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01/06/2023 03:57 PM

Town Continues Collaborative Efforts to Clean Energy

With its many accomplishments over the past eight years, the Clean Energy Task Force continues to move forward in its commitment to gradually transform the North Haven community into an energy-efficient and eco-friendly town.

The Task Force was created in 2007, and since then has worked with town officials, residents, and local businesses in educating and encouraging them to invest in clean energy methods and advise town leadership on environmental policy and projects, among other core objectives. Through these actions, the Task Force would have the credit, as they have numerous times in the past, to solicit state grant proposals for the town and its community members.

Its first major accomplishment brought a free solar array to North Haven High School (NHHS) through a sign-up campaign in collaboration with the school’s student-run Project Green, according to Task Force head Kenny Foscue.

“The first major campaign was the Clean Energy Option, which was getting people to sign-up to say you wanted either 50 percent or 100 percent of your power to come from renewable sources,” said Foscue. “That was basically to encourage development. One of the good things that came out of our work was we got enough people to sign-up for the Option to win a solar array for the town, which we elected to put on the high school.”

Since that initial accomplishment, the Task Force has continued to work with various town groups and residents on other campaigns to bring more renewable energy into regional homes, businesses, and organizations.

“Our biggest claim to fame is we’ve done three very successful Home Energy Solutions [HES] assessment campaigns,” said Foscue. “We work with EnergizeCT, [and] they come up with a couple of vendors. We got them to agree for every homeowner that signed up, they would donate $25. That first year was to the SARAH, a local disability organization. We had over 500 people sign-up, so we were able to get them a check for over $12,000. We created something that actually we’re trying to get other towns to think about doing which is to link up with a charity.”

With regards to NHHS, Foscue said in the last few months, the Task Force has met and shared information with the North Haven School District regarding clean energy and efficiency initiatives, such as placing more solar panels on school roofs. First Selectman Michael Freda also endorsed putting more panels on schools' roofs, particularly North Haven Middle School.

“The school system is always looking to improve energy efficiency. We’ve looked in conjunction with the school system about solar projects on top of roofs. The new middle school we built is up to every specification on the highest energy-efficiency standards. We will continue, in conjunction with the Board of Ed[ucation] to entertain any ideas that would improve energy efficiency,” he said.

Steps are already being taken, but the Task Force is looking to go further with public and town buildings as part of a broader mission to bring clean and energy-efficient technology to North Haven.

“We got a free solar array on the high school, but part of this is really making sure all the municipal buildings, including the schools, are energy- efficient,” Foscue said.

Another HES campaign spearheaded by the Task Force includes assessments for energy efficiency at the North Haven Congregational Church Food Pantry, netting them $6,075, according to Foscue. This was achieved during the coronavirus pandemic, “at a time when people were really hurting,” said Foscue.

Through HES campaigns and work with SolarizeCT, the Task Force has also led the charge to install a higher number of solar arrays on residential rooftops, with over 30% of households in North Haven having panels on top of their homes. According to Foscue, that is greater than the average 20% rate seen across other towns and cities in the state. “It’s really the first step in making your house energy efficient, and working towards clean energy like solar,” said Foscue. “We’re still [at] approximately 65 to 70 percent more that need to do it, but from when we looked at the data, especially for the size, if you look at per capita, if you compared us to towns of our size, we’re pretty much up there.”

While working with the Town, the Task Force has been attentive to the environmental and public health impact climate change will continue to have. On Nov. 8, 2021, the Town hosted a forum on climate change presented by Foscue and personnel from Yale University’s School of the Environment and Center on Climate Change, which focused on those impacts in Connecticut and the many sustainability solutions that can be brought to North Haven.

Foscue credits forums and the accomplishment of the Task Force throughout the years to a dedicated team and close, supportive collaboration with town officials.

“We’ve had a pretty good, stable Task Force over the years. One thing is that we have had, at least for six to seven years, we’ve had a good working relation[ship] with Mike Freda,” he said. “Except for during the worst of the pandemic, we meet with him quarterly. Over those years, we meet each quarter, and every time we meet, something good comes out of our meetings, including what we’re planning to do now and that forum.”

Looking to the future, Fosuce said the Task Force is currently in the planning stages of a new campaign that initially surrounds the many energy-saving rebates that will be available to the Town as a result of the Inflation Reduction Act. With the financing being the new plan, part of what the Task Force is looking to do is install an efficient alternative source of heat pumps, an inexpensive method compared to natural gas, heating oil, or traditional air conditioning, into homes and businesses.

“Billions are coming in, and some of them are tax rebates. A lot of this will be around promoting air-source heat pumps,” said Foscue. “There’s two main types of heat pumps: residential or commercial. [There are] air-source pumps, which basically transfer heat and cold both ways, so it doesn’t produce heat, it transfers heat in the winter from outside. And then in the summer, it takes out the humidity and the heat, and sends it outside.”

Foscue said plans for installing heat pumps and other parts of the new strategy, which will still include HES campaigns, will likely begin on Jan. 1, while information on executing parts of the strategy is still being gathered.

The positive environmental, sustainable, and economic effects of seeing through the Force’s missions demonstrate to Foscue all the more reason why people should continue to “think globally, act locally,” and he extends an invitation to residents to join the team.

“We’re always looking for new members. To really make this work we can always use more members of our Task Force,” he said. “I think for my colleagues, [we ask], ‘What can we do day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, to really get people to reduce fossil fuel use and save money.”