Despite loss, community reaps benefits of Energy Prize competition

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published February 12, 2018

 Farmington Hills, Farmington and Farmington Public Schools participated in a $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize competition and celebrated the two-year kickoff event Jan. 17, 2016, at the Costick Center with Swing Farmington.

Farmington Hills, Farmington and Farmington Public Schools participated in a $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize competition and celebrated the two-year kickoff event Jan. 17, 2016, at the Costick Center with Swing Farmington.

File photo by Donna Dalziel

FARMINGTON/FARMINGTON HILLS  — Although the greater Farmington area lost out at the chance to win $5 million — and the money wasn’t even there at the end of the national Energy Prize competition anyway — the community’s effort earned it a place as a semifinalist.

The contest charged communities to re-evaluate energy use and to put into action creative ways to increase efficiency. 

Georgetown University Project Coordinator Andrea Smith confirmed in an email that the much-heralded $5 million prize was converted into an alternative prize package because they failed to raise the money. The prize now consists of complimentary classes and training.

Fargo, North Dakota, was announced as the Georgetown University Energy Prize winner in December 2017 because it had successfully reduced its energy consumption in the competition against other communities with populations between 5,000 and 250,000. 

Fort Collins, Colorado, came in second. Takoma Park, Maryland, and Bellingham, Washington, tied for third place, according to a press release.

Farmington, Farmington Hills and Farmington Public Schools joined forces in April 2014 at the launch of the competition.

The cities and school district signed off in 2014 on a memorandum of understanding that outlined their plans for the competition.

According to the memorandum of understanding, Farmington Hills served as fiduciary and administrator; facilitated meetings, promotions and events; researched and applied for grants; and chipped in $100,000 to support program staff, travel and the like from the start of the competition to June 2017.

Farmington committed $25,000 and worked with the program administrator and project team to encourage the community’s engagement and attendance in program functions.

FPS agreed to coordinate with the program administrator and project team to implement the program’s educational portion, among other things.

Farmington Hills Special Services Deputy Director Bryan Farmer said entities including DTE Energy and Consumers Energy informed them of how many kilowatts were being used throughout the community, “so we reduced that quite a bit,” he said. The total reduction could not be obtained by press time.

According to a press release, throughout the competition, members of the community underwent over 3,000 home energy audits and received over 1,500 LED — or light-emitting diode — light bulbs, 300 energy kits, 300 solar lights, 50 smart and Wi-Fi thermostats, and over 1,500 reusable water bottles.

Farmer said that while the competition is finished, the Farmington-area community is still going strong on energy smarts.

“Just because the Energy Prize is over doesn’t mean we’re done with that. We have a sustainability coordinator part time,” Farmer said, adding that Farmington Hills parks purchased 70 recycling receptacles to place throughout city parks. The current sustainability coordinator position is part time with a rate of $14 per hour, funded through a grant, Ellen S. Schnackel, director of Farmington Hills’ Special Services Department, said in an email.

The blue bins are situated next to brown trash bins throughout city parks. According to a press release, visitors can recycle plastic containers, metal containers, cardboard and other items to keep them out of landfills. 

In June 2016, the city of Farmington Hills unveiled its latest water bottle filling station, at the Heritage Park Splash Pad. Panasonic donated about $3,000 to kick off the water bottle filling stations. Two refillable water stations were tested at the Farmington Hills Ice Arena, and Farmer said that in less than a year from the time of the reveal, each station had filled over 35,000 bottles. Since first being placed in 2014, they have filled over 300,000 bottles.

The water-filling stations were part of the efforts for the Energy Prize competition. He said that the goal is to have all city facilities have water-filling stations.

There are three water-filling stations in Heritage Park, two at Founders Park, two at the Farmington Hills Ice Arena, one at the Farmington Hills Police Department, one at the Farmington Hills Fire Station, one at the Department of Public Works office and two at the Costick Center.

“Our goal is to reduce trash and be more sustainable,” Farmer said. 

Farmer said that city officials are working on a Styrofoam recycling program at the Farmington Hills Ice Arena.

Farmer said that on Earth Day, April 22, the city of Farmington Hills will unveil Heritage Park’s extended Nature Discovery Education Trail — to span from the splash pad to the nature center, connecting the north and south ends of the park.  

“There is going to be a lot of educational areas — five different new areas that we’ll talk about ... invasive species taking over our native areas,” Farmer said, adding that the trail will promote sustainability.

According to a press release, the trail will feature science, technology, engineering and math education pods. Trail activities will inform attendees about stormwater runoff, native and invasive plant species, and more, the release states.

Through the Energy Prize competition, the Special Services Department created Unplugged Summer Camps, where young campers were given the chance to explore the world outside of Wi-Fi, according to a press release. 

Farmington Hills Ice Arena Manager Brian Moran said that the 70,000-square-foot arena, located on Eight Mile Road, changed from fluorescent lighting to LED lights during the competition.

“Our energy bills have gone down between the gas and electric over the last couple of years to the tune of about $30,000 or $40,000, and that is not just lighting,” Moran said, adding that a new automated system that keeps the ice at temperature has helped too.

Moran said that the system shuts off when the ice rink is at the appropriate temperature, whereas before, it used to run 365 days a year/seven days a week.

“That makes a huge difference as well,” he said, adding that he remembers the Energy Prize officials asking the ice arena staff how they planned to reduce their energy.

“The Georgetown (team) helped the city push along these projects,” he said, adding that while it would have been nice to win the prize, things are on the upswing. “It definitely did help us in terms of budgetary items. … We’ve gotten our return on investment — it’s been good on us.”

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