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Bainbridge Island in national spotlight with RePower campaign

Bainbridge Island provides an inspiring example in a new report about how small cities are charting the future of energy innovation.

Faced with the prospect of building an expensive new power station, the community came together instead and conserved enough energy to avoid it.

In late 2009, Puget Sound Energy told Bainbridge Island’s city council they were exceeding their peak load for electricity. They had 3 power substations. They were going to need another one – at a cost of about 12 million dollars.

“They had actually even identified a piece of property for where they’d be building that fourth substation,” says Hillary Franz, who was on the city council at that time.

They found out their residents were consuming 60% more electricity than the regional average, mostly because of older homes lacking insulation. But Franz says the need for a new substation was driven by energy use on just the coldest mornings of winter.

“For about 4 days out of the year, for only ten hours out of the 8,080 hours of the year, we were exceeding that peak capacity. For the rest of the time, we were way below.”

So they launched a public campaign to get people to conserve energy – especially on those winter mornings between 6 and 9 am – reminding people to put off running laundry machines or dishwashers. They also worked with the utility to create a digital dashboard, showing people in real time exactly how much energy the island was using.

“And we put that in over 10 public spaces around the island. So we had it on the ferries, that half of our community commutes by every day," Franz says. "We have it in bookstores, we have it in bakeries, we have it in the chamber of commerce, we have it in the library. So we put it in very public spaces and we also put it on the web site.”

RePower Bainbridge from Climate Solutions on Vimeo.

The Repower Bainbridge campaign reduced their peak load by 10 megawatts in the first winter alone – five times the savings they needed.

Besides changing their short-term habits, they also got a federal stimulus grant to weatherize the island’s inefficient homes.

The campaign is creating dozens of jobs for contractors doing the upgrades, as well as energy assessments on thousands of buildings.

The Repower program extends into Bremerton and Kitsap County, and Franz and her colleagues have traveled to communities all over the country to tell their story.

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