Kansas: Conservation, the “5th Fuel” (ENERGY QUEST USA)

Narrator: Kansas, a land of wheat, and corn, and cattle. In the heart of the country, it's number 48 out of all 50 states in energy efficiency. So this is a place where energy conservation can really make a difference. Come on, girls. Our region is a region of farmers. We are famously conservative and we have talked from the beginning about putting the conserve back in conservative. Narrator: According to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, improvements in energy efficiency have the potential to deliver more than $700 billion in cost savings in the U.S. alone. But, they say motivating consumers to take action is the key to unlocking this potential and that was the aim of Nancy Jackson's Climate and Energy project, with its Take Charge! Challenge. Kansans are patriotic, Kansans are hardworking, Kansans are humble.

Narrator: And Kansans are competitive. You all are competing against Ottawa, Baldwin City, and Paola, so really, you gotta beat those guys, yes? Do you want to help us beat Manhattan? Narrator: 2011 was the second year for the Take Charge! Challenge, a friendly competition among 16 communities arranged in four regional groups aiming to reduce their local energy use. Some of the lowest cost, most effective ways that you can take ownership of your energy future is taking ownership of the efficiency and the conservation of your house or your business. Narrator: Ray Hammarlund's office used federal stimulus dollars to fund four prizes of $100,000 for each of the four regions in the competition. Just as important as the grand prize, $25,000 went to each community to fund local coordinators who took the lead in galvanizing grassroots efforts.

Here's how the challenge worked in Iola. The challenge started in January of this year and ends October 1st. You're required to have three community events. We're going to have a lot more than that. Today, we are at the Fight The Energy Hog Festival. Becky Nilges: I love the hog. He was just so ugly that he is cute. He represents energy hogs in your home. You would probably let him in but you don't know the damage he's going to do. Narrator: Competing towns scored points by counting how many cfl bulbs and programmable thermostats were installed and how many professional home energy audits were done. Our job as energy auditors, both for commercial buildings as well as residential buildings is, we're essentially detectives.

What's happening here? Is there a great deal of air leakage? And we're finding that the majority of the houses that we're dealing with actually use a lot more energy than they need to. Narrator: In Lawrence, a house of worship did an energy audit, made changes, and got a pretty nice donation in its collection plate. David Owen: One part of the audit was to contact the power company. Well, during that process we discovered they had been overcharging us. And so we got a check, a rebate check from them for $4,456. Narrator: Other changes start small, but add up. We were a little bit worried at one point that the congregation would not accept the very bright, white type lights. So as an experiment, we took one of these chandeliers and changed all the bulbs in it to the cfls. And then we took the priest over here and we said, "which one did we do?" and he could not tell us.

So that told us it was ok to do them all. Narrator: Changing lights, adding insulation, and upgrading windows paid off. Even though it's an old building, we saved 64% on the consumption of energy in this room. Narrator: Lighting makes up about 15% of a typical home's electricity bill, and lighting all of our residential and commercial buildings uses about 13% of the nation's total electricity. But changing out old bulbs is a lot easier than paying for audits and the energy enhancements they recommend. Here's where the 2011 Take Charge! Challenge promised material assistance using stimulus funds. Ken Wagner: It's a $500 audit that costs you $100. The rest of that $500 is covered under the Take Charge Challenge program through the Kansas Energy Office. We really love the competitive spirit of the program and I think it's really raised a whole awareness of energy efficiency and the importance of energy efficiency to a lot of segments in our community here.

Narrator: Even Baldwin City bankers were grateful for financial assistance from state and federal governments. Dave Hill: Nine months ago, we installed a 14 KW solar power system. I believe the initial cost of the system was basically $65,000 and then we got a substantial grant from USDA, I believe it was $20,000. We have about $18,000 of our own money invested in the system, after all the deductions. We think it will pay out in about 7-8 years. Narrator: David Crane of NRG Energy thinks that kind of approach makes good business sense. Crane: What I say to every businessman who has a customer-facing business, think of a solar panel not only as a source of electricity, think of it as a billboard. You don't even have to write your name on it. Just put it on the top of your store and it will be sending a message to your customers that you're doing the right thing when it comes to sustainable energy. Narrator: Surveys of why conservation is hard to achieve have found that people want one-stop shopping, a place where they can find out what to do and get practical recommendations about who to hire and what it all might cost, just what this new facility was to offer.

Now it's mid-October, time for the results of the 2011 Take Charge! Challenge. MC: Fort Scott. MC: And the winner is Baldwin City. Nancy Jackson: Over 100 billion BTUs were saved as a result of this Challenge, and millions and millions of dollars in each community. Those savings come from measures that have been installed that will guarantee those savings for years to come. So the savings are enormous over time. $100,000 has a nice ring to it and it's a nice cash award for a community of our size. Our challenge now is to continue on with energy efficiency and encourage our community to save. Nancy: One of our real goals was to help people to stop thinking about energy efficiency as the things they shouldn't do, as what not to do, and think about it instead as a tremendous opportunity to both save money in the near term, and to make our electric system more resilient in the long term.

So it's about what we can do, both individually and together, and for us that feels like the real win. The United States today is twice as energy efficient as it was in the 1970s. And I think we have the capability in the decades ahead to become twice as energy efficient again. We believe this is something that can be done really anywhere with great success..