As the Yale campus embarks on a campaign to decrease electricity consumption and Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. commits the city to using 20 percent renewable energy by 2010, the municipality of New Haven continues to stave off increasing power costs and greenhouse gas emissions the old-fashioned way.
New Haven began taking measures to conserve electricity consumption back in 1998 when it entered into a contract with Honeywell, a U.S.-based technology and manufacturing company, to implement new ways to curb energy spending. The $8 million contract was designed to save the city about $10 million over a ten year time period, said Frank Altieri, the city’s management and budget director, who has been involved with the program since its inception.
“They identified the major energy savings for us, and that’s how they were awarded the contract,” said Altieri. “They came up with the least costly, most effective plan for energy conservation.”
While the city’s original intent was to cut costs, environmentalists also claim New Haven’s electricity conservation program as a victory. Derek Murrow FES ’03, a policy analyst for Environment Northeast who is working with the city on its renewable energy initiative, said reducing electricity use is often the best way for a city to reduce its environmental impact.
“Because you’re reducing electricity consumption, you get emissions benefits from that,” Murrow said. “It’s very effective because it usually has no costs or cost savings associated with it.”
Through its conservation program, New Haven has reduced environmental pollution to date by 16 million pounds of greenhouse gases, Altieri said. New Haven is unusual for the tactics it has taken, Murrow said, describing the city as “forward-thinking.” Rob Smuts ’01, a policy analyst for the Mayor, concurred.
“We’re not perhaps a national groundbreaker on any of this stuff, but I think in the time we were one of the leaders in the Northeast and Connecticut,” Smuts said. “We’ve probably had the most aggressive energy conservation program in the state for the past eight or nine years and certainly one of the top three if not the top.”
From a cost perspective, the program has also been tremendously successful, Altieri said, explaining that Honeywell must prove that the city’s kilowatt-hour performance, which measures the amount of electricity is consumed, decreases.
“So far they have exceeded their performance standards,” Altieri said. “Our electric bill for the city is about eight million dollars — that’s just electricity. Without these programs I think it would have been $18.96 million.”
The energy conservation plan that Honeywell executed is composed of many smaller programs that work together to collectively reduce electricity usage. They range from simple to highly complex and include using more energy-efficient light bulbs in street lights and utility poles, improving the lighting, heating and ventilation systems in public buildings, renovating public schools so they meet the federal government’s green school standard, and building a fuel cell power generator.
“When you do this you go after the low-hanging fruit first,” Altieri said. “All the other sophisticated technology you save for later on. An example is the real-time measuring of our consumption so we know when our peaks and valleys are.”
The city now uses real-time measuring to electronically monitor the amount of energy being consumed by its buildings. As an example of the city’s use of this information, Altieri said electricity use tends to peak in the summertime during the heat of the day. When the city sees this peak, it can raise the temperature in its buildings by a degree or two without the buildings’ inhabitants noticing. This decrease in electricity consumption then saves the city a significant amount of money, as Honeywell planned.
“The original goal was mainly from a cost perspective,” Smuts said. “It’s only as we achieved such success that we really started to appreciate it from an environmental perspective and a quality of life perspective.”
The conservation program has helped the city to realize the connection between the health of its inhabitants and the pollution emitted by its power plants, Smuts said. He attributed the progressive nature of New Haven’s current energy policy to the success of this program.
“From that connection we looked to sort of build on it, and the logical place to take it was renewable energy,” Smuts said. “On that basis and some other stuff we were looking into we thought we could have a very innovative and aggressive renewable commitment and provide leadership in addressing these issues.”