FARGO – In the first half of this year, city residents and their local governments spent $3.3 million less on energy than during the same months in the previous two years, the eFargo group stated Thursday.

The group, which counts the city, school district and utilities as partners, is leading the community in a national energy-efficiency competition that could win the city a $5 million prize.

One of the many goals of the Georgetown University Energy Prize is to cut energy use by 2 percent the first year of the competition and by 5 percent the second and last year. From January to June, the latest data available, Fargo cut energy use by 7 percent, though that hasn't been adjusted for different weather patterns in each year.

Malini Srivastava, a North Dakota State University professor and an eFargo leader, said the city is already benefiting from investments in energy-efficient buildings, such as Fire Station 7 in the Brandt Crossing neighborhood and Davies High School.

"There's still room to do a lot of work, which is a great place to be," she said. "But work that has been done is showing results and creating savings for the city."

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Schools, the water treatment plant, government offices, the airport and street lights are among the top energy users among local government facilities. It's not known how much they can really cut, something eFargo members plan to investigate.

City Administrator Bruce Grubb, who has been working closely with the group, noted that the water plant must run 24/7 and the machinery that generates ozone, a gas used to purify water, is an energy hog.

But local governments consume only 15 percent of the energy eFargo is measuring. The rest is consumed by households.

Srivastava said the group is going into schools to educate children about energy efficiency and developing a game to encourage households to compete to save, among various activities. In the next few months, residents will receive a flier with energy-saving tips, she said.

Among those tips are such common-sense actions as turning off lights that aren't being used, dialing down the thermostat, using dishwashers with a full load and cooking with the microwave more.

On the Web: To learn more about eFargo, go to www.eFargo.org. To learn more about the Georgetown prize, go to guep.org.