Woodstock: It's easy being 'green'

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
woodstock - posted Tue., Mar. 15, 2011
Woodstock Town Hall will get a solar panel system through the DCS Energy Program. Photos by D. Coffey.
Woodstock Town Hall will get a solar panel system through the DCS Energy Program. Photos by D. Coffey.

In 2009, Jim Stratos was chosen to lead Woodstock’s town-appointed committee known as “The Green Team.” It was through the efforts of Stratos and the committee members that the town became educated about clean renewable energy sources and the cost savings associated with them. As a result, Woodstock is the first and only town in Connecticut to purchase 100-percent clean and renewable energy for all of its schools and municipal buildings.

The town was recognized in December 2010 by the Environmental Protection Agency as a Green Power Partner. And now, Stratos is doing his best to get the word out to other Connecticut communities that they can switch to clean, renewable energy and save money at the same time.

Woodstock participated in two programs to reach its green goal: The Connecticut Clean Energy Program and the DCS Energy Program.

The Connecticut Clean Energy Fund’s Clean Energy Communities Program is recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Energy and the Clean Energy States Alliance for helping citizens and municipalities convert to clean energy.

“It's supported by taxpayers’ money, but I think it's money well spent,” said Stratos, “because it gets us away from fossil fuel energy and gets us thinking about a cleaner environment. And it's a cost savings measure. I don't see why people should be afraid to jump on board.”

The Clean Energy Program is a statewide program that requires towns to satisfy five requirements. These include: The community must pass a resolution to conform to 20 percent clean, renewable energy by a certain date; the town must purchase one million kilowatt hours of clean energy; 100 residents must sign up for clean, renewable energy; All schools and municipal buildings must undergo an energy audit; and the town must sign a five-year commitment, called a memorandum of understanding. After five years, the town may choose to stop participating in the program, or it may choose to continue with it and purchase a four-kilowatt solar-powered system worth $30,000 for $1.

It sounds too good to be true, but that is what Stratos and his green team discovered after doing the research. The team pitched the idea to the town in 2010. They came on board because of the cost savings, as well as the benefit to the larger community to go with clean energy.

Woodstock's municipal buildings used under 500,000 kilowatts of energy, but with the inclusion of the town's schools, the town's purchase of energy went over the million kilowatt requirement. This enabled the town to earn a three-kilowatt solar panel system from the Clean Energy Program. The program allows for an additional one-kilowatt system for every 100 residents that sign up for clean renewable energy. When 100 Woodstock residents did just that, the town was eligible to receive an additional one-kilowatt solar panel system.

The Clean Energy Program will install systems free of charge as long as a town has a four-kilowatt solar PV system. Woodstock qualified for the free installation.

Ross Solar Group will install the system within the month, according to Stratos. The solar panel system, comprised of 23 panels, will go on the roof of the middle school because of its higher energy consumption. Stratos estimates the school will realize a savings of about $100 a month on utility costs once the system is in place.

Woodstock also participated in a program through DCS Energy. DCS Energy, created in 2006, is a member of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, and Club Green with Building Green in Connecticut. The company participates in a grant program as part of the federal stimulus package. All municipalities have to do is apply for this program. And it's free, according to Stratos.

Through the stimulus grant, DCS will provide the solar panels and install them. The equipment and a five-year guarantee on the equipment is free. After five years, the town can decide to purchase the system for $1.

“If you don't like the system after five years you can say, ‘Take it back,’” said Stratos.

When Woodstock’s Green Team caught wind of the program, they jumped on board and applied for it. Now there are four locations slated to get solar panel systems: the town hall, the town garage, the elementary school on Frog Pond Road, and the volunteer fire station on Route 169. All of these locations are going to receive a nine-kilowatt system free of charge and that's going to save each location roughly $180 a month in utility costs.

“We think that is a tremendous incentive,” Stratos said. “There’s no out-of-pocket expense to the town and we’re using clean energy. It’s a win-win situation.”

This year, Woodstock has applied for an additional four-kilowatt solar panel system for its transfer station, and an additional nine-kilowatt solar panel system for the middle school.

“We’re looking forward to that because there would be an additional $280 per month savings,” Stratos said. “We're trying to get the word out to everybody. All communities can apply to see if they qualify through DCS Energy.”

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