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SEC’s Bright Ideas Include Economizing Lighting Projects, Exploring Geothermal Possibilities



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The Sustainable Energy Commission (SEC) works to help the environment while also saving the town money through a variety of energy conservation efforts.

During the group’s most recent meeting at the Public Works Building, on September 16, there was a jam-packed agenda that included the discussion of current school projects.

SEC Chair Kathy Quinn spoke to The Newtown Bee following the meeting to share how the commission has made insightful contributions to these projects, specifically regarding lighting and geothermal energy.

Quinn shared that she and SEC Vice Chair Allen Adriani attended a Board of Finance (BOF) meeting to help answer some energy-related questions the group had.

“We had noticed that in the CIP they had lighting projects for two of the schools: Head O’ Meadow and Reed [Intermediate] School,” Quinn recalled.

Those schools were scheduled to have their lights replaced with light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

Energy.gov calls LEDs the “most energy-efficient and rapidly-developing lighting technology” that “last longer, are more durable, and offer comparable or better light quality than other types of lighting.”

SEC was able to be a resource to the BOF and inform them on more cost-efficient methods for funding the lighting projects.

“There are programs available for the utilities in the state where you can get it done a lot less expensively,” Quinn explained.

With the rebate programs that SEC recommended, it dramatically brought the number down for lighting.

“Originally, the BOF removed $425,000 from the CIP in November 2020 to be funded from general funds for the lighting work at [Head O’ Meadow Elementary School] — the $425,000 for boilers was left in the CIP,” Quinn said.

In addition to SEC’s efforts, the group has a longstanding working partnership with Bob Gerbert, director of facilities for Newtown Public Schools, who also helps bring these projects and savings to fruition.

“He has been working with us since he started with the town, and we have a good relationship working with him,” Quinn said. “He understands what’s out there, too, and what’s available as far as the programs and getting stuff done.”

Rebate Savings: $86K

Gerbert shared, “For Head O’ Meadow lights, we used the Eversource on-bill financing to cover the cost of the project, $286,608.71, which included replacing all fixtures throughout the interior and exterior of the building, including the parking lot. We received a utility rebate of $86,084.25, resulting in a net cost of $200,524.46, which will be paid for on the utility bill.”

Quinn mentioned, “Newtown has used the rebate programs available from Eversource to reduce energy costs on our other schools as well as many of our municipal buildings, and we will continue to do so wherever we can. These programs are also available to commercial and industrial operations.”

The lighting project at Head O’ Meadow was even able to be accomplished sooner than expected and was moved up by the BOF from year three to year one of the plan.

Overall, Quinn says the estimated annual electric savings for the school will be 156,517 kWh.

“For Reed School, the project was included on the CIP for $1,539,894,” Gerbert said. “We have a project cost of $926,125.33 and a utility rebate of $280,763.55, for a net cost of $645,361.78; incentive will be paid out to the contractor, so we are paying the net cost only.”

He added, “For the lights at both Head O’ Meadow and Reed, we are using lights with occupancy sensors and programmable lumen levels and dimming.”

The lighting fixtures are currently being set up at Reed Intermediate School, and Gerbert reports the new condensing boilers with outdoor reset capabilities have already been installed.

Quinn says the estimated annual electric savings will be 261,323 kWh and fuel savings will be 11,171 CCF for Reed Intermediate School.

Geothermal Energy

Also on the SEC’s recent agenda was the topic of soil testing at Head O’ Meadow Elementary School and the CH Booth Library to see if it is possible to use geothermal energy for the buildings.

“Geothermal is another way of providing heat and air conditioning. It’s a heat pump system that is ground-sourced,” Quinn explained.

When the new Sandy Hook Elementary School was being built, SEC was able to have soil testing done to see if geothermal was an option. However, the results showed that the condition of the soil did not make it eligible.

The soil conditions at Head O’ Meadow are likely to be different, according to Quinn, and SEC is interested in having its soil tested since the boilers are going to need to be replaced.

Quinn noted that even if the soil did work for geothermal, it does not mean that it is going to be implemented.

“There are all sorts of other implications that come along with it, like whether or not in the long run it would be feasible, but you can’t get into that without knowing if it can be done,” she said.

Also, Quinn reported that they are considering testing the soil at the C.H. Booth Library, “because they will be digging up the parking lot anyway.”

These plans for geothermal are at the very beginning stages and currently no other municipal or school building uses geothermal.

“Most of the town buildings and schools are on natural gas,” Quinn said.

There is currently no set date for soil testing, but she says sooner is better.

“We’re really trying to get away from fossil fuels,” Quinn noted.

She recommends people learn more about energy programs by visiting Energize Connecticut at energizect.com. Also, financing options are available from Connecticut Green Bank at ctgreenbank.com.

The next Sustainable Energy Commission meeting is scheduled for Thursday, October 21. For more information about the Sustainable Energy Commission, visit newtown-ct.gov/sustainable-energy-commission.

Reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at alissa@thebee.com.

As of September 29, the hallways of Reed Intermediate School have been a bit brighter following the installation of new LED fixtures. —Bob Gerbert photos
New indirect water heaters and boilers have been installed at the Reed Intermediate School, as seen here on September 28.
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