Excellence on Main Award

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Sustainable Connections’ Community Energy Challenge

Awardee: Sustainable Connections

Award: Sustainable Future

Year: 2015

City: Bellingham

In 2010, Sustainable Connections started outreach to local businesses and property owners about the Community Energy Challenge (CEC) and encouraged them to sign up for free energy assessments. Over the past five years, 471 businesses and property owners have participated, 84 of which are in downtown Bellingham. These 84 business and property owners represent 91 buildings in the downtown core and include a variety of spaces, many of them historic.

By performing the free assessments, Sustainable Connections was able to identify the most impactful upgrades and retrofits for each space, providing a personalized action plan and assistance with financing options, including access to incentives and rebates. They recommended vetted contractors to do the work and provided ongoing support and monitoring to ensure that energy saving goals are met.

Energy retrofits reduce the environmental impact of those that work and live in the downtown core, and facility upgrades, coupled with energy savings, give property owners a competitive edge in leasing spaces. Businesses are able to enjoy a reduced environmental impact as well as highly desirable spaces with increased comfort and lower energy bills.

The impact of the CEC is substantial. Over $6,000,000 and more than 6,000 tons of greenhouse gases have been saved; over 80 jobs have been supported, and over $16,000,000 in economic activity has been generated. A 2014 study found that every dollar of public funds spent on the CEC projects yields $5.27 in local economic activity. Additionally, Sustainable Connections is currently helping beta test “America Saves!,” an energy efficiency pilot program through the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“The Community Energy Challenge has, to date, exceeded all its participation goals to realize the massive energy savings potential in historic downtowns,” said Sarah Hansen, former Washington State Main Street Program Coordinator. “Sustainable Connections has incentivized energy efficiency retrofits within the context of historic preservation and the needs of small businesses, creating a model program that will have a lasting impact on the community.”