Westport, Weston in $4M fed-funded energy efficiency campaign
More than $4 million dollars in federal grant money will be coming to Westport, Weston and 12 other state municipalities to create an unprecedented two-year program aimed at dramatically curbing energy consumption and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
"If you look at the leading communities in Connecticut on these issues, it's these communities [participating] and Westport is right up there at the top," said Kerry O'Neill, co-founder of Norwalk-based Earth Markets. "What we're hoping to do is to tap into all that energy and momentum that already exists and really give it a turbo boost."
The "Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge" will kick off once the applicants, led by Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, wrap up paperwork and are allocated the $4.1 million in federal stimulus money. It could happen by fall, officials indicated.
O'Neill, whose company will help implement the plan, envisions a project not seen anywhere else in the country.
Some features of the "Challenge" include outreach programs, funding energy efficiency audits and financial incentives for communities to cut down on energy use. One aspect of the campaign will be a computer program that can pit businesses against businesses or schools against other schools to gauge energy efficiency and determine what site is doing the best. Those plans, however, could just be the start as the program takes shape and volunteers are recruited.
"You can really go nuts with [a grant] like this," O'Neill said.
One of the groups involved in the process was Westport's Green Task Force, which supported the grant application.
"The reason we did it is because we think that Westport can make a concerted effort to change their approach greenhouse gas emissions and this grant allows us to bring [the ideas] into their homes and have them actively think about these things," said Kimberly Lake, chair of the task force. "It's a big deal."
In addition to Westport and Weston, towns in the consortium include: Wilton, Ridgefield, Bethany, Cheshire, East Haddam, East Hampton, Glastonbury, Lebanon, Mansfield, Portland, Wethersfield and Windham.
The grant, one of 20 made across the nation, was awarded by the Department of Energy through competitive bids under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, more widely known as the federal stimulus program. The agency dedicated $60 million nationwide in Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant funding to help local governments, nonprofit groups and quasi-public agencies promote energy efficiency and renewable energy programs.
"There is no better way to reduce energy use than not to burn it 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," U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4, said in a press release announcing the grant.
The Connecticut Clean Energy Fund predicts the project will retain or create almost 400 jobs, reduce an estimated 250,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution and save households nearly $150 million on their energy bills.
"With the state of the economy, volatile energy prices, and disasters like the Gulf oil spill, energy is top-of-mind and this challenge will call our communities to action," Lise Dondy, president of the Clean Energy Fund and administrator of the grant, said in the press release.
The ultimate goal is to have 10 percent of the population in the participating communities reduce their energy consumption by at least 20 percent.
"We are going to do it," O'Neil said. "You have to believe in the power of communities."
Joining the 14 communities in the Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge are nine public and private partners: AFC First Financial, Clean Water Fund, Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund, Earth Markets, Efficiency 2.0, MIT Field Intelligence Lab/Empower Devices, SmartPower and the Student Conservation Association.