SOMR to Encourage Net-Zero Energy Passes at RTM

A Sense of the Meeting Resolution in support of Net-Zero energy standards was approved Monday by the Representative Town Meeting.

The SOMR was non-binding, but the goal is to keep Net-Zero conversations an active part of and and school building projects, and in the process to reduce capital and operating costs and lower energy consumption.

Alexis Voulgaris, RTM moderator at the April 8, 2024 meeting

The SOMR came to the RTM via a petition from EMAC, which is short for Energy Management Advisory Committee.

No one spoke against the SOMR, though there were a handful of amendments, all of which were consolidated and approved by vote of the RTM.

From there, the RTM voted to approve the amended SOMR.

What does Net-zero energy mean? It means that as much energy is produced as is consumed.

The other part of the SOMR deals with electrificiation, and decoupling it from traditional fossil-fuel based energy sources.

The non binding SOMR noted that the Selectmen had set a goal of lowering energy spending and energy consumption by 20-40% by 2030, and the POCD prioritizes the reduction of the Town’s energy consumption by 20 percent in the short term, with a larger goal of a 40 percent reduction to follow.

Geothermal at Central Middle School?

The unamended SOMR noted that the architect for the CMS building project had said the upfront cost for a geothermal system was on par with a fossil-fuel HVAC system but would save millions of dollars in electricity and gas costs over the next 50 years.

However, that clause about CMS was deleted in the amended SOMR to reflect that the CMS building committee had determined not to move forward with geothermal.

Claire Kilgallen from the CMS building committee said while the new school was not proposed to be Net-Zero, it addressed sustainability and conservation initiatives.

Claire Kilgallen from the CMS building committee said while the new school would not have geothermal, it would be 53% more efficient than the current CMS.

“We have met an objective to design a sustainable building and address the town’s conservation initiatives,” Kilgallen said. “Some are a thermally efficient building envelope with insulation exceeding code requirements, energy efficient electrical and plumbing systems, indoor air quality management, water efficiency, reuse and sustainability, acoustical standards and recycling of materials.  We also have a PV (photovoltaic) solar panel system.”

EMAC member Laura di Bonaventura who is an adjunct member of the town’s conservation commission at the RTM meeting. April 8, 2024

Laura di Bonaventura explained why EMAC supported the SOMR.

“It calls out the future building committees and groups looking at capital expenses  for the town should consider highly efficient renewable electrified energy systems,” she said. “Let me underscore that consideration does not tie the decision makers to adoption: Consideration is consideration.”

“And it calls out support for credible demonstration of key aspects of the decision: How much is it going to cost upfront? How much is is going to cost over the life cycle of the system under consideration?  How available incentives could influence both upfront costs and lifetime costs? And what kind of operating and maintaining expenses and skills are needed to support it?”

James Waters presented one consolidated amendment to the SOMR on Net-Zero.

James Waters said his RTM budget overview committee approved modest revisions of the SOMR to broaden the language beyond geothermal to include other highly efficient and renewable systems that might be better fits to certain projects.

“BOC broadly felt that the SOMR is a good statement for the RTM to make at this juncture given up coming major projects at  Hamilton Ave School, Hamill Rink, Riverside School and the need to make progress with utility costs for town owned buildings,” Waters said.

Greg Zorthian said his finance committee wanted to include language about resources for skills and training.

Greg Zorthian of the RTM finance committee said his group liked the BOC’s amendment, and added their own: to include language about adding ‘resources for skills and training.’

Adam Leader said district 11 wanted to strike “50 years” on the grounds that it was an arbitrary length of time.

Christina Downey vice chair of the education committee said they approved of the BOC and finance committee language, and wanted to focus on including “all town facilities” and striking struck the 5th and 6th whereas clauses in the motion that referred to public schools.

Speaking as an individual member from district 12, Mr. Waters offered the single consolidated motion to amend.

Julie DesChamps spoke in favor of the Net Zero SOMR at RTM. April 8, 2024

Julie DesChamps from the town’s Sustainability Committee said that with major town projects on the horizon including the new ice rink, Ham Ave School and new HVAC systems at WMS and GHS the SOMR would “send a message” that high efficiency, renewable energy systems should be considered in all municipal building projects.

Myra Klockenbrink likened the transition to Net-Zero to the switch from landlines attached to kitchen wells to ubiquitous use of smart phones.

“We are gradually – and now, more rapidly – moving to renewables: sun, earth, wind, maybe nuclear, and away from fossil fuels,” Klockenbrink said, adding, “It is a long and difficult process, but it has been made accessible to municipalities through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which in the case of Greenwich provides 30% for solar and 50% for geothermal in direct pay rebates.”

“We are not building a CMS for this year, the next class or event the next and the next. The current CMS has stood for 70 years, so we are building for the future as we serve the present,” Klockenbrink continued. “It is inevitable that we are headed away from fossil fuels toward some kind of renewable energy future. We have known this for a couple of generations, but we’re finally at the point where we can take actionable steps as a municipality toward realizing that future.”

State Rep Hector Arzeno (D-151) spoke in favor of the Net-Zero SOMR. April 8, 2024

State Rep Hector Arzeno (D-151) said the SOMR reflected the direction Connecticut was moving.

“You will be seeing it in the bills that are passing this session,” Arzeno said.

“I fully expect you will support this, and that Greenwich will take advantage of what the state and federal level are offering to us,” he added, referring to grant opportunities.

The vote to approve the SOMR was 157 for, 25 against, and 4 abstaining.