After expending lots of energy over the last several years educating Westporters on the benefits of efficient and sustainable energy uses at home, the town's Green Force took time Thursday evening to celebrate how far it's come.

A free barbecue was hosted by the group at Compo Beach, where around 100 residents and town officials acknowledged the local steps made to promote greater energy efficiency and looked ahead to building on that success.

Westport, one of 14 state communities towns that took part in the Neighbor-to-Neighbor program over the last two years, received a citation as the town that achieved the best results. Thanks to the task force and others involved, about 1,500 Westport homes took part in a subsidized program designed to lower domestic energy use, which not only resulted in savings, but a reduced impact on the environment.

"This is an incredible win for Westport," said state Rep. Gail Lavielle, who praised the town for its commitment to the program.

"Over 15 percent of the homes in Westport have been weatherized," said David Mann, the task force chairman.

He said in the two years prior to the initiative, only 100 or so local homes took part in the Home Energy Solutions (HES) program, which is paid for through a charge levied on Connecticut residents' utility bills, noted as a "Combined Public Benefit Charge. The HES program involves home weather-proofing to reduce air seepage and lower energy costs, which also reduces Connecticut's carbon footprint.

For years, getting the word out about the HES program was left up to the utility companies. The Neighbor-to-Neighbor program was a government-funded nonprofit initiative to promote the HES program in select communities.

Mann said Westport's efforts clearly demonstrated that progress can be made. "The program has been incredibly successful," he said.

The next challenge, he said, is, "How can we make this success continue?"

The new Stay Cool Westport program, which runs through July and August, will try to raise awareness of the value of HES work, as well as other energy-efficiency repairs, such as insulation.

"We've got to do more," said Priscilla Weadon of Westport, who is pleased with the work she had done on her home. "I believe in the environment and clean energy."

She said, however, that she's not surprised Westport is leading the way in he energy-efficiency effort. "We were one of the first towns to ban plastic bags," she said.

"This would not have happened without the determination of Pippa," said state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, referring to Pippa Bell Ader, who chaired the initiative.

"I'm very proud of the citizens of Westport for taking this seriously," she said. "I think everybody has to take responsibility for the amount of energy we use."

For more information about the Westport Green Task Force and its programs, check