BETHANY - The town is in first place in the state Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, a statewide initiative, to promote the usage of energy alternatives to fossil fuel in the SmartPower 20 percent by 2010 clean energy campaign.

The town will be receiving $80,000 in solar units since more than 100 residents have already signed up for alternative energy mostly choosing Sterling Planet.

Additionally, the town will receive a 2kW solar photovoltaic system making the town a Connecticut Clean Energy Community.

But that is not all, the town is also being rewarded with a 6 kW solar PV system as a Leadership Award for being the first community in the state to reach 5 percent. And the town will also receive a 3 kW system as an achievement reward for each 2.5 percent of households totaling 11 kW of free solar PV to date.

"I am very proud of Bethany. We're a leader in the state in our commitment for the environment," First Selectwoman Derrylyn Gorski said.

"We're getting this because of our residents; they are the ones who have stepped forward," Gorski said.

Gorski said Bethany was one of the first towns to sign up in August 2005 when the resolution to participate was voted on. Gorski then appointed a Clean Energy Task Force which has evolved into much more.

Gorski assigned Zoning Enforcement Officer Isabel Kearns as staff support for this committee. Gorski said Kearns has gone above and beyond her assigned task and has donated countless hours of her personal time to the task force.

The task force is comprised of Mike Okrent, chairman; Lee Granniss, Tom Poland, Nellie Rabinowitz, Allene Kelly, Laura van Dyck, Amy Arnsten, Buba Relligano and Eric Friedman. They meet the first and third Mondays at 6 p.m.

"This task force has been very active," Gorski said.

In addition to spreading the word about the clean energy alternatives the task force holds educational seminars, has received mini grants such as the one for a two-day sixth grade Watt-Watchers program where students conducted an electrical energy audit of the school and presented a report of their findings.

Other upcoming programs include a presentation on the details of the new system Tuesday, March 20, 7 p.m. in the Bethany Town Hall commission meeting room. Those interested in putting PV systems on their own homes can learn how they can qualify for a $25,000 tax rebate toward the cost of their system.

"This is exciting stuff. We have to become less dependent on fossil fuel not just because of the environment and global warming but also because of national security," Gorski said.

"I remember the gas lines when the OPEC cartel raised oil prices in the '70s. There was a push for alternative energy at that time. Had we continued exploring alternative energy back then instead of reverting right back to fossil fuels we wouldn't be so dependent now on fossil fuel," Gorski said.

Gorski said alternative energy solutions can work. She said when she and her husband built their dream home in Bethany in the '80s they built a passive solar earth sheltered house and it worked.

The culmination of the task forces' work will be an Earth Day celebration 1 to 4 p.m. on April 21 at town hall. They are looking for earth-friendly vendors.

"We're hoping to have a large turnout," Okrent said. "We will have a hybrid car show and representatives for solar, geothermal and wind energy participate. We're working with the schools to sponsor a contest related to Earth Day in art, poetry and science," Okrent said. The task force also plans to show the award winning film about global warming "An Inconvenient Truth" by former vice president Al Gore.

Okrent said the town is continuing to move forward with clean energy sign ups and will this month reach 200 which will qualify the town for additional PV systems. Additionally Okrent said more volunteers could be utilized.

"We have so many projects that could be worked on if we had new volunteers. One project on the shelf right now is a horse digester. Bethany has 3,000 horses and the owners are paying to have the waste gotten rid of. There is new technology to generate heat and electricity from it. But we don't have the volunteer resources to move on this right now," Okrent said.