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PSE gives island another chance

Puget Sound Energy announced at Wednesday’s City Council meeting that it will give community members the next three winters to reduce its energy use through the Repower Bainbridge energy challenge before it pursues permits or construction on new infrastructure.

The announcement is a major achievement for the numerous community members who spent hours over the last year developing a plan, partners and structure to reduce energy.

Energy consumption on the island has been a major concern over the last several years and has led to serious concerns from PSE. PSE officials approached the council over a year ago wanting to build new infrastructure in order to operate a safe, reliable system. Members of the community spoke out wanting to find a way to reduce energy usage.

PSE spokeswoman Linda Streissguth said PSE has listened to the community and is willing to give Bainbridge residents and community members the chance to reduce their energy usage.

The caveat is that the community has to remain below a 58-megawatt (MW) threshold – meaning Bainbridge needs to demonstrate a usage trend of staying below 58 MW in order for PSE not to pursue building a new substation and transmission line. The city peaked over 58 MW three times last winter.

Streissguth said PSE will continue to monitor the trend over the next three years, but will pursue new infrastructure if energy consumption reaches the threshold and continues to trend upwards.

“This is new ground for us and were interested to see if the community can in fact take control of energy uses and reduce that peak load,” said Streissguth.

Through the energy challenge, titled Repower Bainbridge, the community will have numerous opportunities to reduce energy consumption. PSE needs the island to drop general usage by two MW every year for the next two years. An example of reducing two MW is if every residence reduces consumption by 832 kWh, which is roughly the energy it takes to power a refrigerator. Two MW is also the amount of energy used to charge 606 electric vehicles if they were all plugged in at once.

The average Bainbridge home uses 19,000 kWh per year compared to 11,797 kWh, which is the average usage of other cities PSE supplies to. On Bainbridge, approximately 4,000 homes were built before the energy code was established in 1980 and about 66 percent are heated electrically, according to councilor Hilary Franz, who helped create the challenge.

“It’s a very big challenge, but if any community can do it I think we have the ability,” said council member Kirsten Hytopoulos.

As part of the challenge, trained advisors, contractors and workers will provide free reviews and audits on energy efficiency and solar options in an effort to help homeowners save on energy costs and lower usage. The goal is to complete energy assessments on at least 4,000 island homes and at least 100 commercial assessments. The goal is to reach a 20 percent reduction in energy usage island wide by 2013.

Through the assessments there will be incentives, rebates and low-interest financing available for community members to pursue energy projects.

Currently 560 homes are participating in a demand response program provided by PSE, which is the first of its kind for the PSE. As part of the program participating homeowners have their heat cycled on and off for brief intervals during peak energy periods to reduce the load. All residents are invited to participate especially during the peak hours of 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. when the temperature is the coldest and current infrastructure is strained. A community energy dashboard will be displayed online, in downtown Winslow and at the ferry terminal to provide real-time data of energy usage on the entire island. Residents will receive reports comparing their usage with their neighbors, a monthly newsletter and personal online energy management tools. There will be home energy IQ workshops provided on a quarterly basis.

The goal is to raise awareness and provide the community with tools to become more energy efficient.

The challenge will be funded by a $4.8 million U.S. Department of Energy grant and a $135,000 state grant from the Department of Commerce, as well as an additional grant from the Department of Commerce.

Partners in the challenge include: the City of Bainbridge Island, City of Bremerton, Kitsap County, Kitsap Credit Union, Positive Energy and other local community organizations, Sierra Club, Puget Sound Energy (PSE), Olympic Community College, Olympic Workforce Development Council/Worksource, Cascade Natural Gas, Energy Market Innovations and the City of Seattle.

“The state wants to look at what we are building here,” said Franz. “We will be pathfinders in the state of Washington.”

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