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Category: Municipal
Contacts: Robert Palmer, Director of Facilities
Community Highlighted:   West Hartford
Leading Groups: Town of West Hartford, West Hartford Energy Task Force, West Hartford Board of Education
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.Phone: 860-561-7925

Project Description:   The Town of West Hartford realized there were numerous energy saving benefits available for town buildings, electricity, and vehicles – many of them “low hanging fruit.” But it was nobody’s job to identify and capture these benefits, so they were largely unclaimed. As West Hartford’s Energy Plan was approved by Town Government, with an ambitious list of goals and activities, it became clear that this burst of important work would only happen if someone was specifically paid to do it. The Director of Public Works tried to fill that role, and quickly became a champion of creating a new position.

The position was established (half-time) in February, 2011. The Task Force took time to research similar job descriptions and draw elements from many.   The position was filled in early 2011. Energy Manager Catherine Devinney had worked in a similar, skilled role on the West Coast and was ready to move to New England for family reasons when West Hartford began its search. She has filled the position since 2011, and has much to say about how to make this strategy successful in most communities.

Results: The town has never tried to establish a precise benefit-cost analysis for the Energy Manager budget line.  Instead, they focus on the obvious savings that are observed in her daily job performance and regular reporting – for example, the lower electricity prices that have been secured by the Energy Manager, and utility billing errors that have been tracked.

The results of the Energy Manager’s work are not limited to direct, immediate savings to the Town. This position is able to lend outreach support for town programs that benefit businesses (e.g. C-PACE), homeowners (e.g. Solarize), schools (e.g. CT Greenleaf Schools) and more. All this visibility benefits the town’s reputation, which is hard to quantify but easy to see.

“It helped to make the case that the position would pay for itself, but the town didn’t need to show that to the penny. West Hartford’s local government has a thoughtful, qualitative culture – they need to see value but they don’t need to count units precisely. When we get an award from CEFIA or DEEP or Power of Change, the direct savings may be small but the secondary benefits to the town are substantial. Our local government understands that.” -- Catherine Devinney

Project Participants:   Task Force, town staff

Project Planning: Energy management was increasingly on the plate of the Director of Facilities, Robert Palmer, who participated in the Town’s Clean Energy Task Force. When the Task Force was charged with writing an energy master plan for the town, its recommendations included hiring a professional to help with this work. When the Plan was unanimously adopted by Town Council, the Task Force went to work on implementing as many of its recommendations as possible. At that point, the need for professional services had been recognized by the Town, which began investing in energy management when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act made funds available for a 5-town coalition to hire a consultant (along with Bloomfield, Avon, Simsbury and Farmington).   West Hartford served as administrative lead and issued a Request for Proposals. Catherine Devinney was working in a similar position for the public schools in Portland, Oregon, and trying to relocate to Connecticut to be with her extended family. She applied for the position, and the interview conversation crystallized the Town’s interest in having its own dedicated staffer. To house the position in a politically neutral, secure part of government, facilities staff worked with the Board of Education to create the position under Board of Ed umbrella, but with supervision by the Director of Facilities. A specific work scope was identified up front from the tasks on Bob Palmer’s plate and the priorities of the Energy Plan.

Resources: Beyond the $250,000 ARRA funding, West Hartford had a financial reserve called the Utility Services Fund, which receives payments from utility overcharges, ratepayer settlements and other utility-related allocations. This became the funding source for the position.

Lessons Learned:   As the Task Force expected, the skills needed for a successful energy manager include both “soft” organization and communications, as well as analytic and technical. Analyzing utility bills, responding to Requests for Proposals, updating Town Council and the Task Force, keeping the town’s work in the public eye through the media. Someone in this position can learn a lot by doing similar things – like lighting upgrades – in numerous buildings, over a sustained period. “By its nature, this job is very interactive and responsible. I have to show value and communicate it on a regular basis,” she adds.

Similar Projects: Stamford, Middletown

Resources

 

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Calendar Highlights

FALL GATHERING

HIGHLIGHTS OF CT’s FALL GATHERING of clean energy task forces can be found here in our Knowledge Center’s Program Archives pages. Diane Duva (the Director of Energy Demand at DEEP’s Bureau of Energy and Technology Policy is pictured here) facilitating the shaping of our state’s energy future.

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Clean Energy Communities Listening Session Letter of Thanks and Follow-up

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