Amy Cunningham
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Get ready, Gardner residents, to Take Charge of your electricity consumption and, in the process, help your city win $100,000 in a contest designed to promote energy efficiency and conservation.
The city council voted on Dec. 6 to participate in the sophomore Take Charge! Challenge, sponsored by a joint effort between the Climate and Energy Project and Efficiency Kansas.  The challenge pits city against city, competing to save energy and, in the process, save money.
“It’s to encourage and develop awareness to save electricity,” explained Stewart Fairburn, Gardner City Administrator. “We’ll have other cities that we’re going to be (competing) against.”
The program will run from January through October, 2011.  There are 16 municipalities across the state of Kansas who will take part in the contest, up from just six last year. Gardner has been placed in the northeast region and will directly compete against three neighboring communities in the area; Paola, Baldwin City and Ottawa.
Jessica Johnson, northeast Take Charge! coordinator, explained the purpose of the program is to reduce residential and small business energy use by implementing whole house efficiency.  She said that one of the goals is to have homes inspected for energy losses and leaks and then to improve their efficiency where possible.  While those inspections can be pricy, Johnson said that homeowners may find financial assistance.
“If you go through Efficiency Kansas, they help pay for (the audit),” Johnson said, going on to explain that most efficiency improvements can save residents money in the long run.  “According to Efficiency Kansas, there is a hole the size of a basketball in everybody’s house.”
Last year’s competition, reported the Take Charge! Challenge, which included only six cities, had residents and businesses of those towns switching light bulbs, weatherizing their homes, installing programmable thermostats, trading in old appliances for more energy efficient ones, and signing up for weatherization programs and audits.
The cities who participated in last year’s contest saved over 6 million kilowatt hours of electricity during the challenge year and took measures to ensure future savings of over 7 million kwh per year. Participants changed out more than 50,000 bulbs to CFLs, CFL bulbs use less power and have a longer rated life than traditional bulbs.  Residents distributed weatherization kits and energy-saving power strips.  They installed over 1,000 programmable thermostats and more than 200 energy efficient appliances in their homes.
Citizens also donated 2,600 hours volunteer time at 65 community events, attended by 11,000 people, promoting energy efficiency and conservation.
“When you put enough people together and save a little bit it adds up. Hopefully we can get some businesses on, some of those are our biggest users,” said Fairburn.  “We’re not creating something new, these are areas (for improvement) that people have talked about for a long time.”
Each participating city received an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant from the Kansas Energy Office of $25,000 to promote the program.
The cities will also have the added benefit of a regional coordinator to facilitate meetings and forge a plan for meeting the guidelines of the challenge.  Johnson will be working with the city in this capacity.  Residents will be reporting their own changes and improvements to