HEET claims foul on energy contest

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Melissa Davis, energy manager for the Houghton Energy Efficiency Team, talks to the Houghton County Board at its meeting Tuesday. Davis is sending a letter to Georgetown University asking it to honor the original terms of its Energy Prize contest.

HOUGHTON — The Houghton Energy Efficiency Team (HEET) might take legal action against Georgetown University over what it is calling a “bait and switch” regarding its energy competition’s prize.

Melissa Davis, HEET energy manager, said she would consider a fraud complaint against Georgetown if a lawyer was interested.

“As far as having the pockets to do that, you guys don’t, and we don’t,” she told the Houghton County Board at its meeting Tuesday.

Houghton County was chosen in 2014 as one of 50 communities to compete in the Georgetown University Energy Prize competition, in which the community that could show the greatest energy savings over a two-year period would win a $5 million prize.

When Houghton County was named as a finalist in October, it was told the $5 million was a loan, “to be provided at undisclosed terms by an unknown party and with no guarantee of receipt,” Davis wrote in a letter to Georgetown President John DeGioia.

“The GUEP competition began with great fanfare and Georgetown University took what appeared at the time to be deserved credit for an innovative program,” Davis wrote. “But with this bait and switch, the university’s reputation and its commitment to principles of justice and service of others is at risk. Georgetown University owes it to every GUEP competitor to use its vast wealth to fund the GUEP $5 million cash prize, as originally promised.”

At the same time, Davis said, Georgetown asked HEET to sign an agreement that released Georgetown from any obligation to provide a prize or benefit. It declined, Davis said.

In her letter Davis demanded the reinstatement of the original terms.

“Without explanation, we are now asked to accept that GUEP is and seemingly always was intended to be an opportunity to incur debt,” she wrote. “Everything published by GUEP from the outset, however, referred to a ‘$5 million prize’ or ‘$5 million prize purse.’ Nobody would seriously contend that a ‘prize’ or ‘prize purse’ means a ‘loan.'”

Georgetown had asked HEET for a plan of what it would do with the $5 million. HEET’s plan, submitted by students at Michigan Technological University, was to put the money in a revolving loan fund at the Keweenaw Community Foundation for energy-efficiency upgrades.

Other services promised by Georgetown during the competition never materialized, Davis said, such as one-on-one technical assistance and direct engagement with federal policymakers.

Over the two-year period, electricity use declined 13 percent, while natural gas consumption went down almost as much, Davis said. The state average over that period was 1.14 percent.

“We just kicked it, we shot it through the hoop, and they moved the goalpost, to mix my metaphors,” Davis said.

Commissioners said they supported the letter and complimented Davis on HEET’s efforts.

“It really would have been something else,” said Commissioner Scott Ala.