West Hartford wins climate protection award

West Hartford was recognized for its virtual net metering program, but it also has over a dozen solar projects within the town, such as this one at King Philip Middle School.

WEST HARTFORD — Not long before President-elect Joe Biden proclaimed climate team appointees and Connecticut announced its plans to cut back on pollution from transportation alongside other states, West Hartford got recognized for some of its own efforts to fight climate change.

On Friday, the town was revealed as the first place winner in the small city category of the Mayors Climate Protection Awards, recognitions that the U.S. Conference of Mayors backed alongside Walmart. Awards are given to “mayors for their outstanding and innovative practices that increase energy efficiency, expand renewable energy and/or reduce carbon emissions,” according to a description on USCM’s website.

“It’s a big deal,” Mayor Shari Cantor said last week.

West Hartford’s entry — which highlighted its virtual net metering program — competed against other municipalities who put their hat into the ring nationwide. In the small city category, honorable mentions included places such as Albany, N.Y.; Framingham, Mass.; and Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Pittsburgh won the top spot in the large city category, with Hartford coming in as one of a handful of honorable mentions.

The win also gives $15,000 to a nonprofit of West Hartford’s choice that’s chipping away at sustainability-related work, according to USCM. As of last Thursday, the town hadn’t decided yet which entity that would go to, but it’s “talking about it now,” Cantor said.

Virtual net metering is a system that allows the town to take solar energy from offsite — in this instance, from Thompson — and channel it for West Hartford’s use, explained Catherine Diviney, town energy specialist.

“But we virtually net meter those solar credits for the solar energy that’s being produced by the system against eight of our town of West Hartford municipal buildings and schools,” Diviney said. “So we get credits on our bill for that solar generation, even though it’s not directly on site with those facilities.”

The program generated “2.8 million kWh of electricity” and “saved $72,000 in energy costs” for the town for fiscal year 2020, according to a document with descriptions of the towns and cities’ programs.

The town also has other energy-related initiatives aside from the net metering program, one of which would be West Hartford’s 14 solar projects within the town. Energy company Verogy, which has previously created one of those solar projects at Town Hall, also developed the one at King Philip Middle School, a recent addition the business announced in mid-December it had finished, according to a news release.

“So we’ve done a lot of, and we continue to do, energy efficiency projects throughout our portfolio of buildings,” Diviney said. “We actually just completed over, probably about $6 million dollars worth of energy efficiency projects, and have reduced the town’s energy use by about 25 percent in the last four or five years.”

West Hartford still has energy goals to meet. The West Hartford Clean Energy Commission has penned a draft 2020 plan in which it “aspire(s) for our entire community to use 100 percent clean energy by 2050,” with short and long-term steps detailed on how it hopes to get there.

And, as Diviney said, “It’s not just about clean energy.” It’s also about how energy use can be cut down off the bat, such as implementing “energy efficient technologies,” or having residents opt for bike riding instead of driving, she said.

Moving forward, with the recent award and completion of some energy efficiency projects for the town, Diviney said she’s “really excited.”

“I am hopeful that this takes kind of sustainability and climate change and energy efficiency to the next level in West Hartford, kind of shines the spotlight on it, and gets not only town leadership, but our community involved and engaged so that we can really make some progress,” she said.

Connecticut Media Group