Connecticut's new power couple agree to save energy

When some newsroom colleagues saw a press release announcing that Daniel Esty, Connecticut's new Department of Environmental Protection commissioner, was planning to welcome the press into his house for an energy audit, they wondered what his wife thought about that.

It turns out Elizabeth Esty, the commissioner's wife and a former Democratic state representative, just recently announced her candidacy for Congress in the Fifth District, hoping to succeed U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy.

I am not sure, having now visited the Estys' charming 1920s colonial in Cheshire, for an audit that turned up an especially leaky attic, who is more press attentive, the book-writing commissioner or his politician wife.

Neither seemed the least bit self-conscious about having the press parade alongside energy technicians through the kitchen, around their living room and even up into the master bedroom, photographing and videotaping it all.

Nothing seemed especially amiss, as the commissioner joked.

The only thing worth reporting that I saw, other than the remarkable wind tunnel from the attic when the technicians depressurized the house, was a photograph of John F. Kennedy that occupies a part of a living room wall.

I suppose you might see photographs of Ronald Reagan if you visit the homes of prominent Connecticut Republicans.

Both Estys seem very at ease with cameras.

In fact, the commissioner, who made a national reputation as a Yale professor, promoting the concept of mixing environmentalism and energy efficiency with business growth, is no stranger to publicity.

You can find video of Commissioner Esty all over the Web, including a late 2009 appearance he made on the Colbert Report on Comedy Central, promoting his book "Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage."

Before accepting Gov. Dannel Malloy's appointment to be the new DEP commissioner and energy policy czar, once a new environmental-energy agency is created, Esty was reported to be on President Obama's short list to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

On Monday, Esty seemed a natural in front of a television camera crew set up on his front lawn.

When he made a mistake in talking about the energy program, he quickly told the crew he would do a second take and then promptly launched into a repeat of the same description, correcting the error.

The press-friendly former Attorney General Richard Blumenthal may have moved on to Washington, but Connecticut's press now instead has Daniel Esty, whom I suspect will be sure to turn up reliably, too, whenever there is a camera crew on hand.

The energy program the Estys were promoting this week - the commissioner said they signed up for "Audit Number One" - seems like a great effort to help make Connecticut homes more energy efficient.

The audits, available to all major electric utility customers, cost only $75 and not only prepare a list of proposed improvements, but actually make some, like changing light bulbs and caulking cracks.

The audits have a value of up to $700 and are subsidized by the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund, which is supported by fees paid by electric customers.

In addition to the work performed at the time of the audit, customers can expect average savings on utility bills of $200 a year or more, program officials say.

Information on the Neighbor to Neighbor Energy Challenge program is available at www.ctenergychallenge.com.

The energy technicians at the Estys seemed most alarmed about the volume of air coming from the attic, when they depressurized the house.

The test involves blowing a large volume of air out of one of the doors, so that you can detect other areas where the outside air comes inside to the depressurized space.

I was there when the technicians showed Elizabeth Esty the alarming draft coming through the attic door. She seemed reluctant, though, to let them put weather stripping on the door, which she said is open most of the time anyway.

I suspect her husband, the state's new energy czar, would have been more decisive in agreeing to the weather stripping.

After all, he's already made it a goal to have Connecticut become the most energy-efficient state in the county, building by building if necessary, starting, apparently, with his own home.

This is the opinion of David Collins

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