from January 2015 to December 2016, and the finalist selection, judging and granting of awards takes place between January and June 2017.

Prize officials say the communities will be judged in part on their ability to:

bullet-gray-smallCome up with innovative approaches to cutting per-capita energy use.

bullet-gray-smallHighlight ways utilities, businesses and local governments can create and implement inventive plans for sustained energy efficiency.

bullet-gray-smallEducate the public and engage students on energy efficiency issues.

Next steps

“Getting to the quarterfinals is just the beginning. Now the Cambridge community needs to generate real energy savings by upping everyone’s commitment to energy efficiency and solar,” City Manager Richard C. Rossi said in the press release.

Brian Murphy, assistant city manager for community development, said the next few months would be to turned over to looking for input and participation from the community “through our school children, educational institutions, landlords, tenants and homeowners” and fine-tuning energy-efficiency plans.

The Net Zero Task Force was not mentioned among those who would be tapped for input and participation, but “we welcome hearing from individuals who want to volunteer their time and energy to making Cambridge the home of energy innovation,” Murphy said.