WALLINGFORD — The Town Council discussed and ultimately postponed a decision on re-establishing the Energy Conservation Commission, a move that saved the proposal from being voted down by the Republican majority on Tuesday night.
Democratic Councilor Gina Morgenstein proposed resuming the volunteer commission, which was created in 2008 with 14 members and disbanded in 2014 after membership dwindled to two. She also nominated eight new members.
Morgenstein said that the commission’s mission would be to lower energy costs and improve energy efficiency for homes, businesses and town-owned buildings.
“I think it really puts forward, as the Plan of Conservation and Development says, actions that are useful,” she said.
Ben Martin, who served on the original commission, addressed the council. He said that an initial project was a comprehensive energy audit of Wallingford Public Schools. It was performed in 2009 by an outside energy-consulting firm with $40,000 in federal funding.
The audit recommended nine measures for a cost of roughly $1.4 million and estimated it would save the school system $500,000 in energy costs per year, according to Record-Journal archives.
The school district is currently undergoing another energy audit.
Martin said the commission also worked with energy companies Eversource and UI on home energy efficiency, with the public library on consumer outreach and with Stop and Shop to install electric car chargers.
“Every ounce of energy, whether it be a gallon of gas, a cubic foot of methane gas, or a kilowatt hour of electricity is money that we, a lot of times, don’t have to spend,” he said.
The savings could either be reallocated for town spending or in a tax reduction, he added.
“We are only going to see energy costs rise in the future,” he said, “so it is best to (start) as soon as possible, so that we cannot only get the advantages of the lower costs on current prices but on the future prices.”
The other nominated members of the reformed commission included state Rep. Mary Mushinsky, school buildings and grounds supervisor Mark Deptula, school board member Patrick Reynolds, Adelheid Koepfer, Alida Cella, Tracy Carim and Jim Quarello.
Republican Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. expressed reservations. He said that the town Electric Division already spends about $1.5 million annually on a conservation load management program, which includes energy audits.
“We have a paid person who oversees this program,” Dickinson said, “and is very active in going out to industry, home audits are done … “
He believes another energy-focused government body would create confusion for residents.
Several Republican councilors expressed concerns over the commission and appointing members in the same night. Councilor Craig Fishbein was absent.
Councilor Chris Shortell said he would want some kind of process to appoint members that represented nominations from both Republicans and Democrats.
Martin said the group is a nonpartisan advisory commission and is “open to anyone who wants to serve on it.” Martin approached Morgenstein, she said, about bringing the motion before the Town Council. She added the group formed on their own.
Shortell also asked if the group’s mission could be accomplished through the existing Public Utilities Commission.
Martin said the PUC has its own duties to fulfill and that the Energy Conservation Commission would advise all town departments, not just the public utilities.
Other GOP councilors said that while they weren’t opposed to the commission’s mission, they questioned the way it was being presented to them.
Councilor Tom Laffin said he would want to consider drafting something that defines the commission’s charge.
Councilor Joe Marrone said he had concerns that it would become a commission that required town funding.
Councilor Christina Tatta said she wanted to know more about minority representation and town residency requirements before going forward. Deptula said he lives in Meriden.
Morgenstein said anyone interested in more information on the commission can reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.