The city of New Haven will commit to purchasing 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2010, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. announced yesterday. New Haven is the first city in Connecticut to make this commitment, which follows the resolution passed by the New Haven Board of Aldermen last summer that committed the city to this energy policy.

“We think it is a challenge that we will accomplish, and we are inviting other communities and consumers to join us,” DeStefano said at a City Hall press conference. “Even more significant is that I feel the cities and places that will be competitive — will be those that focus on clean air and clean water.”

The mayor cited smart economics and a desire to improve New Haven air quality as reasons for adopting this plan. DeStefano explained that the policy specifically targets New Haven’s high rate of asthma and the spending cuts in the national clean air budget by the Bush administration.

“Supporting renewable energy markets will have dramatic impacts in terms of mitigating global warming and air pollution in general,” said Brooke Suter, the Connecticut director of the Clean Water Fund, one of the groups that worked to persuade the city government to adopt the plan.

The mayor’s renewable energy pledge is the result of a year’s collaboration between the city of New Haven and the nonprofit organizations SmartPower, Clean Water Fund, Environment Northeast and the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network. Jonathan Edwards, SmartPower’s director of external affairs, described the organization as the “collaborative engine” among the other groups that kept communication channels to the mayor’s office open.

“We maintained relations, kept their eye on the ball, answered any questions, and put them in touch with power marketers so they knew what supply was available and what the costs were,” Edwards said.

The Clean Water Fund involved the public by hosting community meetings, working to educate citizens, and creating a broad support base, Suter said. She emphasized the role of civic involvement.

“As the mayor said in his speech, the involvement and support of the citizens who called for this action was critical in making it happen and will continue to be critical in its implementation,” Suter said.

Environment Northeast provided technical expertise about renewable energy. Policy analyst Derek Murrow FES ’03 said it recommended using a combination of sources — “something like half coming from the grid and the regional power pool and — half from local renewable projects.”

Rob Smuts ’01, an aide to DeStefano, said the city will follow this recommendation and hopes to make a request for proposals within the next two weeks for “class one” renewable energy sources, which are the strictest renewable energy type and would be part of the grid. Smuts also said the city is looking into various local renewable energy projects, such as solar panels, wind power and a cogeneration power plant fueled by methane from landfills. All proposals remain on the drawing board, he said.

DeStefano said New Haven already produces some renewable energy and is involved in a conservation program that saves the city about $4 million each year.

“We’re conceiving of this as an outgrowth of our conservation efforts — just a drop in the bucket of the costs,” Smuts said.

All of the groups and the city said this plan could have a significant “ripple effect” on the community. Suter said citizens need to be aware that renewable energy is a viable option for themselves as well as for the city.

If the plan succeeds, all involved agreed that it would greatly benefit the city.

“If they all make [a] 20 percent renewable pledge and follow through on that, there is no question that our air will be cleaner, our community will be healthier, and we will have renewable energy sources, which is something that’s on all of our minds,” Edwards said.

[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”18180″ ]