Ridgefield's Energy Task Force aims to reduce carbon

Energy use and conservation seem destined to be a leading issue in the coming decade, and Ridgefield’s Energy Task Force has outlined a series of goals for the town and schools.

“Looking ahead, we have a laundry list of things that we hope can get done,” Dr. Ben Oko of the Energy Task Force told the Board of Selectmen.

“...We will be encouraging the town to commit to a new and more aggressive goal to rely on cleanly generated electricity for all its energy needs by 2030,” Oko said. “If we are to combat the present crisis of climate change, we need to accelerate our efforts even if it has a cost. Ridgefield is a leader in so many ways. It should lead with this as well.”

The Energy Task Force’s list of goals included:

 Make all schools and municipal buildings LED lighted;

 Increase electronic charging stations including the new town parking lot;

 Start replacing town vehicles with electric vehicles;

 Explore electric school buses in future bus contracts;

 Increase the number of solar energy arrays on town and school buildings to include all of them;

 Explore heat pump technology and start revamping town buildings’ heating and cooling systems to benefit from this approach;

 Improve recycling with a goal of zero waste.

“We are starting to prepare a comprehensive plan for the town that will expand on these suggestions and bring numbers to bear on them as well,” Oko told the Board of Selectmen’s Dec. 11 meeting.

The Energy Task force is an advisory body to the town and school system. Its members include: Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark; Jake Muller of the town facilities and engineering department; Dwayne Escoala, a local solar expert and contractor; architect and green energy advocate Elizabeth DiSalvo; Board of Finance Chairman Dave Ulmer; Geoffrey Morris and Cameron Cole Carcelen, both of the Economic and Community Development Commission; and Dr. Oko, a member of the Ridgefield Action Committee on the Environment (RACE) and a former Conservation Commission chairman.

The town has been making progress in becoming more energy efficient, Oko said, reviewing progress the Energy Task Force had made since its creation in 2018 toward the goals the town set back in 2015.

Solar schools

The area of greatest success he pointed to was the continuing push to adapt school buildings with solar energy arrays to supply some of their energy and reduce what they must draw from the electric grid.

“We set as our first goal conserving energy and reducing costs for the town,” Oko said. “When we started, Farmingville was the only school that had solar. It was an effective start, resulting in a 38% reduction in energy usage.

“Thanks in large part tot Jake Mueller and Dwayne Escola, we now have solar arrays in operation on Barlow Mountain and Scotts Ridge schools, and in 2020, Veterans Park, Scotland and Ridgebury will have solar installed. The high school will also have solar in late 2020. Branchville may also be eligible.”

But the push for more solar won’t be enough for the town to meet its previously set goal for reducing energy use.

“If we now look to the town, the goal to reduce energy by 20% by 2020 has not been met,” Oko said. “Even with the solar installations done and anticipated we will not get there.”

Still, there has been progress, and more is anticipated.

“There are some improvements afoot,” Oko said. “The Venus Building will become more energy efficient with new heating and cooling. It will not be the most advanced in terms of equipment, but it will be better.

“Lighting with LEDs, which is a tremendous energy saver, continues slowly but needs capital outlays before more savings can be realized.”

Accepting costs

Selectman Sean Connelly asked what the Task Force saw as “the biggest priorities we need to focus on” to meet the town’s energy conservation goals in the coming years.

“Our next job on the Task Force is to develop a clear answer to that question,” Oko said. “LEDs, more solar, electric vehicles...”

Oko warned that while everybody liked to talk about energy initiatives that save money — and many of them do — a serious effort to reduce energy consumption could require some investments that did not have a short payback period.

“The easy ones are solar and LEDs,” Oko said. “The harder ones may be a net cost to the town...

“We spend money on stuff because it’s important to do it,” Oko told the selectmen.

“The way the global warming curve works, you have a little more than 10 years to put the screws to carbon, or the cow is out of the barn.”