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Compete, save

By The Gazette Editorial Board

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Much of the state and national debate about energy is how to create more of it to meet anticipated demand and grow the economy. Should we rely on oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear, wind, solar, ethanol and/or other renewable sources — or a mix, or all of the above?

But there’s another side of the expensive energy equation: Using less. Changing your behavior, even without greatly compromising your lifestyle.

The Iowa Policy Project, a public policy research group in Iowa City, just released an interesting report on how communitywide competition can yield significant savings.

The largest energy-efficiency competition researchers found was in Kansas. In 2009, residents of six small towns with a total population of 70,000 were invited to see which community could reduce its energy use the most per capita. The carrots: less reliance on foreign energy, saving money on utility bills, civic pride. Results: 11,000 people participated, $1.2 million saved in energy costs. Today: Competition continues, 16 communities involved.

In Iowa, several college campuses are trying the concept. Luther College in Decorah, for example, saved $50,000 worth of electricity in three weeks.

Could such organized energy-efficiency competitions convince more Iowa communities, campuses and neighborhoods to join in? Might they expand on the idea, say, using more car pools and public transit to offset high gas prices? Can these competitions be sustained over a long period?

Well, you never know for sure unless you try.

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