Out of the Woods / "A real chance to go green"
Published 1:01 am, Wednesday, June 23, 2010
When it comes to saving energy, last week President Barack Obama issued a clarion call in a moving speech from the Oval Office asking all of us, as part of what he called a "national mission" to save energy. It was long overdue -- but still welcome.
In his talk, which was intended as a call to arms, he asked all of us to participate in this mission. "This is not some distant vision for America. The transition away from fossil fuels will take some time, but over the last year and a half, we have already taken unprecedented action to jump-start the clean energy industry.
"Each of us," he pointed out, "has a part to play in a new future that will benefit all of us," he said.
My question: Exactly what can I do in my home or place of business in this community to reduce energy consumption?
The answers to this question can -- and should -- be provided locally with the serendipitous news in this paper last Friday that more than $4.1 million in federal "stimulus" grant money is en route to Westport and Weston -- and 12 other cities and towns in Connecticut. The goal: to create new two-year programs aimed at cutting back on the use of energy and lower greenhouse gas emissions.
The new program is called Neighborhood to Neighborhood Energy Challenge. This long-awaited action will kick off in the fall after the paperwork and bureaucratic process is set in place, according to Kerry O'Neill, co-founder of Norwalk-based Earth Markets. "If you look at the leading communities in Connecticut on these issues, it's these communities [participating] and Westport is right up these at the top," he was quoted in a story by this newspaper's reporter, Anthony Karge.
"What we are hoping do," O'Neill added, "is to tap into all that energy and momentum that already exists and give it a turbo boost." What an opportunity to get right down to the nuts and bolts of what each of us, as residents can do, starting in our homes, to help Westport win this competition for greenest town. It reminds me of the trophy that the secretary of state gives out after major elections the town in the state with the highest percentage of voter turnout.
Westport has, indeed, won that award in recent years under the leadership of former First Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell.
The Challenge program, according to O'Neill, will include outreach programs, funding for energy-efficient audits and financial incentives for towns to decrease use of energy. There will also be the use of a computer program to encourage schools and businesses to compete by measuring energy efficiencies to determine what methods and sites prove to the most efficient working best.
It's important to note that one of the key organizations that will be involved in this far-reaching plan is Westport's Green Task Force, which was one of the parties which supported the grant. Kimberly Lake, chairman of the task force, called the grant "a big deal," and explained why Westporters can seize this opportunity to make a difference.
"The reason we did it is because we think Westport residents can make a concerted effort to change their approach to greenhouse gas omissions and this grant allows us to bring [the idea] into their homes and have them actively think about these things." She is right on target. When it comes to community spirit, Westport has historically been viewed as one of the towns that consistently shines in Connecticut. We like challenges, we like competition, and we like to win. We are, as the saying goes, People who excel and are immensely proud of our accomplishments as a community.
There will be plenty of competition because this "race to the top" includes Wilton Ridgefield, Bethany, Cheshire, East Haddam, East Hampton, Glastonbury, Lebanon, Mansfield, Portland, Wethersfield and Windham.
The grant itself elevates Westport to a high profile level. It was one of only 20 made across the nation given out by the Department of Energy, which allocated a total of $60 million across the country in what is called Energy Efficiency and Block Grant Funding. Its purpose it to assist local governments, non-profit groups and quasi-public agencies promote energy efforts an renewable energy programs, according to the announcement.
Congressman Jim Himes (D-4), was quoted in the press release as follows: "There is no better way to reduce energy use than not to burn t in the first place, so Projects like this are a win-win: they help reduce our dependence on foreign oil and create jobs at the same time."
Lise Dondy, president of the Clean Energy Fund, added: "With the state of the economy, volatile energy prices, and disaster like the Gulf oil spill, energy is top-of-mind and this challenge will call on communities to action."
She said the goal is to have 10 percent of the population taking part in the challenge and reduce energy consumption by 20 percent in those communities participating in the program. "We are going to do it," she added. "You have to believe ion the power of communities." Westport, I believe, can top these figures and then some. What is needed, however, is a battle plan: a booklet or notice that spells out exactly what each of us can do in our homes, in our places of business, and in our community. I have no doubt that Westport town officials will lead the way, as they have in many innovations that have taken place in recent years.
This is a great opportunity for all of us to make up a check list and to carry out the actions that are necessary. More than that, it will enable us to feel that we are involved in our nation's energy-saving program rather than remaining on the sidelines and grumbling about the sad state of affairs.