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[whitespace] Program to work with community on energy efficiency

Willow Glen--Two city officials are working hard to help San Joseans learn how to avoid high energy bills and rolling blackouts this summer, and they are hoping Willow Glen residents and business owners can give them some suggestions.

San Jose's Project Teem Up, or targeting energy efficient measures at underserved populations, was started last August in its environmental services department. Its goal is to work with neighborhood associations and business districts to develop usable energy efficient programs.

Project Manager Kevin Bryan and outreach specialist Lori Wallace never expected the project would get as much attention as it now has.

"The project had been a nice idea," Bryan said. "Now it's a necessity. We're in crisis mode."

He and Wallace said they are receiving lots of phone calls from people wanting to learn ways they can save energy. They decided to hold an energy efficiency resource fair, a free event taking place on April 8, to bring all the answers to people's questions under one roof.

The event will feature a variety of booths and vendors with information about energy efficient products and services. It will also offer several workshops on the basics of energy conservation, how to use solar energy in the home and how to take advantage of rebates and funding programs for energy-saving construction and consumables.

They said they hope their efforts will help residents take advantage of Gov. Gray Davis' pledge to provide a 20 percent rebate to customers who reduce their energy use by 20 percent between June 1 and Sept. 30, this summer.

They also want people to understand how they can conserve energy on their own terms, because they are going to have to, like it or not, they said.

"We're going to have rolling blackouts if we don't cut back," Wallace said. "It's just a reality. Rolling blackouts are just forced conservation."

Conservation might not help prevent blackouts on the very hottest days, they said, but increasing public awareness about energy choices could reduce blackouts on most days.

"The energy crisis is a supply-demand issue," Bryan said. "We've got low supply and high demand. What we can address immediately is demand."

Project Teem Up is about more than just giving people information they can use, they said. It's about working with community groups and individuals to develop strategies for conservation that will really work.

To accomplish this goal, Bryan and Wallace are reaching out to neighborhood and business associations and engaging community leaders in focus groups to discover ways to create a new "energy efficient ethic."

"We want to determine those ways that neighborhood associations can participate with us and address energy concerns and spread the message of energy efficiency," Bryan said.

Last week they held a "trial run" meeting with small business owners to find ways to help small businesses with the ongoing, as well as initial, costs of making their facilities more energy efficient. They said they also want to tailor ideas to meet the needs of specific businesses and business districts, and then compare the results to the way things were before the implementation of energy-saving methods.

Bryan and Wallace said that residences and small businesses will be hardest hit by the increased cost of energy, and that the city could be the biggest loser.

"This energy crisis could have a huge impact on the economy of the city and we are trying to address that," Bryan said. "Small businesses are the backbone of this city. Ninety-five percent of the businesses in this city have eight or fewer employees."

The two are also hosting an April 4 meeting of neighborhood association leaders to discuss ways to encourage homeowners and renters to conserve.

"The potential of this Wednesday event and the impact on the city is huge," Bryan said. "What we want is to see how we can work with them as neighborhood leaders to see how we can get information out to the neighborhoods to increase conservation. Who knows what we could come up with at this meeting."

Bryan and Wallace said they want to work specifically with the Willow Glen Neighborhood and Business and Professional associations because of the example they could be for the rest of the city.

"Willow Glen has such a strong neighborhood association, maybe we could develop some models that could be used across the city," Bryan said. "It would be great to partner with Willow Glen businesses that are interested in working with us."

He said he planned to contact the Willow Glen Business and Professional Association this week.

Project Teem Up has had to step up its efforts, since the state's energy crisis became a reality for small businesses and residents. But Bryan and Wallace said they think it's important to engage the community in working for effective, long-term solutions to a problem that won't go away immediately.

"What we have here in San Jose is the opportunity to create really sustainable energy policy, not just for the next two years, but for the next 20 years," Bryan said. "What we've got to think about is how do we make this happen. We're involving the community, trying to get people involved with how we make this decision."

"We have to know that it really will work," Wallace added.

The energy efficiency resource fair will take place on April 8, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Compaq Center, formerly the San Jose Arena. For more information, call Wallace at 408.277.4313 or Bryan at 408.277.4311.
Kate Carter

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