Save energy; win big!

Posted on May 16, 2015

Athens County is a semi-finalist in the Georgetown University Energy Prize, a two-year competition that challenges communities to reduce energy use through innovative, community-based solutions. The winning community receives a $ 5 million prize and national recognition as an energy trailblazer. Stay tuned to The Athens NEWS for biweekly coverage of UpGrade Athens County’s progress.

Athens County: We have a mission. We want to show the world that we can transform our community into to a lean, mean, energy-efficient machine in just two short years. Sure, it’s an audacious goal – the best ones usually are – but we’re off to a great start with the launch of UpGrade Athens County (UAC). Dead set on winning the Georgetown University Energy Prize, UAC joined the competition to catalyze a movement and energize necessary change: everything from switching to LED light bulbs to installing a rooftop solar array counts toward winning the competition, and we’re well on our way to take the prize. But, we are going to need everyone to do his and her part, saving energy one kilowatt at a time.

UpGrade Athens County was created as a special project of the Southeast Ohio Public Energy Council (SOPEC), and with the help of more than 20 organizational collaborators and volunteers, a strategy was developed to meet the competition objectives. The plan is to enlist homeowners, renters, building managers, businesses and students all over Athens County to do their part to save energy and invest in clean energy alternatives that strengthen our local economy. The more innovative, replicable and permanent the change, the more points we receive in the Georgetown Prize. A number of initiatives are underway, and signs of progress are everywhere.

Electric Aggregation: Because many Athens County residents are now participating in electric aggregation through SOPEC, our community has a significant advantage in the Georgetown competition. SOPEC provides county aggregation customers with reasonably priced energy combined with energy-efficiency programming and local generation of renewable power. Roger Wilkens, executive director of SOPEC, recently attended the Green Energy Ohio (GEO) annual conference to explore energy initiatives around Ohio and network with key stakeholders in the energy industry. During the conference, Athens was mentioned more often than any other community for its innovative aggregation approach, lauded for combining energy efficiency with local generation of renewable energy.

3 MW Solar Farm: In conjunction with Empower Gas and Electric and Hecate Energy, UpGrade Athens County is working to bring a solar generation facility to Athens County this year. Slated for an old county landfill, this project could provide renewable energy to municipal building accounts, generating enough power to serve over 300 small buildings. Additional solar farms are being considered for other sites around Athens County.

The Green Schools Initiative: Public schools throughout Athens County will receive support for creating energy-efficiency improvements to school buildings that result in significant cost savings on utility expenses. Following infrastructure improvements, schools will have the opportunity to install a grid-tied solar array that is cooperatively owned, giving the entire school community the investment power and benefits of renewable energy generation. In early May, Go Sustainable Energy conducted an energy audit at Athens High School using thermal-imaging technology and other data-tracking devices, serving as a the first school in the county to participate.

Rental Efficiency: Because most residents are renters in Athens County, UAC is working with landlords to improve the energy efficiency of rental housing. Convincing renters and landlords to discuss ways to save energy, through a dual-incentive strategy, will be a large part of the process. Throughout the competition, we will encourage landlords to receive energy assessments on their properties and support renters by highlighting the importance of energy efficiency as a way to reduce their utility bill.

Home Energy Assessments: UpGrade Athens County has been working for months collaborating with a dynamic set of partners to create an in-home energy assessment and basic energy-efficiency upgrade. In the coming months, Upgrade Athens County will roll out our Residential Home Energy Assessment Program. The assessment package, provided by Empower, will save homeowners energy and money with smart thermostats, attic insulation, sealing of air leaks, and LED bulb replacements, offering high impacts with low costs.

Sarah Conley-Ballew, director of UpGrade Athens County, noted, “The competition has just begun, and already there’s a lot of momentum from folks throughout the county to make big changes to save energy.” Throughout the competition, community members are encouraged to get involved by making smart energy choices in their daily lives. Together we’ll win this prize and show the world that Athens County is indeed a leader in the sustainable energy transition.

To learn more, plug into the clean energy movement at

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