Friday, May 4, 2007

Connecticut Towns Pledge to Use Clean Energy

A detailed article in the Hartford Courant discusses the 20 x 2010 campaign, and quotes or mentions several members of the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network.
Bloomfield and Branford. Canton and Cromwell. Hartford and Harwinton. West Hartford and Westport.One by one, cities and towns across Connecticut are buying into an energy program that its promoters promise will improve public health, free the nation from its addiction to foreign oil and combat global warming all at the same time.
The grand claims are matched by a born-again zeal. Local governments are asked to "take the pledge" or "make the commitment" to the program. It even uses its own numerology.The key numbers are "20 percent by 2010." They give the program its name and its goal. By joining, cities and towns dedicate themselves to getting 20 percent of the electricity used in their public buildings from clean power sources by 2010. Wind, water, landfill gas: yes; coal and oil: no.The next number is 100. If that many households agree to pay a clean energy premium on their monthly electric bills, a town that takes the 2010 pledge wins designation as a clean energy community. It's a kind of merit badge bestowed by the state, and comes with a prize of a solar energy unit worth $10,000.As of last month, 45 towns have joined the SmartPower 20% by 2010 Clean Energy Campaign, and 20 of those have qualified as clean energy communities. In some, new energy task forces have become permanent parts of local government, like inland wetlands commissions or zoning boards.Almost every week now a town council or board of selectmen hears the clean energy pitch from citizen activists, or from agents of the nonprofit groups nurturing the grass-roots movement.The Windsor Town Council in early April was confronted by two fourth-graders who made it their mission to get the town to join.Alex Simon and Tom McAuliffe said they were inspired by "An Inconvenient Truth," the Al Gore global warming documentary, and decided to research green power for a school project.Tom, in a navy blazer, and Alex, the son of a councilman, read from index cards as they gave a PowerPoint presentation to the council.Joining 20-10 "would provide Windsor kids with a safer, healthier future," Alex told the council.In Bloomfield, Marianne Horn, an attorney at the state Department of Public Health, said residents pushed the council to become a green community."I really think that's the way this change is going to happen and it seems to be mushrooming. I think people are afraid and they're concerned," Horn said. "One of the things that I think helps people feel empowered is to do something concrete like sign up for the clean energy option on their energy bills."West Hartford is a leader among towns already working toward the 20-10 goal. It has three solar panels on the roof of town hall and four more on the way. West Hartford has more residents, 700-plus, paying for the household clean energy option than any other town in the state.The town itself is buying about 1,500 megawatt hours of electricity that can be credited to clean sources, putting it halfway toward its 20 percent goal and way ahead of most other towns. Taking the pledge for clean energy is one thing. Budgeting for it is another.In early 2005, when West Hartford passed its 20-10 resolution and created an energy task force, people were most worried about gasoline and heating oil prices, said Mayor Scott Slifka. But that was before a surge in electricity prices, Hurricane Katrina and "An Inconvenient Truth.""We signed up for the program thinking it was the right thing. I know we didn't think it was going to become as big a deal as it has," Slifka said."Ten years ago, people went `Al Gore is a tree hugger.' Now people go, `Oh, I get it,'" Slifka said. "I think we're very much a model both for what the government is doing, but very much for what the residents are doing on their own."Meanwhile, Hartford may soon leap past West Hartford. On April 19, in honor of Earth Day, the city said it would reach its 20 percent goal by the end of this year.

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