Friday, May 07, 2021

Person of the Week

Bill Fish: A Bright Light in Westbrook

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Bill Fish has been able to put his finance skills to work for the Westbrook Energy Committee, helping the town save significant money through energy efficiency investments over the past eight years. Photo courtesy of Bill Fish

Bill Fish has been able to put his finance skills to work for the Westbrook Energy Committee, helping the town save significant money through energy efficiency investments over the past eight years. (Photo courtesy of Bill Fish )

When retiring from an eight-year stint on a town committee, it’s nice to be able to say your work will save the town a million dollars.

Bill Fish is one person who can say that: As a member of the town’s Energy Committee (EC), he spearheaded Westbrook’s streetlight conversion project, an effort to which he’s donated roughly 2,000 hours of his time.

“I basically have been the manager for the project for the last 3 ½ years,” he says. “But the EC members have been intimately involved...So it’s not a one-man show, even though I’ve been the one who’s been responsible for it.”

Saving Energy

When Bill first joined, the EC was working with the school district and other town entities on converting the high school and middle school boilers from oil to natural gas—another cost-saving project.

“We were part of [a] regional energy commission, which was a group of...towns, including Guilford, Madison, Durham, and a few others,” he recalls.

Westbrook’s EC obtained a grant through the 2009 Recovery Act to pay for audits of town buildings to determine which were in need of improved insulation or conversion to new energy sources.

Thanks to a $5,000 Bright Idea grant through Energize Connecticut, the EC held two lightbulb swaps in 2015. Westbrook residents were invited to trade in up to five energy-gobbling incandescent bulbs for energy-efficient LED bulbs, which were even more expensive in 2015 than they are now. And LEDs have a life expectancy of around 23 years, while an incandescent bulb might last two. So the distribution of 715 free LED bulbs was truly cost saving for residents.

The EC set up tables at community events to inform residents about the bulb swaps as well as the Home Energy Solutions program, also through Energize Connecticut, that provides energy audits of homes. This work earned the EC another $5,000 Bright Idea grant, which it applied toward its streetlight conversion project.

Converting Streetlights

“Eversource rates are such that we were paying something like $50,000 a year just for maintenance of the existing system,” Bill explains.

Energy costs for the high-pressure sodium-vapor bulbs that had been installed were another $20,000. It was the town’s turn to save money by switching to LEDs.

In order to make the conversion, the town had to purchase its 626 streetlights from Eversource at roughly $180,000. It then contracted with Siemens, the winning bidder, to replace the existing fixtures with LEDs at a cost of roughly $185,000 ($20,000 under budget, Bill says). These expenses will be offset by a state Clean Energy Fund rebate of $55,000.

EC members did some hands-on work.

“We had four committee members who drove around the town and looked at the existing lights and determined whether we should have a narrow light pattern on the road, for example, for a residential street, or a broader pattern, which is more appropriate for main roads like Route One and 153,” Bill explains.

While the town had large up-front costs, the conversion has a big pay-off: Because Westbrook now owns the fixtures and is responsible for their maintenance, it’s saving around $20,000 annually in electricity and another $50,000 per year in maintenance.

This “means that the whole system will pay for itself, the capital costs and the installation, in about five years,” he says.

And over the 20-year life of the LED bulbs, the town is expected to save around $1 million.

In addition, the EC used its second $5,000 Bright Ideas grant to buy extra LED bulbs, in case of an accident or nor’easter results in damages, he adds.

Bill primarily grew up in Fairfield and attended Bowdoin College in Maine. He and his wife, Carolyn, met via Operation Match, known as the first computer dating service, which was created in 1965 by undergraduates at Harvard. He and Carolyn were both college seniors, she at Lasell University in Newton, Massachusetts.

“This is back in the ’60s, when there were a lot of single-sex schools,” Bill explains.

“[I]nstead of going to mixers, you filled out this six-page questionnaire, which the Harvard guys then paid somebody to key punch” onto cards, which were fed into a mainstream computer in the middle of the night, Bill believes, when time on the computer was least expensive.

“And then you got a list of your 10 best matches, and...if you were lucky enough, some more matches after that,” he continues. “So it was a great way to call somebody up and say, ‘Hey, you know, we’re a match. Would you like to go out this weekend?’”

Bill served in the Navy during the Vietnam War while Carolyn began her 40-year career as a nurse. They have two children, both of whom live in Massachusetts. Their son is a physician and their daughter, a teacher, runs a maker space at a high school.

“We’re very proud of both of them,” he says.

Bill went on to earn a master’s in business administration with a specialization in municipal finance at the University at Albany.

“I was basically in financial services for the entirety of my career, either as an analyst, a portfolio manager, or senior investment professional with multiple asset classes,” he says.

After retiring, Bill served for around 4 ½ years on the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB), a non-governmental seven-member board that describes itself on its website as “the source of generally accepted accounting principles used by state and local governments.” GASB is based in Norwalk.

During his term at GASB, Bill worked on pension standards, particularly those pertaining to non-financial benefits, like life and health insurance. He was invited to serve a second term, but he chose not to, for personal reasons.

“It was... probably the most meaningful position I held during my career, even though I had some very senior positions in finance, both at brokerage firms and insurance companies,” he says.

Bill encourages other Westbrook residents to volunteer for town commissions, particularly the EC. Questions regarding town streetlights should go to the Department of Public Works at 860-552 4496.


Aviva Luria covers news from Old Saybrook and Westbrook for Zip06. Email Aviva at a.luria@shorepublishing.com.

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