City of Columbia Works to Increase Energy Efficiency

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COLUMBIA - A recent study conducted by University of Missouri researchers showed Missouri is falling behind the rest of the country when it comes to renewable energy.

Currently, 2.6 percent of Missouri's energy comes from renewable energy.

A 2011 U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) study found the national average for renewable energy use is 13 percent.

While the state falls well below that average, the city of Columbia has plans in place to keep up with the rest of the country.

Columbia received a stimulus grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to become a partner of the Better Buildings Challenge.

As a part of the challenge, the city is striving to reduce energy usage by 20 percent by the year 2020.

Columbia Office of Sustainability Manager Barbara Buffaloe said success in previous energy efficiency efforts caught the DOE's eye.

"Actually the Department of Energy came to us and said, 'We want to highlight or showcase you as one of the leading municipalities that's really walking the talk of energy conservation,'" Buffaloe said.

Buffaloe said Columbia is often ahead of the curve of other Missouri cities because of its population.

"We're a university town. We're highly educated here. We know that it makes good business sense for us to encourage energy conservation," she said.

One project the city has started to reduce energy use is replacing the light bulbs in city-owned parking garages with more efficient bulbs.

While being energy efficient could make good business sense, renewable energy can be an expensive project.

Columbia Water and Light utility services specialist Connie Kacprowicz said the city would like to incorporate solar power more heavily into renewable energy sources, but cost is a big factor.

"Solar has been traditionally a lot more expensive than some of the other renewable resources...Our hope is that as the cost continues to go down that we'll have more opportunities to invest in solar," she said.

Kacprowicz said customers can contribute to solar energy use through Water and Light's Solar One program.

Businesses can also do their part in saving energy through Water and Light's lighting incentive program. If a business installs a new lighting system, Water and Light can reward it with a $300 rebate for every kilowatt of electricity saved.

"Our lighting rebate has been huge as far as the participation numbers, and there's been everyone from hotels to retail stores. A lot of people have taken advantage of it," Kacprowicz said.

Both Kacprowicz and Buffaloe said one of the biggest challenges in getting people to be energy efficient is actually getting the message out about opportunities.

Buffaloe said the best way for people to know how to be energy efficient is word of mouth.

"What really sends the message to people is the day-to-day face talk with their friends or friends. What we try to do is have a positive experience with everybody that we encourage or we educate. The idea being that you will then go and talk to your neighbor, or your roommate, or your co-worker," she said.

You can visit the Office of Sustainability or Water and Light's websites for tips and tricks on how to be more energy efficient.