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Task force challenges islanders to use energy efficiently

In response to a utility provider's complaint that the island needs a new electrical substation to deal with an overloaded grid, a group of local energy conservationists banned together last spring and created an alternative plan to alleviate the pressure.

With those thoughts in mind, the Bainbridge Island Energy Challenge was born. The challenge was created by the Community Energy Task Force, a collaboration between elected officials and community members, and encourages residents to inspect their personal usage to help Puget Sound Energy manage consumption.

"We think the island can save some money, save energy and create jobs in the community," said Joe Deets, vice-chair of the task force.

Deets said the group is in a fundraising phase. The task force is looking to access several federal stimulus programs focused on sustainable energy. The challenge should be launched later in the year.

City councilor Hilary Franz said the challenge will help a community that uses nearly twice as much energy as the average PSE user.

Franz said the island features numerous opportunities for upgrades. Half the houses in Bainbridge were built before 1983, meaning they weren't constructed with some of the energy efficient techniques used on new homes, Franz said.

One of the primary goals of the plan was to create jobs, including some in the construction industry. Franz would like to see unemployed construction workers come in and retro-fit some of the out-of-date homes.

Deets said as soon as he and his wife, Tammy, began paying attention to how they used electricity, they cut consumption by nearly 30 percent. The Deetses didn't exactly stop using electricity either, but they also stopped unnecessary uses such as turning lights off when not in the room; getting motion-sensor lights outside; and drying their clothes on a line outside instead of using an electric dryer.

The task force formed in May after several meetings with PSE, which has been working on a new substation in order to meet the growing need for more energy.

"The demand for electricity on Bainbridge will soon exceed the available resources," said PSE spokeswoman Rebekah Anderson.

Anderson said PSE would like to find a way to reduce demand, which would make construction of a new substation unnecessary.

Deets said the group's goal is not to prevent the creation of the new substation, but it is the group's aim to slash usage during peak hours in the winter and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A new substation would be the fourth on the island, including the one that serves the northern part. Deets said another substation is just buying time. If people aren't challenged, they will continue to use energy inefficiently.

PSE has a couple alternative plans designed to help reduce power usage as well. Anderson talked about Demand Response, a program that allows PSE to monitor customers' consumption, and when energy demand spikes above capacity, turn down the usage. The program would give customers the power to override PSE, should it be necessary.

Residents can get involved with the challenge in a variety of ways. Task force meetings are open to the public each Thursday from 7-9 p.m. at Eagle Harbor Congregational Church.

Once the challenge goes live, residents will be able to sign up for energy audits, which allow them to have their homes inspected by energy experts. The audits tell the residents how the house can become more efficient.

Franz said the task force will be looking for volunteers to help with projects.

"We plan on making this an opportunity for people to reach out to their neighbors," she said.

For more information, visit: www.cenergysolutions.org/AltSubstation2

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