Courtesy of City of New Haven

A new city department aims to promote energy efficiency, conservation efforts and investment in clean energy for residential and public spaces alike. 

Last month, Mayor Justin Elicker officially established the Office of Climate and Sustainability, which will be headed by executive director and former alder Steve Winter ’11. Funded by federal American Rescue Plan allocations, this new office is a part of the Elicker administration’s long-term goal to effectively address the ongoing climate crisis. 

“Climate change intersects with so many issues that our residents are challenged by every day,” Winter told the News. “Safe and affordable housing, clean air, public health and public health equity issues are all tied up in the same issues we have in terms of addressing climate change and the pollution that causes climate change.” 

One of the department’s primary aims is to address climate change equitably, focusing on the electrification of residential homes in low-income areas in addition to reducing the city’s overall carbon footprint. Winter, who is currently the sole head of the department, discussed his goals to improve energy efficiency in residential properties, lower utility bills for residents and improve general housing quality within the city.

Winter also highlighted an element of the state’s EnergizeCT initiative called the Home Energy Solutions energy efficiency program.

The program provides free installation of weatherization equipment, insulation and windows to residents with gross incomes below 60 percent of the state’s income median. He noted the importance of continuing expansion and support for such initiatives in order to lower utility bills for residents and make energy efficiency tangible within the city, you can visit the link to learn more about the services.

From a $5 million proposal of federal American Rescue Plan funding, the city’s Board of Alders decided in August to allocate $2 million towards various residential investments. Another $2 million went towards city-wide initiatives seeking to reduce New Haven’s carbon footprint. The last $1 million was channeled towards the creation of the Office of Climate and Sustainability to support both an executive director and a policy analyst. 

“Confronting climate change is a question of our time, and it reflects on our ability to work collaboratively as a global community,” said Elicker in a press conference on Dec. 12. “Not only do we need to see that action globally at the national level, but also at the municipal level.”

With regard to general city policies addressing climate change, Winter expressed his desire to reduce public and private waste and increase local participation in composting and recycling. In addition to its negative impact on the environment, waste disposal also poses a fiscal challenge. Winter noted that New Haven expends large quantities of money to haul off and incinerate public and private waste — funds that he said could otherwise be used for more beneficial causes. 

Winter also hopes to employ renewable energy sources such as solar power to meet the city’s energy needs, as well as continuing efforts to electrify public transportation and buildings by 2030. These goals would align with the 2021 Community Electrification Resolution, a set of climate goals passed by the Board of Alders.

At the December press conference, Elicker nodded to the city’s past efforts towards addressing climate change, specifically with regard to coastal resiliency. He discussed the importance of continuing to protect the Long Wharf Corridor through economic development and fighting adverse effects of climate change through the installation of bioswales to protect against flooding. 

The city’s connection to its various shorelines, specifically the water at Long Wharf, has declined due to highway infrastructure and rapid urbanization. Amid rising sea levels and threats of flooding, economic development of the area and protection of its shorelines will improve its resilience to climate-induced disasters.

At the press conference announcing the new department, Kai Addae, chair of the New Haven Climate Emergency Task Force, reiterated the city’s goal of reducing community emissions to zero by 2030. 

“Most days, I am scared, but today I am really hopeful and grateful that [Winter] is taking on this possession and that the city is dedicating more resources, more manpower to climate resilience and sustainability,” she said.

The Office of Climate and Sustainability was created in December of 2022.

Natasha Khazzam covers housing and homelessness for city desk. She previously covered climate and the environment. Originally from Great Neck, New York, she is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in history and English.