It was not to save the planet. “I just thought it looked cool,” she admits.
The Westporter was a successful marketing executive. She’d spent 12 years working with Diageo. Now she was a sought-after consultant.
Environmental concerns were off her radar. “I vaguely knew about climate change,” she says. “But I wasn’t paying much attention.”
She flew to California to pick up the electric car, then drove it home. At nearly every charging station along the way, she chatted with people who were interested in renewable energy.
There were, for example, 2 solar installers from Germany. They talked for 45 minutes. Dawn learned a lot.
Back home, she watched documentaries and read about climate change. She realized that the effects will not be “300 years from now. It’s happening today.”
The 2016 election galvanized her. “What Scott Pruitt is doing to the EPA, the fossil fuel money that’s going into politics — our government is moving backwards,” she says.
She joined national organizations. She went to conferences, and got trained as an advocate.
She lobbied Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, and Congressman Jim Himes. “They’re great on the environment,” she says. “But I realized there’s not a lot that’s going to happen nationally. It’s more on the local level.”
Dawn Henry and her son Charles at the Climate March in Washington, DC, in April 2017.
She took the Climate Reality Project course in Seattle. The brainchild of Al Gore, it was “amazing,” she says. Back home, she made presentations at the United Methodist Church, the Fairfield Senior Center and Fairfield University. Soon, she’ll speak at the Westport Senior Center and Bartlett Arboretum.
First Selectman Jim Marpe did it. Human Services director Elaine Daignault did it. Over 2,000 Westporters did it too.
“It” is offer up their houses for a Home Energy Solutions Assessment.
They learned whether their doors, windows and ductwork were leaking air. They found out if their insulation made the grade, and if their appliances were wasting energy and money.
When air leaks were found, they got caulked. Light bulbs were replaced with LEDs. Low-flow shower heads were installed, and pipes wrapped with insulation.
A blower test discovers leaks in your home you never knew you had.
The average yearly savings in Connecticut from a Home Energy Solutions Assessment is $200 to $250. This being Westport — where homes are larger, more filled with “stuff” — that figure can be much higher.
It’s a win-win: You help the environment, and save money.
But wait! There’s more!
The Home Energy Solutions Challenge is now underway. The first 50 Westporters to complete an HES assessment pay only $74. If you’re not in that group, the cost is still quite low: $149. There are rebates on certain appliances and installation of new windows and insulation, too.
And if you’re an income-eligible resident — including renters — there is no cost at all for the service.
The catch — and you can’t even call it that — is that the service is paid for by everyone, through a small surcharge on electricity and natural gas bills.
During the Home Energy Solutions Assessment, a nice guy will even check your bulbs.
Word on the street is that Westport has more Teslas than any other town in the state.
But only one is a Tesla 3.
That’s the new affordable electric sports sedan. After state and federal incentives, the Model 3 starts at $25,000, according to a press release from the Westport Green Task Force. (A Westporter who works for Tesla says the cost is actually $35,000 to $40,000.)
Over 180,000 people pre-ordered the car within 24 hours of its announcement last July.
Production is sluggish though. So far, only 2,500 have come off the line.
But Westporter Bruce Becker — an architect and member of the Westport Electric Car Club — took delivery of his on Monday. He says it’s one of only 3 Tesla 3s in Connecticut.
Becker brought his vehicle to Staples High School this afternoon. It was part of a “high tech show-and-tell” for interested students.
First Selectman Jim Marpe checks out Bruce Becker’s Tesla 3.
The event took place at Staples’ charging stations, outside the fieldhouse.
Becker calls Westport “a leader in the transition to electric vehicles — an important driver for environmental, public health and economic reasons.” He says that besides the highest per capita number of Teslas, our town also leads in per capita registration of all kinds of electric vehicles.
First Selectman Jim Marpe lent his support. Noting Westporters’ long support of sustainable solutions, he said, “The town is proud to support EV ownership through its network of public EV charging stations.”
Besides Staples, there are chargers at the library, Town Hall, train stations, and in a few commercial and private residential areas.
Electric vehicles lined up near Staples’ charging stations today (from left): Chevy Bolt, Tesla S, Volkswagen, Tesla X, Nissan Leaf,
But many of our homes are older — real energy wasters. Even newer homes are not as energy efficient as we might think. All of us can learn more about saving energy.
A golden opportunity comes this Thursday (November 30, 7 p.m., Earthplace). Westport architects Howard Lathrop and John Rountree, and Greentek Consulting founder David Mann, will talk about building a “net zero” home for little — or no — additional cost. They’ll also discuss how to renovate a home, or replace an appliance, without breaking the bank.
“Greening Your Home: Sustainable Energy Saving Solutions” is sponsored by Earthplace, Westport’s Green Task Force and the Westport Library. It’s one more step on the road to making our town “net zero” by 2050.
This energy efficient house could be less expensive than you think.
Do you have questions about Westport’s “Net Zero by 2050” goal? Would you like more people (as in, anyone) to adhere to our “no idling” regulation? Are you concerned about future water quality (and quantity)? What would you like to see done with builders who clear-cut every tree before throwing up houses on steroids?
1st and 2nd selectman candidates will be asked those questions — and many more — at a special “environmental debate” tonight. Jim Marpe, Jennifer Tooker, Melissa Kane, Rob Simmelkjaer, John Suggs and TJ Elgin will discuss Westport’s environmental issues, policies and plans.
Co-sponsored with Westport’s Green Task Force, it’s set for 7 p.m. at Earthplace.
Questions can be submitted in advance by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last week though, temperatures soared into the 90s. And Staples High School students Abi Genser and Michael Lederer dropped in on downtown businesses whose wide-open doors spewed air conditioning onto the (large empty) sidewalks.
Excuses ranged from “the head office says it increases business” to “I’m not the owner. I don’t make those decisions.”
Abi and Michael were not impressed. They’re members of Westport’s new Earth Guardians group. Along with the Westport Green Task Force, Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Merchants Association, they encourage businesses to keep doors closed when the air conditioning — or heat — is on.
Of all the stores they visited — accompanied by Earth Guardians founder Carla Paiva and Green Task Force member Pippa Bell Ader — only one had its door closed.
Last month, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe announced that Westport has joined over 1,200 governors, mayors, businesses, universities and others in pledging to exceed the goals of the Paris Climate Accord.
Two years earlier, Marpe announced “Net Zero by 2050”: a target involving energy, water and waste. The goal is to create a sustainable community — economically, socially and environmentally — by mid-century.
Now, a group of Westporters is asking the RTM to endorse Net Zero too.
On Tuesday (July 11), the Green Task Force will present a petition with dozens of signatures. So far all 3 selectmen, and many town boards, commissions and individual committee members have signed the document.
Another petition is also circulating, with a similar request. This one is aimed at non-government Westporters.
Westport has a history of environmental activism. In 2007, we were the first town in Connecticut to include a sustainability chapter in a Plan of Conservation and Development.
Since then we’ve won the Department of Energy’s Neighbor to Neighbor Challenge, helped launch the Solarize Connecticut program, and (with a unanimous RTM vote) became one of the first towns in the state to adopt financing to support energy efficiency and clean energy improvements.
Solar PV power can be the way to go.
Examples of Net Zero include:
Signing an agreement to receive electricity credit for 1 megawatt of solar power per year, produced at a site in eastern Connecticut. The town is waiting for approval for an additional 1 megawatt. This program could satisfy 1/4 of the town buildings’ electricity.
Implementing the Energy Performance Contract initiative in school and municipal buildings. Reducing energy consumption has the potential to save up to$1 million per year in energy costs for the next 15 years.
Installing electric vehicle charging stations at the railroad station parking lots and other municipal parking sites.
Applying for an additional 1.2 megawatts of on-site solar power at Staples High School (just shy of 50% of the school’s electricity loads, after a separate building efficiency improvement program).
Preparing to break ground on an efficient renovation of the Westport Library, including 70 kilowatts of solar power.
Installing another 100 kilowatts of solar capacity as part of the planned expansion of the Senior Center.
Initiating a new program with support of the town, Downtown Merchants Association and the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce, encouraging businesses to keep the doors closed this summer when using air conditioning.
It’s an ambitious goal: Westport wants to be “net zero” by 2050.
By mid-century we hope to produce or purchase as much renewable energy as we use; minimize energy use in the first place through efficiency measures, and handle our water and waste in sustainable, resilient ways.
Westport’s Green Task Force leads the charge. It’s a local response to a global problem.
That approach fits perfectly with the life Peter Boyd leads.
Formerly the COO of the Carbon War Room — helping businesses reduce carbon emissions at the gigaton scale — last fall Boyd advised a non-profit group of business leaders on their net-zero initiative leading up to the Paris Climate Conference.
He just launched a consulting firm called Time4Good, and serves as an executive fellow at Yale’s Center for Business and the Environment.
But he’s also a Scotsman who — after living in South Africa, London and Washington DC — moved to Westport 2 years ago, with his wife and 6-week-old baby.
Almost immediately, Boyd joined the Green Task Force. Earthplace tapped him for its board of trustees.
Boyd believes that local actions can have enormous impacts on our beleaguered planet.
“We’re raising our family here,” he says. “2050 is not far away. I’ll be 70. My kids will be early- to middle-age. They’ll make life choices then the same way I do now.”
As he looks around Westport — his new home town — Boyd sees big houses, big cars, and people driving 50 yards down the road to meet their children’s buses (which stop less than every 50 yards).
But he also sees “opportunities to make better quality-of-life choices.”
One example: electric vehicles.
A fleet of them drove by after his recent Green Day talk at the Westport Library.
“They’re better cars than what we have now, and they’re more fun to drive,” Boyd says.
“(Second selectman) Avi Kaner’s Tesla is fast and sexy. It’s a car you can really show off.”
Boyd notes, “I don’t have a Tesla budget. But my Prius is incredibly cheap to lease.”
Robin Tauck (center) lent selectmen Jim Marpe and Avi Kaner (left) her 2 electric vehicles a while ago. Kaner liked driving it so much, he bought this Tesla P35D model. It goes from 0 to 60 in 3.1 seconds — not that anyone does that on local roads. On the right is Westport Electric Car Club president Leo Cirino.
That’s the “secret to a lot of climate change choices,” Boyd says. “Doing things better than before, so we can have a quieter, less polluted town.”
Another example: Boyd sees Westport homeowners install geothermal and solar systems. Their electric bills are “tiny,” he says — “and they’ve got clean, wonderful homes.” Weatherizing and insulating also pays enormous dividends.
He stresses that NetZero 2050 is not about “moving to communal houses and taking all public transport.” Rather, it involves working at the town level, in personal ways.
He says passionately, “They’re way more impactful than we think.”
By keeping doors closed when using air conditioning on hot days. (And heat on cold ones.)
Blue Mercury always keeps doors open, on hot days and cold.
Sounds like a no-brainer. New York City — which has a lot more doors than Westport — actually has a law to that effect.
The letter — addressed “Dear Business Owner/Manager” — says Westport prefers “more of a ‘team’ approach. We believe shoppers will be happy to know that fossil fuels and electricity are not being wasted, and that the air is not being polluted as a result of unnecessary production of heat or electricity.”
Marpe and co-signers David Mann (Task Force chair), Matthew Mandell (Chamber executive director) and Steve Desloge (DMA president) note that Westport is known as “a forward-thinking, environmentally focused community.” It was the 1st state east of the Mississippi River to ban plastic bags, and has set a goal of achieving net-zero energy, water and waste management self-sufficiency by 2050.
The letter invites businesses to be the town’s “partners on this journey.” It invites them to contribute their own sustainability initiatives and ideas.
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