The city of Fargo and its partners in conservation have been working hard for years to increase efficiencies and curb energy use. Their comprehensive efforts were recently recognized when they won the $5 million Georgetown University Energy Prize, a two-year competition between 50 semifinalist cities throughout the nation. Over the two years, the city and its residents saved an estimated $2 million in energy costs. That’s tangible evidence of the benefits of energy conservation, which is too easy to dismiss as the lofty aim of do-gooders. It’s all the more remarkable considering that North Dakota consistently ranks at or near the bottom of states in energy efficiency.
Fargo began working in 2014 with its partners—North Dakota State University, the North Dakota Department of Commerce, Xcel Energy and Cass County Electric Cooperative—to form the partnership, called eFargo. But the conservation collaborations evident in Fargo’s winning effort can trace their lineage back years, some instigated by former City Commissioner Mike Williams.
The stench from the city landfill, for instance, prompted city officials in 2009 to turn methane gas into electricity, and convert sewage into water suitable for industrial use. That effort was estimated to contribute $2 million a year to city coffers. Every day, the city treats about 12 million gallons of wastewater. Now up to two million gallons of water per day, once discharged into the Red River, is piped to an ethanol plant in Casselton, earning a profit for the city and reducing the use of groundwater.
Since 2002, the city worked to replace incandescent street light bulbs with energy-efficient LED bulbs, which now illuminate all traffic lights and 85 percent of pedestrian traffic lights, saving $30,000 per year. Similarly, the MATBUS fleet uses biofuel blends and runs eight hybrids to save fuel and therefore reduce emissions. Altogether, city generation from methane, solar power and wind over the years has produced 57.1 million kilowatt hours—impressive, considering 1 kilowatt hour will power a 100-watt light bulb for 10 hours. The landfill methane generator produces enough energy to power 700 homes every day.
The eFargo collaboration builds upon that foundation. Among other steps, it resulted in creation of a website that provides tips, data and games, including an evil character, Waste-A-Watt, to encourage energy efficiency and conservation. Students are a major focus of the effort, since they live where most energy is consumed—homes constitute 85 percent of Fargo’s energy use. The efforts saved the equivalent of 50.4 megawatts of power.
Fargo has long prided itself on being a “green city.” The $5 million prize will help spur further efforts that will make the city even greener. Malini Srivastava, a professor at NDSU and leader of the project, hopes to use the prize money to work toward a net-zero carbon future for the Fargo-Moorhead metro area. One of the criteria that enabled Fargo to win the competition was the replicability of its strategies. We should spread the green; more communities would do well to follow Fargo’s lead.