Panel Looks To Green Hamden, One Watt At A Time

A Hamden panel is looking at how to making the town greener, with some specific ideas on the table: creating an energy conservation award, making school buildings environmentally sustainable, pursuing certification for ecologically-minded government action.

Those ideas emerged at a meeting Monday evening of Hamden’s Energy Use and Climate Change Commission.

The commission is one of a few commissions in Hamden that touch on environmental protection. The commission has two goals: “to help our town reduce its energy footprint in the interest of reducing its impact on Global Warming,”  and “to assist the town in making investments in terms of energy use and efficiency in the interest of saving the town money.”

The commission is currently working on a number of initiatives. Here are a few to watch this year.

Recognizing Businesses

If all goes as planned, this summer may mark the first time Hamden hands out an annual award to a Hamden business for its efforts to improve energy efficiency.  The program is still in the works; many details have not yet been determined.

The idea, said commission Chair Larry Rosenthal, is to “award companies that take strong measures in reducing their energy and carbon footprint.”

The commission started looking into creating the award program after Director of Economic and Community Development Dale Kroop requested it.

Commission members discussed the challenge of deciding which metrics to use in determining the winner. To get ideas about what the program might look like, the commission did research on similar programs in other towns and cities. It identified a program in Austin, Texas, as a good model.

The Austin Green Business Leaders program recognizes businesses that make efforts towards sustainability. Businesses can do this in a number of ways, for instance by “reducing waste, using alternative transportation, conserving water and energy, offering employee health programs, and giving back to the community,” according to a release announcing the 2018 winners.

Hamden’s award will be much smaller in scope than Austin’s because the town does not have the bandwidth to foster such a robust program. While Austin’s program includes a variety of factors, Hamden’s will only evaluate energy efficiency. And while Austin gives the award to many businesses every year (33 got the honor in 2018), Hamden will recognize only one each year.

Sustainable CT Certification

Sam Gurwitt PhotoThis year, Hamden will attempt to become certified by Sustainable CT, a statewide program that provides a series of concrete steps that municipalities can take to conserve energy. The first certification cycle took place in 2018. Twenty municipalities, including New Haven, received certification.

Town Energy Efficiency Coordinator and former Legislative Council member Kathleen Schomaker has been leading the process of trying to get the town certified in 2019.

Schomaker said she likes the program because it provides a “specific framework for pursuing sustainability on a municipal level.” A town can decide it wants to make a commitment to sustainability, but without specific guidelines, it’s tough to know how exactly to follow through on that commitment, she said.

Sustainable CT organizes actions that municipalities can take into nine categories. (Read more about that here). Each category cites specific actions that a municipality can complete, each with a certain number of points assigned to it. In order to receive certification, a municipality must complete one action from each of the nine categories, as well as accrue a certain number of points —  200 for a bronze certification and 400 for silver.

Though many of the action categories have to do with clean energy or conservation, the program also has a strong emphasis on equity. The ninth category is “inclusive and equitable community impacts,” and contains only one action item: optimize for equity. To optimize for equity means to “build and strengthen municipal processes to be more inclusive, cohesive, and representative of all community members,” according to the Sustainable CT website.

For Schomaker, the focus on equity sets Sustainable CT apart from similar programs in other states. As she told the commission Monday evening, Connecticut is the only state with equity as an action item in its sustainability program. 

Sustainable CT also offers a way of getting the whole community involved in sustainability efforts. Certification is an “opportunity to create a culture of awareness about what it takes” to become a more sustainable town, she told the commission.

Committee Vice-Chair Christina Crowder agreed that the program draws its strength from its ability to change culture.

“Any tools that we can bring to bear that help change culture at different levels is a worthwhile investment,” she told the Independent. It shows that “we as a town government are committed to making changes that are sustainable.” She added that it has an “everybody’s got to pitch in kind of vibe.”

The final deadline for submission to the 2019 certification cycle is Aug. 30.

Efficient School Buildings

The commission also discussed a draft of a letter it intends to send to the Board of Education regarding efficiency in school buildings. The commission will continue to edit it before next month’s meeting, when it will vote on it.

The school board is planning renovations on a few Hamden schools; commission members said they see the renovations as an opportunity. When the board carried out construction projects in the past, it opted not to make the extra investment in long-term sustainability. Commission member Martin Mador, former chair of the commission and former legislative co-chair of the Connecticut Sierra Club, drafted the letter to urge the board not to miss these opportunities for sustainability this time around.

Members said they also hope the letter will open the door for future collaboration between the commission and the school board.

Commission Chair Rosenthal said the letter is a way of introducing the commission to the Board of Ed and letting them know that the commission has expertise when it comes to maximizing energy efficiency, and can help in planning construction projects.

“We want to make sure all municipal buildings are doing the best they can to reduce their carbon footprint,” he said.

Reducing carbon footprint can also save money. Though the town would have to spend more money during the construction process in order to make buildings more energy efficient, energy savings in the long term should more than offset the initial costs of construction.

The commission has a busy year ahead. In addition to these three initiatives, it is drafting a Comprehensive Energy Plan that it will submit to the Planning and Zoning Commission as it drafts the town’s new Plan of Conservation and Development. As clerk Catharine Gempka put it, unlike some other commissions, the Energy Use and Climate Change Commission always uses its full two hours in meetings.

“They want,” she said, “to save the world.”

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