Communities from Fairbanks, Alaska, to St. Petersburg, Fla., are facing off in a competition to reduce energy use. At an Apr. 23 press conference, officials at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., announced a preliminary list of 51 towns, cities, counties, and regional groups in the U.S. that say they plan to compete for the university’s Energy Prize. The new initiative aims to incentivize communities to develop and implement scalable best-practices in sustainability. The winner will receive $5 million to fuel further sustainable development after carrying out its energy-efficiency program during the competition’s two-year duration.

“Every community has an equal and fair shot at this very impressive and considerable prize, and good things will come of it,” said U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman.

Sponsored by the university’s Program on Science in the Public Interest, the competition is open to municipalities with between 5,000 and 250,000 residents. Communities have until June 30 to submit an application stating their intent and explaining how they would implement the proposed plan if chosen. A yet-to-be-announced panel will vet the applications for credibility and announce in August those named as quarterfinalists. That group will be required to submit a formal plan outlining components of their proposed programs such as long-term energy savings, replicability, and community engagement efforts. Quarterfinalists also can apply for seed funding from sources such as the competition’s sponsors, local utilities, and crowdfunding platforms. In November, a selection of communities from that group will be selected as semifinalists. 

The semifinalists will implement the policies and practices outlined in their plans for a two-year period, from January 2015 to January 2017, with the goal of reducing their utility-supplied energy consumption. In January 2017, the panel will begin naming up to 10 groups as finalists with the winner picked primarily based on its achieved energy savings, which involves gathering consumption data for residential and commercial properties from utility companies.

The Energy Prize’s partners include the Joyce Foundation, a Chicago-based grant-making organization that runs incentive-based programs such as the Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence; the National League of Cities; and the American Gas Foundation (AGF), a nonprofit policy arm of the American Gas Association. AGF contributed $160,000 to the Energy Prize’s operational budget, according to its executive director Dr. Kathryn Clay, who also spoke at the event. Program officials declined to disclose the total amount donated to either its operating budget or to the $5 million purse. 

The cities displayed in the graphic above reflect the entrants as of April 23; additional entrants will be added following the June 30 deadline.

Graphic by Maggie Goldstone.