NEW BRITAIN – To celebrate Earth Day this week, the city of New Britain highlights projects and programs that are helping the city reduce its carbon footprint and increase sustainability.
“It’s important for all of us to remember to take care of Mother Earth,” said Mayor Erin Stewart. “We have seen the impacts on our world because we aren’t taking care of it. If Earth Day [April 22] can be the once-a-year reminder that we need to do our part, then we should all do something about it.”
That “something” was establishing the SMART City Initiative in 2016 to create more effective use of existing and new resources, focusing on energy efficiency and reliability, asset management, and realistic budgeting. Formerly known as the Energy and Innovation Committee, Stewart said they took a different turn and brought together a more holistic approach towards caring for the environment while planning for sustainability in a responsible manner.
“This allowed us to essentially combine all efforts because they’re all connected. We’re looping in other data and technology driven projects that can create efficiency to enhance the quality of life,” she said.
The SMART City Initiative committee was created just before a climate emergency resolution was unanimously approved by the Common Council in 2019. The resolution committed the city to address ways to reverse global warming and decrease greenhouse gas emissions alongside other cities in the nation and the world.
Alderman Aram Ayalon, who led the resolution, said as one of the first cities in the state that declared the climate emergency, “we need to continue to be leaders for change and live up to the commitment.”
“We are moving in the right direction, but we need to do more now. This is a real crisis and we can’t wait,” said Ayalon, who strongly supports increasing electric vehicles for the city, starting a municipal composting program, and using more green energy sources.
All of which are a part of the SMART initiative after it shifted gears to take on both energy efficiency projects and climate issues.
“By identifying ways to conserve energy through city-owned properties or projects, it saves a lot on energy costs while being sustainable,” said Stewart.
The goal for 2020-21 aims to decrease electricity usage across all municipal buildings and schools. In 2019, the city saw an 11% reduction in savings, which translates to $200,000, according to the SMART City Initiative report. These savings are due to energy efficient HVAC upgrades, LED light conversions and SMART controls for lights.
Some city properties with completed lighting retrofits include both Szczesny and Blogoslawski parking garages, Veterans Stadium, Beehive Stadium, PAL Building, AW Stanley Pool Building, Fairview Cemetery, New Britain Police Department, and two City Yard buildings. City Hall is currently being outfitted with LED lighting fixtures.
Another energy-reducing project is the solar array at the Shuttle Meadow Water Treatment Plant, where over 60% of solar power is generated to purify the water. Stewart said they are looking to expand solar power in the city, including reinstalling solar panels at Smalley Elementary School. The city also has a partnership with Connecticut Green Bank to make green energy financing accessible and affordable for homeowners and businesses.
Many items on the list have been checked off, but Stewart recognized there’s still a lot of work ahead, such as reducing the size of the city’s fleet and increasing electric vehicles, exploring composting avenues, and conservation and enhancing the city’s green space.
“The pandemic has shown us there’s a huge need for public park space for people to recreate and enjoy,” said Stewart. “As we look at our five-year capital projects development plan, our parks are a big piece of it.”
A priority for Ayalon is having better solutions for emergency situations, such as the recent winter and summer storms that caused flooding, downed trees on electric wiring, and losing power. Those damages could be prevented by having more permeable surfaces, replace old trees, and burying electrical lines in the ground, he said.
“It’s important to be more proactive in prevention because we’re in a vulnerable situation,” he said. “We can’t do everything, but we should do what we can locally.”
The city is hosting a family scavenger hunt this Saturday at AW Stanley Park to celebrate Earth Day and an Earth Day-themed photo contest is ongoing. Residents are encouraged to submit photos for a chance to win a prize. Email photos and contact information to Brittany.firstname.lastname@example.org by 10 p.m. on April 26.