By: Alexa Gorman

Towns across Northwest Connecticut are saving money with energy efficiency efforts. Here’s a look at how two towns, Thomaston and Harwinton, have done this.

Thomaston will save $4 million over the next 15 years. Harwinton is on the path to cut 20 percent of its spending by 2018.

Both towns are working with different programs to improve energy efficiency in homes and municipal buildings.

Both towns have been developing energy efficiency programs over the last few years, but this year, plans are changing.

In Thomaston, First Selectman Edmond V. Mone said the Energy Performance Contract held by Johnson Controls of Meriden was established in May. The bond package covers upgrades in all municipal buildings, including the switch in Town Hall to geothermal heating and cooling.

“Pure and simple, all of these things needed to be taken care of in the community,” Mone said. “This gave us the opportunity to improve many building components in town buildings— things we knew would soon need replacing.”

Mone said the project was paid for with multiple grants and an energy rebate from Northeast Utilities. The town received $578,000 in grants for the project. The remainder of the estimated $3 million was bonded and will be paid over the next 15 years.

Mone said the money saved from the improvements will come to $4 million, adding $1 million to the town’s coffers over the 15-year period.

“It was a no brainer,” said Mone.

This number comes from estimates provided by Johnson Controls.

The town implemented 21 energy control modules, which are used to monitor the energy being used in a building. Representatives from Johnson Controls presented their findings to the Board of Selectmen in October, and said only minor adjustments were needed in the buildings so far, mostly just adjusting the thermostats.

The two biggest components of this project were replacing the old heating and cooling systems with a geothermal system and replacing light bulbs with LED bulbs.

These improvements contribute to the $4 million in savings over the next 15 years.

“This is just another creative way to take care of building improvements without increasing taxes,” said Mone.

In Harwinton, First Selectman Michael R. Criss used his home as an example for “Energize CT,” a rebate program offered through Connecticut Light and Power.

CL&P approached Criss with the new point system for communities, and Criss said he wanted to be the first to test it out.

Criss said he paid $99 for an inspection, caulking and insulation of all the cracks in his home. He said the process took about five hours, but was worth it because he will save about $1,200 over the next year.

“When you’re raising a family, you’re always looking for ways to save money,” said the father of two boys. The inspection results with lists of recommendations, rebates available and companies who honor the rebates, Criss said.

Criss is encouraging more people to get involved because the more who sign up, the more points Harwinton will earn with CL&P.

These points can be cashed in for grant money for energy audits and work on municipal buildings, Criss said.

“No matter how much we save, we still have to pay to operate the buildings,” he said.

Harwinton is one of 75 communities in the state that signed the pledge to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent and purchase 20 percent through renewable resources by 2018.

Rebecca Meyer, senior program administrator for energy efficiency programs at CL&P and Yankee Gas, said the town has already earned 105 points.

The point system is not based on population, but the percentage of people from a town who participate. Residents earn points for the town by replacing old appliances with Energy Star appliances, participating in rebate programs, reconstruction programs and clean energy programs. For every one percent of residents who participate, the town will earn six points. For every one percent of residents who replace old appliances with Energy Star quality appliances, eight points are earned.

Businesses and municipal buildings can earn points as well. If a municipal building or business completes a clean energy project, four points are earned. Special projects, like energy fairs, are worth 1 to 10 points.

These points are cashed in for Bright Idea grants. In Harwinton, Meyer said the town has already earned one $5,000 grant. Every 100 points qualifies a town for grant money.

“The plan is flexible, so every town can decide how to use the money,” Meyer said.

She said Avon installed HVAC systems in their Town Hall, Southbury hosted an energy fair and other towns purchased performance-grade audits on their municipal buildings to determine how to reach the 20 percent decrease by 2018.

Harwinton is participating in a pilot program over the next six months. They were chosen as one of ten communities that will get a “walk through” to determine additional ways to save energy and tax dollars.

Meyer said the communities chosen do not have full-time energy managers, so they might need more help determining which projects should be the priority.

“To keep this going, we need strong community support,” she said.

The clean energy task force, a team that worked to educate community members about clean energy options offered by CL&P in 2010, is forming again to get more people aware of the potential savings. The group’s original goal was to get 20 percent of the town signed up by 2010— a goal that was not met.

Now, the group is looking for new members to help orchestrate programs to educate the town about energy savings and get as many involved as possible.

Harwinton’s new goal is to have 20 percent of its energy generated by renewable resources and cut 20 percent of its energy bill by 2018.

Those interested in signing up for the task force can contact Tracy Mirski at 860-485-9051 ext. 105. An energy forum is scheduled Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. in Harwinton Public Library to answer further questions.