GREEN BUILDING:

245 sign up for EPA energy competition

U.S. EPA launched its "Battle of the Buildings" competition today, enlisting 245 stores, schools, museums and other commercial buildings to participate in a contest to see who can reduce energy use the most.

The agency's National Building Competition -- held for the first time last year -- promotes EPA's Energy Star program, a marketing-based effort that uses labels to alert customers of high-performing products. Competitors exchange ideas to become more energy efficient and track their building's monthly energy consumption with an online tool called Portfolio Manager.

"It's really a nice way to dispel a bunch of myths. One is that it costs a lot of money to make buildings more efficient," said Energy Star spokeswoman Maria Vargas. "There are a wide range of activities, from large capital improvement to just making sure lights are off when people aren't using them."

Last year's competition only included 14 buildings, which collectively saved more than $950,000 and reduced greenhouse gas emissions equal to the annual electricity use of almost 600 homes. The 2010 winner was Morrison Residence Hall at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The dormitory reduced its energy use by 35.7 percent in one year, saving more than $250,000 on its energy bills.

Three residence halls are competing this year, including Chapel Hill's Kenan Residence Hall. But the majority of participants are schools and office buildings, collectively making up 165 of the 245 buildings competing.

The competition includes 26 types of buildings, a variety selected in order to produce case studies that can be used through the public and private sectors, Vargas said. Participants can exchange ideas through Twitter, Facebook and other social media applications.

EPA officials will select between 10 and 14 finalists in July, Vargas said. Those finalists will submit Statements of Energy Performance signed by a professional engineer or licensed architect; the building with the largest percentage reduction between Sept. 1, 2010, and Aug. 31, 2011, will be declared the winner in November.

"EPA's Battle of the Buildings competitors are showing that everyone can help save energy where we work, play and learn," EPA Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe said in a sound bite released to promote the competition. "If you want to save energy, you can start by turning off lights when you leave the room, power down computers and unplug electronics when they aren't in use. These small steps can make a big difference in saving energy and money."

Vargas said last year's participants primarily reduced energy use through maintenance and behavioral changes. EPA has kept tabs on the buildings, she said, and those savings appear to be continuing.

"It's very much like losing weight, so we are following up with last year contestants," she said. But unlike a diet, she added, there's no reason to slip back into old ways and pay a higher utility bill.

Click here for a list of participants and more information on EPA's National Building Competition.