Kansas communities vie to save energy

HUTCHINSON, Kan. | Several Kansas communities are finding ways to conserve energy in a yearlong competition to find which town can save the most electricity.

The "Take Charge Challenge" is a contest run by the Salina-based Land Institute's Climate and Energy Project, which supports energy efficiency and developing renewable energy in a sustainable manner.

Each of the six communities and their utility companies are tracking each town's energy savings over the course of a year that ends April 1, 2010.

The contest focuses on lowering energy costs for citizens in tough economic times, project spokeswoman Dorothy Barnett said.

"We wanted to highlight that energy efficiency doesn't mean you have to go around wearing a sweater and being uncomfortable because your house is cold," Barnett said. "There are a lot of ways to save money: changing your lighting, caulking and weather-stripping, or using energy-efficient appliances, for example."

The community that wins the competition gets to choose from a Kansas Wind for Schools turbine, solar panels for a civic building, or a $10,000 cash prize for an energy-efficiency project.

Leadership teams have been formed in each of the communities: Kinsley, Mount Hope/Haven, Salina, Wellington, Merriam and Quinter.

"A key in all six communities has been engaging students, encouraging them to take part," Barnett said. "This competition gives them a sense of community service: that all citizens are working together for a common goal."

The school district in Haven has implemented energy-saving measures such as more efficient rooftop units at schools, upgraded energy monitoring systems, and put in energy-efficient lighting with sensors that turn off unused lights, said Superintendent Patrick Call.

Students also came up with ideas for saving energy at home.

"They want to have an 'energy czar' of their house to make sure the lights are turned off," Call said. "They also wanted to have a day without energy at school, a day when we wouldn't run any lights, air conditioning, heat. We'd have to pick a nice day to do that."