Southwest neighborhoods leaders in Minnesota Energy Challenge

Since October 2006, almost every neighborhood in Southwest has signed up to take the Minnesota Energy Challenge. Of all the neighborhoods in the state to participate, Linden Hills is in first place with 701,846 pounds of carbon dioxide and $57,506 saved since Nov. 13. Bryn Mawr isn’t far behind in fourth place, with Kingfield, Lynnhurst and Fulton also on the top 10 list.

The conservation initiative, developed by local nonprofit the Center for Energy and Environment, encourages individuals and organizations to pledge to conserve energy at mnenergychallenge.org. Challengers promise to take any number of actions to shrink their carbon footprints, from replacing light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs and turning off appliances when they’re not in use to washing laundry in cold water and carpooling to work.

Ambitious conservationists are invited to go the extra mile and purchase new highly efficient furnaces and insulate their attics, among other ideas.

"We’ve giving you practical actions with concrete savings," said coordinator Neely Crane Smith. "The less energy you’re using, the less you’re paying for."

To date, 126 neighborhoods have taken the challenge, with more than 20 from Southwest. Everyone who signs up has the option to join the efforts of three participating groups, such as their neighborhood, business and congregation.

Taking the challenge appeals to people on several different levels, Crane Smith explained. To some, it’s a fun way to be competitive. "For other people, it’s just a good way to prove that they’re making a difference," she said.

According to Crane Smith, community organizations have been instrumental in the project. Using grant money from the city, groups like Linden Hills Power & Light have been door knocking and giving out free compact fluorescent light bulbs. In early October, the Linden Hills Inc. Neighborhood Council (LHiNC) and volunteers from Southwest High School encouraged residents to sign up to take the challenge at the neighborhood’s Good Energy Fair.

"We only expected to get 40 people to pledge at maximum," said Deb Pierce, chair of LHiNC’s Creating Sustainable Communities committee. But, in one afternoon, they ended up with 43 new recruits.

"Just about everybody that I talked to — it was very rare that they wouldn’t sign up for it," she said. "It does not seem to matter whether they’re outright conservative or progressive. They all are
concerned."

Pierce believes that the reason for Linden Hills’ success stems from a desire to feel empowered.

"Our focus has been: ‘What can we do right now, as people, that will make a difference?’" she asked.

The average family emits 50,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year through actions like heating their homes and driving to work everyday. Taking small steps like limiting showers to five minutes, driving the speed limit and turning off lights can reduce that number by hundreds of pounds. In fact, according to Minnesota Energy Challenge statistics, if every Minnesotan reduced his or her carbon footprint by 2 percent, the state wouldn’t need new power plants and utility companies could start converting old ones into renewable energy sources.

"We plan to keep the challenge going until energy conservation becomes an everyday, normal thing," said Crane Smith. In addition to getting residents involved, the organization hopes to ignite awareness in the government, showing policy-makers that many Minnesotans want a greener place to live.

For more information on the Minnesota Energy Challenge, go to www.mnenergychallenge.com.

Contact Mary O’Regan at [email protected] or 436-5088.

Top neighborhoods taking the Minnesota Energy Challenge as of Nov. 13:

Neighborhood Pounds of CO2 saved

Linden Hills 701,846

Longfellow 531,833

Macalester-Groveland, St. Paul 475,365

Bryn Mawr 473,611

St. Anthony West 406,458

Seward 368,303

Kingfield 331,110

Lynnhurst 222,857

Fulton 209,890

Nokomis East 206,343

(Source: Minnesota Energy Challenge)