City of Claremont Places Second in California Energy Challenge

The city of Claremont placed second in the CoolCalifornia City Challenge, a five-month challenge that engaged 10 cities to compete for a portion of $100,000 in prize money. Claremont received $22,797, taking second place behind the city of Riverside. 

The challenge—a partnership between the California Air Resources Board, the University of California's Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, and the Energy Upgrade California initiative—awarded prize money depending on how well cities could reduce their carbon footprint. 

“It’s a way to make doing the right thing in the sense of cutting back on energy use, conserving resources, reducing carbon output of our community, fun and a little bit like a game,” said Chris Veirs, Claremont's principal planner. “They’re tapping into social pressure as a way to make reducing your carbon footprint rewarding and also encouraging you to try harder, so I felt like the program was a success.”

Claremont's participation in the competition was spearheaded by the nonprofit organization Sustainable Claremont. Freeman Allen, one of the organization's founders and a former Pomona professor, said that Claremont was in the lead until Riverside pulled ahead during the final hour. Although the city placed second, Claremont, with an eighth of Riverside's population, scored more points on a per-capita basis. 

The first portion of the challenge was based on getting residents to participate in any way that they could, while the second portion of the challenge was based on total points earned. Claremont residents could earn points by signing up and taking surveys, but more points were earned according to the amount of natural gas or electricity conserved compared to the average for the area. From April 1 to Aug. 31, residents submitted data on gas and electricity usage, as well as the type of car they drove and the mileage.

Veirs said that the prize money will go to Sustainable Claremont to fund future activities.  

“It’s a lot of money to a little organization like [Sustainable Claremont], so they were highly motivated and put a lot of time and energy into trying to help us win," Veirs said. "So we felt like it demonstrated the power of that kind of social marketing and also the strength of that partnership that the city has with Sustainable Claremont."

The city's success in the CoolCalifornia City Challenge has led to interest in a national competition, the Georgetown University Energy Prize, Veirs said. The competition offers an all-or-nothing, $5 million prize, which will be awarded to the city that most significantly reduces residential and municipal use of natural gas and electricity. The prize also depends on the city's ability to create innovative programs that can be replicated by other cities.

All cities participating were required to submit an energy conservation plan by Nov. 10. The contest will begin in January 2015 and last for 2 years. 

“We have a reasonable chance, so we’re moving ahead full steam/speed,” Allen said. 

Allen said that the city's Community Home Energy Retrofit Project (CHERP), which has been in place for several years, encourages residents to reduce energy consumption by assessing energy consumption at their homes and making energy-saving improvements, such as better insulating houses or sealing leaks. 

“We think something like CHERP can help us perform well and could possibly help us win that $5 million prize for the Georgetown University Energy Prize,” Veirs said. “We believe reusing greenhouse emissions is important for us to do our part and try to become as close to carbon neutral as possible.”

Allen and Veirs both emphasized that students at the Claremont Colleges are encouraged to become active in the community by talking to Claremont residents about what they could be doing to become more energy-efficient.