Campbell River challenges residents to Power Down

Hand adjusting thermostat full width

With a strategic mix of iPads, block parties, giveaways and fun, the City of Campbell River is drawing residents into its ongoing work to cut energy use and emissions.

One of the key targets in the City's Community Energy and Emissions Plan is by 2020 to have two per cent of existing buildings undergo energy efficiency upgrades each year.

To get residents involved and raise awareness of home energy efficiency, the City has launched, with financial support from BC Hydro, a host of integrated energy-education strategies, including a rebate program, block parties, and a power down challenge.

Energy rebate program receives overwhelming interest

The Energy Rebate program was originally slated to give away 75 free home energy audits, but the program was so popular that within the first two weeks all the rebates had been awarded and project organizers were scrambling to secure more.

In total, the initiative awarded 100 energy audits to local households. Recipients pledged to make at least one change that would improve their energy efficiency. The actions could include behavioural changes, such as turning out the lights and unplugging electronics when not in use, or participants could make efficiency upgrades such as replacing windows or switching to energy efficient lighting.

"We thought the energy challenge contest would open people's eyes to energy conservation and that would encourage them to get an energy audit," says Amy van den Hooven, energy challenge coordinator. "But the audits were so popular, we have a waitlist in case the program acquires additional funding and can offer more."

Five families compete to "power down" in 30-day energy challenge

Meanwhile, an energy challenge contest, called "Power Down Campbell River," will pit five local families against each other in a month-long competition (during April) to see who can save the most energy. At the end of the challenge, the family with the greatest per cent energy reduction will receive $1,500 toward home energy-conservation retrofits of their choice.

The project is designed to maximize outreach and impact. Throughout the competition, each of the five families will make short videos of their various attempts to save energy, including all the hurdles and humour they encounter along the way. At the end of the contest, these clips will be put together into a professionally-produced film to be featured on Shaw Cable, on the City's YouTube channel, in Campbell River schools, and at local film festivals.

To help with the filming, each family will receive an iPad and professional videographer training, in addition to their free home energy audit.

Van den Hooven says that the biggest organizing challenge she faced was to ensure she did enough to get the word out. "We promoted the contest through the newspaper, radio ads and interviews, Facebook, and the City's website," she says. "But by far the biggest impact was through face-to-face meetings — attending events and encouraging people to sign up."

Energy block parties extend the education, and the fun

Families that applied for the challenge but weren't selected will be entered into a draw for one of five energy ambassador packages. Each energy ambassador will have the opportunity to host an energy block party in which neighbours tour the ambassador's home with an energy auditor to learn how to evaluate and improve a home's energy efficiency.

The ambassador will receive a gift package valued at $500, which includes a free energy audit and "winterization" of their home, including updated weather stripping and caulking.

Project design draws from past success

This past summer, Campbell River hosted a compost challenge in which six families competed against each other for 30 days. The families filmed their experiences and the clips were compiled into a film that will be screened at Campbell River's 2013 Earth Week film festival.

The compost challenge was very successful, so the energy challenge has been designed to be similar, but also to build on what the organizers learned. "One of the lessons I adopted was that the [compost challenge] organizers mainly used a blog to promote the challenge, but in their report they said that Facebook had a much bigger audience," says van den Hooven. "We've also added some more fun elements — challenges within the challenge — such as having 'one hour no power' and asking the participants talk about their experiences."