Patrick Woomer: The Sunshine of Our Lives

Having reduced his own utility costs to a bare minimum by using renewable energy sources, Patrick Woomer speaks from experience when assisting others in making energy-saving decisions in his role as chair of Chester's Energy Team.  Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier
Having reduced his own utility costs to a bare minimum by using renewable energy sources, Patrick Woomer speaks from experience when assisting others in making energy-saving decisions in his role as chair of Chester's Energy Team. Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier

ôLet the Sunshine In": it's a great song to lift the spirits. It's also a great idea when it comes to saving energy. Just ask Patrick Woomer, chairperson of Chester's Energy Team. The group's mission is to encourage energy saving not only by the town and its facilities, but by local businesses and individual homeowners, as well.

Nobody sets a better example than Pat and his wife, Sydney. When they moved seven years ago from their house on Goose Hill Road to Maple Street, their remodeling at first included a solar hot water system. They were so pleased that four years later, they installed the photovoltaic (PV) equipment to convert their entire house to solar energy. (The word photovoltaic combines "photo," meaning light, with "voltaic," meaning electricity; thus using light from solar panels to generate electricity.)

The Woomers were able to undertake their PV conversion through CT Solar Challenge, a program designed to lower the costs of solar installation through community outreach, education, and the economies of scale involved in installing multiple systems in the same area. Three Connecticut towns, Bethany, Madison, and Chester, have participated in the program.

In fact, through the solar challenge, Pat reports that some 12 households in Chester have already installed solar systems, and there are another 20 proposals for installations-10 pending and 10 waiting for completion. Pat estimates there will be three to five more installations before the CT Solar Challenge technically ends in November. Even after that time, Woomer says the attractive financial rebates that were a part of the CT Solar Challenge will likely be available, because the available money was not exhausted and the programs have been such a success.

"I am sure that anyone in Chester that does not sign a contract by Nov. 30 will still have competitive options," he says.

The benefits of participating in CT Solar Challenge go beyond individual utility bills. For every household that signed up, the town got points to be used for a free PV system for a town building. In Chester the decision was to install a system on the roof of the Chester Elementary School (CES) to generate electricity for the building. CES, Pat notes, is the largest consumer of electricity in the community.

In addition to a $32,000 grant from the Connecticut Clean Energy Finance & Investment Authority (CEFIA), Chester got an additional $8,000 from the state on the condition that the town itself contribute $8,000. The additional grants allowed for a doubling of the original PV system and will mean that the lower electricity costs at the school will reimburse the town's expense in five years.

Still, Pat says the money saved isn't the greatest benefit.

"The real payback is the learning experience for the students at CES," he says. "They will be able to monitor the system on a daily basis and measure the contribution to a cleaner town environment and atmosphere."

Pat explains when it comes to saving energy, there are three groups of people; those who are committed to the idea; those who are interested in a general way, but uncommitted when it comes to specifics; and those who remain skeptical about clean energy campaigns.

"Our job is to appeal to that middle group," he says-and he understands that change does not happen overnight. "This is an inch-by-inch process."

He thinks the Chester Energy Team has made some headway among local residents who would like to learn more. Some 150 residents have turned out for the group's presentations. Pat points out that much change happens locally.

"It's neighbors talking to neighbors, seeing what neighbors are doing to lower energy costs," he says.

One of the easiest things people can do, according to Pat, is to have a house-wide energy audit. For qualifying households, there is no cost; otherwise there is a charge of $99.

"Positive results and comments from everyone make it clear that the energy savings and services outweigh the cost," Pat notes (to learn more about energy audits, call 877-WISE-USE or visit www.ctenergyinfo.com).

The Chester Energy Team has already conducted an audit of municipal buildings and made recommendations for energy-saving provisions. Now it would like local businesses to focus on conservation through a state program called C-PACE that would extend 100 percent initial financing for clean energy upgrades.

Pat, now retired, says he himself became interested in energy saving during his years as the manager of a manufacturing plant. He also serves on the town's Conservation Commission, of which the Energy Team was an offshoot. The team put together a comprehensive energy plan for the town in 2011, which was then endorsed by the Board of Selectmen.

Other members of the Energy Team include Sandy Prisloe, Rick Holloway, Peter Harding, Lynne Jacques, Roger Koontz, and First Selectman Ed Meehan. Before he became involved with energy conservation, Pat also served on Chester's Economic Development Commission.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pat moved to Chester in 1991 when a job transfer brought him to Connecticut from Massachusetts.

"We looked around, found Chester, and have been happy ever since," he says.

His moves have left his four children and 10 grandchildren with divided football loyalties. Some root for the Patriots; some for the Steelers.

There is no more effective advertisement for conversion to clean energy than Pat's own utility bill. With solar hot water and PV-generated electricity, it runs to just $16 a month. Pat doesn't worry about reducing it any more.

"It can't get any lower. That's just a monthly maintenance charge," he explains.

He still does the little things like turn off the lights-and there is a back-up system even for that.

"If I leave them on, my wife turns them off," he says.

For more information on the CT Solar Challenge, visit ctsolarchallenge.com/our-towns/chester.

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