Despite soaring energy prices, New Haven has managed to lower utility bills through a variety of innovative energy conservation efforts.

In the fiscal year 2004-05, the New Haven Energy Conservation Program has saved New Haven taxpayers $5.5 million in energy costs, Director of Public Information Derek Slap said.

According to a Mayor’s Office press release, the program, which was originally created in 1994 to generate funds for the creation of new K-12 schools, has since saved New Haven $27.4 million. Despite the additions of 23 new schools and 1.1 million square feet of land to the city, total energy costs for all city departments in 2004-05 fell from $11 million in 1994 to $10.5 million in the past fiscal year.

“By working together, and building a smart and innovative energy policy, New Haven has what few other municipalities in the country have — a declining energy bill,” said Mayor John DeStefano, Jr. in the press release. “I estimate that we’ll save taxpayers an additional $35 million by the end of 2010.”

To reach this goal, officials at the Mayor’s Office said New Haven is buying natural gas at bulk rates with other municipalities, purchasing natural gas-fueled vehicles and building new efficient facilities to lower operation costs.

The city is also investing in cutting-edge technology, such as using monitors that dim lights during off-peak times and replacing existing street lighting fixtures with more energy-efficient ones. The installation of Real-Time Energy monitoring equipment has cut down the cost of electric power for all municipal buildings by $595,000 despite a 30 percent increase in electric power rates over the last 10 years.

“It’s a gift to be in one of the few East Coast cities that is looking ahead and interested in introducing up and coming technology to the city,” said Donna Carter, executive director of the Greater New Haven Transit District. “It makes my job easier.”

Melchiori said the energy plan’s success has exceeded expectations. In addition, he said energy saving efforts in New Haven schools have been particularly successful. According to DeStefano’s press release, monitoring energy consumption in the schools and building energy efficient buildings has reduced energy bills for all Board of Education facilities by approximately $1.1 million this year.

The energy cost saving program will not stop there, Melchiori said. City officials are constantly evaluating new projects and looking for more energy-saving techniques.

Last December, New Haven received a grant from the Federal Transit Administration to build America’s first hydrogen-powered buses, Carter said. Plans for the buses are just beginning to gear up and the new buses will appear on the streets in two to three years.

“I think the buses will help foster the idea of changing to alternative fuel in the city,” Carter said.

Revolutionizing public transportation in the Elm City started with the official mayor’s car, Smuts said.

“He is the first mayor on this side of the Rocky Mountains to drive a hybrid,” he said.

Katie Matlock, a coordinator for the Yale Student Task Force for Environmental Partnership, said she thinks the city’s new policies will increase environmental awareness among Yale students.

“If students perceive that New Haven is taking initiative on the energy issue, they might see themselves as part of a larger movement,” Matlock said.