Lightbulbs on, thermostats off

When the Yale Community Carbon Fund and the New Haven Office of Sustainability realized they were developing similar programs to improve energy efficiency, the two groups decided to join forces.

The Office of Sustainability is providing low-flow shower heads and fluorescent light bulbs to registered residents, and the Community Carbon Fund is giving programmable thermostats to 125 low-income households. So far, more than 60 residents have contacted the Office of Sustainability, and two people have signed up for the Community Carbon Fund’s program, which started Monday.

“Instead of spending money for similar things, we said, ‘Let’s just collaborate and maximize our resources,’ ” Office of Sustainability director Christine Eppstein Tang said.

Residents who sign up for the city’s program receive home energy audits from the Woodbridge, Conn.-based New England Conservation Services, which installs the shower heads and light bulbs in addition to doing minor repairs. If these households meet the low-income requirement for the Community Carbon Fund’s program, the contractor will also install programmable thermostats. These three devices save homeowners about $123 per year on average, according to the Community Carbon Fund’s website.

While New Haven residents previously had to shoulder a $75 co-payment to install shower heads and light bulbs, Tang said, New England Conservation Services said it would waive the fee.

She added that the program can continue only as long as the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund, which provides money for energy-saving projects throughout the state, can subsidize the audits.

Christopher Ehlert, the fund’s manager for residential energy services, said that because his company supports so many projects in the state, he did not know how many New Haven residents could use the city’s program.

Community Carbon Fund coordinator Justin Elicker FES ’10 SOM ’10 said each of the thermostats costs about $60, including installation. While several grants have subsidized the thermostats, Elicker said he hopes the Community Carbon Fund hopes to solicit donations from the Yale community.

“We are optimistic that we will be able to install more that 125 [thermostats],” said Elicker, the Ward 10 alderman.

The Community Carbon Fund’s program was based on an earlier pilot project that provided 20 moderate-income homes with low-flow shower heads, fluorescent light bulbs and programmable thermostats, Yale Center for Business and the Environment director Bryan Garcia said. In addition, the non-profit Urban Resources Initiative, which partners with Yale on local environmental projects, planted 15 trees — at a cost of about $400 each — to help absorb carbon dioxide emissions.

“It taught us how much effort was required and allowed us to see if our economics played out,” Garcia said of the pilot.

According to the Community Carbon Fund’s website, gas bills for households in the pilot project decreased 26 percent because of the programmable thermostats, which automatically adjusts the temperature when residents are asleep or out of the house.

Elicker said local initiatives that offset carbon dioxide emissions, such as the Community Carbon Fund, can be more effective than larger projects because people like to help members of their own community. A donation of $60 for a programmable thermostat would offset carbon dioxide emissions for a plane ride from New York to Paris, he added.

Since the program is still in its early stages, Elicker said, the Community Carbon Fund is raising awareness at Yale primarily through word of mouth.

“We want to make sure the program is up and running before we aggressively market it to the Yale community,” he said.

In 2007, University President Richard Levin announced that Yale would reduce its carbon emissions by 2020 by 43 percent from 2005 levels.

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