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Bedford Aims to Take the Chill Out of Winter Heating Bills

The pilot energy efficiency program is one step closer to launching, with this week's approval of firms to lead its marketing campaign.

Despite the summer-like temperatures this week, some in Bedford are already thinking about colder days ahead, and the arrival of higher heating bills. While the town's energy efficiency program hasn't formally launched, a handful of residents has signed up online to learn more about the initiative, which aims to reduce energy costs at home.

"We're excited that people are interested in participating," said Mark Thielking, the town's director of energy resources. "The next step is really to get our pilot program off the ground."

With the town board's approval of the project's marketing partners, the energy program now appears poised to launch. The marketing fees—about $400,000 over two years—will be paid out of grant funds received from the Department of Energy, totaling $2.5 million, to launch the energy retrofit program.

SmartPower and Earth Markets, Connecticut-based boutique marketing firms, were selected for their ability to incorporate traditional and social media tools to get the word out in Bedford and the 12 other towns in the Northern Westchester Energy Action Consortium, said Tom Bregman, director of the energy retrofit program.

The search for the perfect firm explored a relatively small universe. An advisory committee, headed by John Morris, a Bedford resident and chief operating officer at Young & Rubicam, initially considered advertising agencies for the job. In the end, however, they recommended the boutique firms of SmartPower and Earth Markets, calling them more cost-effective way to get personalized attention from specialists in the emerging field of energy efficiency.

Citing the firms' expertise in community engagement, Bregman urged the town board at a Sept. 7 town meeting, to conditionally approve their selection. The approval, bypassing the typical municipal Request for Proposals process, would be conditioned on the receipt and review of the contract.

In addition to citing the firms' expertise in community engagement, Bregman said he wanted to save time in the process, citing the seasonal nature of meeting the targets set by the Department of Energy's grant terms.

"People are thinking about heating bills, and contractors tells us that now is the time homeowners will make decisions about retrofits," he said.

When it came to approving the actual contract Tuesday night, however, the town's status as the lead agent on a contract serving NWEAC—a consortium of 13 towns—raised liability questions, particularly for Peter Chryssos, deputy supervisor.

The board discussed a number of scenarios, such as a retrofit gone awry, as grounds for lawsuits from residents of other towns.

"You always go with the deepest pockets in a lawsuit," said Chryssos. "Before we start acting as their agent we need to define the risk and address it."

Bedford Supervisor Lee Roberts urged the board to move forward, citing the small window of opportunity, and the unique relationship between the town and NWEAC. "We needed a place to park this grant and we are the lead. It's not clean, it's awkward and unusual," she said, putting the onus on town attorney Joel Sachs to make contract changes to protect the town.

The board unanimously agreed to approve the contract, pending revisions to be made by Sachs, including placing a cap on liability not to exceed the grant funds, and adding indemnification and termination clauses on the two-year contract.

Thielking said the town was now positioned to take advantage of a new lending product for homeowners to finance the retrofits, to be launched by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority in October.

Thielking read a statement prepared by Bregman, who was on a vacation planned prior to his appointment as project director. In the statement, Bregman thanked the board for its approval of the contract, saying it would help realize local jobs and reduced energy costs, while not missing this winter's critical heating season.

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