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Selectmen Hear Plan For Making Newtown More ‘Green’



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With the goal of a greener, more sustainable Newtown, the Sustainable Energy Commission revealed its ambitious goal of making 95 % of Newtown’s energy usage renewable by next year.

Sustainable Energy Commission Chairman Kathleen Quinn and Public Works Director Fred Hurley came before the Board of Selectmen at its November 15 meeting to show the Municipal Energy Plan.

The energy plan is “designed to guide the town toward greater energy efficiency and stability,” said Quinn, and benefits include reducing the town’s carbon footprint and contribution to climate change, gaining savings by reducing energy expenditures, improving air quality with resultant health benefits, reducing weather-related power outages and bringing more comfort to homes and businesses.

Currently, 84 % of all electricity for Newtown municipal buildings comes from solar, said Quinn, and increases in solar energy production as solar panels are added to town buildings under construction will help bring the town to 95 % by 2022. The town will strive for 100 % carbon-free electricity by 2040, which is also a State of Connecticut goal.

The path to 100 % renewable power “comprises two complementary actions” — decrease in overall energy consumption and a shift to clean, renewable energy.

“We can’t attack things one way,” said Hurley. “We have to take a balanced approach. But if we follow the money it leads to savings.”

Key elements on the road to 100 % renewable power are to:

1. Increase energy efficiency of public and private buildings. This includes updating things such as windows to retain heat and moving to LED lighting to reduce electric consumption.

2. Promote the use of solar energy while also pursuing regional solutions for a cleaner grid. This includes installation of more solar arrays in town and making use of available programs to help pay for things.

3. In collaboration with Eversource, modernize the local electric grid and incorporate microgrids to enable higher levels of renewable energy. Microgrids are decentralized energy sources that can operate on their own without the wider energy grid.

4. Transition of heating and cooling to geothermal heat pumps and other new technologies. Geothermal heat pumps are energy efficient heating that transfers heat from underground using water or steam.

5. Transition to electric vehicles. Newtown currently has one electric vehicle, being used by the health department on inspections of businesses. Additionally, a two-port car charging station was installed in 2017 at the Municipal Center; and four fast charge installations are in progress in Sandy Hook through the Electrify America program, worth $350,000.

Quinn said building emissions are 34.3 % of Connecticut’s green house gasses. When electric power generation is included, buildings represent 50.9 % of Connecticut’s greenhouse gasses. The best return on investment is spending money on both investing in energy production and reducing energy usage in buildings, which can create savings of 25 to 50 percent.

Local Energy Production

Town wide, Newtown currently derives 13 % of its electricity from solar, with 84 % of municipal electric usage coming from solar. The town’s municipal buildings current put out nearly 12 million kilowatt hours of energy per year.

Across the community there are 464 solar arrays with a total capacity of almost eight megawatts, with 1.4 megawatts coming from 27 commercial and industrial units, 2.4 megawatts coming from municipal buildings and 4.1 megawatts coming from 437 residential units. The town is expecting to see an additional four megawatts of energy from solar virtual net metering contracts on two sites in Connecticut.

Newtown has made progress in increasing energy production and reducing energy usage by taking advantage of the Small Business Energy Advantage (SBEA) to reduce energy use in the Municipal Center, the waste water treatment plant, the multipurpose building on Riverside Road, the Public Works Department, and is partially completed at the Edmond Town Hall and CH Booth Library. Energy conservation and renewable energy sources were also taken advantage of in the construction of the new police station.

Additionally, Quinn said that the town has identified issues at the new Community/Senior Center, is using the Energy Star Portfolio Manager program to quantify the town’s savings more precisely, and is working to convert streetlights to LED. In Newtown, 22 % of households and 24 % of businesses participated in Energize CT efficiency programs.

The Middle School and Middle Gate Elementary School have had natural gas lines extended to the schools, new boilers installed and LED lighting retrofits. Hawley has had new boilers installed and an LED lighting retrofit of the interior and the parking lot. Head O’Meadow has had an LED lighting retrofit.

Newtown High School has new boilers, hydronic heat pumps and indirect tanks for water heating as well as an LED lighting retrofit. At Sandy Hook School, there has been identified excessive use of energy from building management systems, boiler temperature control, the kitchen hood fan and parking lot lights, from which savings of $125,000 per year have been derived.

Much of that work has been paid for through leveraging energy rebates, said Quinn. At Head O’Meadow, the LED lighting upgrade had a $286,600 cost, which was reduced by $86,100 in utility rebates and the rest paid through on-bill financing, with nothing out-of-pocket to start. At Reed Intermediate School, the new boilers and LED lighting upgrade cost $926,125, but the town was able to get $280,764 in utility rebates, for a final cost of $645,361.

Quinn said there are a number of ways of financing energy efficiency, such as Energize CT (energizect.com), which provides rebates, services and financing for residential and commercial buildings; CT Greenbank (ctgreenbank.com), which was established by the Connecticut General Assembly to promote clean energy, providing low cost financing for green energy projects for residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional; and CPACE (energy.gov), which provides financing for energy efficiency, renewable energy, etc., with repayments via an assessment on a property’s tax bill.

Flattening The “Peak”

Hurley said a key to reducing energy costs is flattening the times of peak energy usage. While it’s not possible to go into a building and ask for the power to go off for several hours, the town can institute plans to shave how much energy is being used or find alternate means of power.

“If done correctly, often those in the building would not even realize it was happening,” said Hurley. “It would be seamless.”

The plan has a number of recommendations for the town in the future.

1. Adopt energy efficient building codes, such as solar-ready roofs on all new construction, geothermal heat pumps, and battery storage.

2. Continue to expand and upgrade solar, such as at the Batchelder site and the Municipal Building, while reducing costs such as with traffic control signage and installing LED lighting in parking lots.

3. Additional electric vehicle charging facilities and municipal electric vehicles.

4. Encourage the use of available programs, such as SBEA, CPACE, Energize CT and CT Greenbank.

Quinn said she would like the Sustainable Energy Commission to meet with town agencies, such as the Economic Development Commission and the Planning & Zoning Commission to “show them what we’re doing,” so those agencies can encourage those looking to build in town to consider things such as geothermal heating, charging stations and solar arrays.

“It’s good for them to think about these things ahead of time,” said Quinn.

First Selectman Dan Rosenthal said the commission offers a skill to residents.

“We can’t mandate that anyone do anything, but I’m sure people would be happy to use all the knowledge you’ve [the Sustainable Energy Commission] gleaned,” said Rosenthal. “It’s a free service.”

Quinn agreed that her commission didn’t want to mandate anything to those looking to build in town, but did want to make sure they were aware of all the services that are available to help them.

Reporter Jim Taylor can be reached at jim@thebee.com.

This aerial image of the Newtown Police headquarters shows the huge array of solar panels generating power for this and other municipal facilities. Representatives of the town Sustainable Energy Commission told local selectmen November 15 the community’s public buildings will be almost completely powered by alternative energy sources within about a year.
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