Local leaders promote Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Region - posted Tue., May. 24, 2011
Mansfield Town Manager Matthew Hart converses with state Rep. Susan Johnson (D-49th District) and Mansfield Mayor Betsy Paterson during an ice cream social preceding the local kick-off of the Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge. Photos by Melanie Savage.
Mansfield Town Manager Matthew Hart converses with state Rep. Susan Johnson (D-49th District) and Mansfield Mayor Betsy Paterson during an ice cream social preceding the local kick-off of the Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge. Photos by Melanie Savage.

In March, officials from 14 different Connecticut towns gathered at the Department of Environmental protection offices in Hartford for the official kick-off of the Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge (see March 23 article in the ReminderNews.) The Connecticut Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge is made possible by a $4.17 million Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, funded as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Over three years, the goal of the program is to assist at least 10 percent of households in participating towns in reducing their energy consumption by at least 20 percent. The towns involved are: Bethany, Cheshire, East Haddam, East Hampton, Glastonbury, Lebanon, Mansfield, Portland, Ridgefield, Weston, Westport, Wethersfield, Wilton and Windham.

On May 21, town officials from Mansfield, Windham and Lebanon gathered at the Windham Textile and History Museum to give the program a local boost. Appearing were Windham Mayor Ernie Eldridge, Mansfield Mayor Betsy Paterson and Jim Macauley, chair of the Lebanon Energy Task Force. Also on hand were state Rep. Susan Johnson (D-49th District) and Jean de Smet, former Windham first selectman and a local supporter of green initiatives.

Representatives from the Student Conservation Association described the basics of the project. According to SCA’s website, the organization’s mission is to “build the next generation of conservation leaders and inspire lifelong stewardship of our environment and communities by engaging young people in hands-on service to the land.” Assigned to the Windham/Mansfield/Lebanon area are SCA representatives Jefferson Crawford, Jenna Zelenetz and Madeline Priest.

“For the most part, we have a series of steps and they’re all energy-efficiency associated,” said Crawford. The goal is to guide residents through the steps, from least expensive and invasive to most, depending on their interest and financial resources. A first step, for example, would be participating in the Neighbor to Neighbor Lighting program. Representatives from the Clean Energy Corps will come into a home and replace existing bulbs with free Compact Florescent bulbs. Representatives say that the change will save the average homeowner $100 per year in electricity costs.

Home Energy Solutions assessments are available to any homeowner (not just within the 14 participating towns) for a $75 co-pay. The cost includes replacement of inefficient light bulbs, air leak testing and air sealing. Homeowners are also provided with information on other energy-efficient upgrades, as well as programs for low-interest financing and rebates. According to figures provided by SCA representatives, in an average home experiencing $3,500 annual utility costs, approximately 30 percent, or $1,500, is unnecessary expense. “Our goal is to decrease energy usage by 20 percent, keeping more than $150 million in the local economy,” said Priest.

SCA representatives are available to provide assistance in identification of reputable contractors and existing funding resources. They also plan to hold workshops in participating towns. The first, held recently in Lebanon, focused on home energy basics. Workshops can be tailored to the interests of local residents. “Mansfield really wants to talk about solar,” said Crawford, “so we’re planning a workshop to facilitate that interest.”

De Smet said that she had already participated in the Home Energy Solutions assessment program. “It was very easy,” she said. Though she’d already replaced most of her light bulbs herself, “I learned what the weaknesses are in my house,” she said. For de Smet, an important energy-saving measure will be upgrading insulation in her basement. “They said it would pay for itself in two to five years,” said de Smet. “I will definitely be doing that.”

Since the Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge is a contest, there are prizes involved. Potential winnings for efficient communities include a Segway, solar-powered street lights or an electric utility vehicle. “I know with all of the old homes in Windham, we should easily win this contest,” said de Smet.

After the official presentation, representatives from each of the three towns headed to the front of the room for some good-natured challenges. Lebanon’s Macauley, for example, challenged Windham to get three new community groups involved with the program by the end of June. As an added incentive, Paterson suggested a supply of locally-made ice cream for the winning group.

Visit www.ctenergychallenge.com for more information and to sign up for a monthly newsletter.

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