In 2014, the City of South Burlington, under the leadership of its Energy Committee (SBEC), joined a competition called the Georgetown University Energy Prize (GUEP). With a $5 million prize for energy projects for the winning community, groups like SBEC came together in more than 50 small and medium-sized communities nationally. As in many communities, GUEP was the catalyst to advance change which was already underway in South Burlington. GUEP focused on innovative approaches to decreasing per capita energy usage, best practices for sustained energy efficiency, and public education in methods, benefits, and environmental costs of the full fuel cycle.
During the two-year measurement period, SBEC hosted or participated in over 50 events, laying the foundation for ongoing progress. South Burlington residents took action and are now saving over $750,000 in energy costs per year as a result – and continued savings will lead to more than $5 million in their pockets over time. Those savings continue month after month for those who undertook major changes, but also for simple changes such as switching lighting over to LED bulbs or switching to low flow shower heads. While the GUEP has now concluded with Fargo, ND as the winner, energy savings itself is a prize that is within the reach of everyone.
Green Mountain Power CEO Mary Powell said that GMP was “delighted to partner with South Burlington as we transform our energy future to one that is more home-, business- and community-based. The impressive grit, dedication and commitment we saw in this community is a great example, as we all work together to lower carbon and cost, while increasing reliability. This is our energy future and it is bright!”
Because of the excitement of being in a competition, SBEC has retained the branding created for GUEP and you will continue to read about the South Burlington Energy Prize. The prize is won by achieving that which brought the community together for this initiative: cutting greenhouse gas emissions, reducing air and water pollution, strengthening the local economy, and building a more sustainable community through energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy. Every little step anyone takes towards fulfilling these goals will ensure continual winning of the prize. Through the GUEP, SBEC has built productive and lasting partnerships with utilities, municipal officials, city employees, businesses, residents, schools, and other city committees. The team thanks all its partners and sponsors, including Efficiency Vermont, Vermont Gas, Green Mountain Power, Vermont State Employees Credit Union, the South Burlington Rotary Club, and the New England Grassroots Environment Fund.
Reflecting on SBEC’s participation in GUEP, member Karen McKenny said that, “participation in the GUEP was always a win-win. The real motivator for me was the opportunity to make change in and for South Burlington irrespective of the national competition. Over the several years of the Energy Prize it has been a joy to work with our incredible partners and even more importantly with the residents of South Burlington. The engagement of the city, schools and residents of South Burlington was a pleasure to encounter. Through workshops, house parties, and community events, SBEC participated in hundreds of one-on-one conversations that will move the needle in terms of energy conservation and efficiency, as well as knowledge about climate change.”
SB High School science teacher Phil Surks says that activities related to energy production, consumption, and conservation are now at the forefront of everything they do in the classroom, and the ideas will carry on far beyond the GUEP.
Karen went on to say that, “working with students, parents, and community members was always the most exciting and fulfilling part of GUEP. I'm proud of the work we have done and the results we have accomplished together as a small town in Vermont. Way to go SB!”
When the City joined the Vermont Climate Pledge Coalition in 2017, it committed to ongoing work in energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions that will lead to a brighter, cleaner future for everyone. Since joining, the City has named Paul Conner its director of sustainability, and he will play a major role in coordinating sustainability efforts throughout the city. The City will continue to invest in energy efficient upgrades such as building improvements, heating system updates, and LED street lights.
Karen Glitman, Director of Efficiency Vermont, said that “hundreds of South Burlington residents and businesses were engaged in saving energy and starting their journey toward a more efficient future, which is the biggest win in this contest.”
The community has achieved so much, yet there is much more to be done. The SBEC is hard at work developing effective plans for South Burlington’s energy future. LED bulbs and low flow shower heads are the low hanging fruit that only go so far. The future prize will come from transportation and building initiatives. Did you know that transportation-related carbon pollution accounts for over 60% of our community’s carbon pollution? And have you heard the term net zero? Net-zero-energy buildings are very energy-efficient, healthy, durable, and create all their own energy from renewable sources. Reducing transportation pollution and promoting net-zero-energy development for new buildings in South Burlington are the SBEC’s next projects.
Glitman went on to say that Efficiency Vermont “was honored to be a part of this effort, and we congratulate all of the communities that participated for their leadership and good work in accelerating access to clean, affordable, and efficient energy for all people.”
With its success in GUEP and the results generated by the community, SBEC really is a leader. You can follow the leader at energyprize.org or on Facebook (@energyprize), which will continue to be updated with news, tips, and resources related to South Burlington’s energy efficiency and renewable energy journey.