PBS Program Trumpets the Good News from Baltimore

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If you happened to spend Earth Day inside watching TV, you might have seen Baltimore showcased in the new episode of PBS’s Earth:  The Operator’s Manual. The episode, “Energy Quest USA,” shone a spotlight on innovative ways that various communities are reducing energy consumption — and it was a very welcome spot of encouraging news amid the general gloominess that’s out there.

The program focused on BNEC, the Baltimore Neighborhood Energy Challenge, a grassroots effort that tried to bring energy-saving tips directly to city residents, using a neighbor-to-neighbor communication network. In other words, BNEC neighborhood captains not only set up booths at block parties, they also went door-to-door, handing out energy-efficient light bulbs and even inviting themselves inside homes to give hands-on demonstrations of energy-saving tips. The program capitalizes on the idea that “knowledge about energy savings is contagious,” in the words of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Taking a cue from other cities, BNEC also made saving energy into a competition between neighborhoods — and were surprised to see who ended up winning.

Park Heights, an underserved community in Northeast Baltimore clearly took the competition to heart, reducing energy consumption (and energy costs!) by 13 percent — more than any other neighborhood. Because of its win, the Park Heights team got additional funding to expand the program, bringing on “junior ambassadors” from neighborhood schools and visiting more homes.

BNEC is one of the steps the city is taking to meet its goal of reducing overall energy consumption 15 percent by 2015 — a worthy goal, especially since if energy costs continue to rise, Baltimore will soon need a new medium-sized power plant, according to one city official.

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