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Alternative energy

Program makes it easier for residents to save money

An infrared temperature gun measures the surface temperature of a home. Photo from Neal Lewis

It just got easier for homeowners on Long Island to monitor their energy costs.

The not-for-profit Long Island Green Homes Initiative is a public-private partnership that launched Nov. 10 with the goal of setting up homeowners with a professional energy audit at no cost. The program links residents with the state’s Energy Research and Development Authority to generate savings, stimulate jobs, boost economic development and promote sustainability, organizers said.

The initiative is headquartered at the Sustainability Institute at Molloy College and is partnered with three non-profits: Community Development Corporation of LI, LI Green and United Way of Long Island. A state program that offers similar services has been in effect for several years, but some said it wasn’t getting its message across to enough people.

Neal Lewis, executive director of the Sustainability Institute at Molloy, said some residents argued that the state government website was too confusing to use.

“The conclusion was that the key way to get more participation was to provide resources to homeowners to help navigate the process,” Lewis said.

That was how the Green Homes Initiative was born.

It started with the goal of providing an easy-to-use website coupled with energy navigators who help answer any questions a homeowner has. Lewis said the energy navigators then schedule a free home energy assessment that provides an in-depth analysis of a home’s energy efficiency for each homeowner.

It was crafted after similar programs in neighboring municipalities, but has tweaked pieces of the process with hopes of making it better, supporters said. In an earlier version of this program started in 2008 in Babylon, an average homeowner saved about $1,000 each year in energy costs, according to a press release.

LIGH has also partnered with five towns, including Huntington and Smithtown along the North Shore, to further encourage residents of those towns to take advantage of this program.

“I am proud this newest LI Green Homes Initiative is kicking off in Huntington Station,” Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said in a statement. “This is a prime example where much of the housing stock dates before the first energy conservation codes were adopted in the 1970s and can benefit dramatically by upgrading insulation and heating systems that are at or near their useful life expectancy.”

Huntington Councilman Mark Cuthbertson (D) said this program incurs few out-of-pocket expenses for homeowners.

Many improvements that require homeowner investment are eligible for cost reductions of up to 50 percent, depending upon household income, according to Cuthbertson.

In an interview, Lewis said the only contractors providing the free home energy assessments were licensed, local, insured, and certified by Building Performance Institute. The contractors test a house’s insulation, heating and hot water systems, ventilation and more.

Once the tests are completed, the homeowner is given a comprehensive report that includes where and how their home can save energy, a fixed cost for each recommended improvement, and projected dollar savings on their utility bills for each recommended improvement.

If a homeowner decides to go ahead with those suggestions, the program would then assign them a performance specialist to do the work on their property.

The LIGH program can pay the entire cost of the improvements, and under a contract with the homeowner, the town sets up a monthly payment plan, Lewis said.

LIGH also structures the payment so that your savings cover your monthly bill. If a homeowner saves $100 a month on energy costs, they only owe the town $90 a month.

“We’re trying to get people to test their homes and make them more energy efficient,” Cuthbertson said.

The Initiative is funded for three years by a Cleaner, Greener Communities competitive grant award from NYSERDA of $2.3 million, and a supplemental grant from the Rauch Foundation in Garden City.

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Hurricanes have caused power outages in recent years. File photo

Port Jefferson Village will study its own potential in hooking up the community to a backup energy grid, thanks to a $100,000 grant it won last week.

The governor recently announced that several dozen communities across New York, including Port Jefferson, were awarded grants through a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority competition to perform feasibility studies on building the backup grids, known as microgrids.

Microgrids are independent of the regional grid and rely on their own power-generating resources — and thus can keep communities going during power outages. According to the governor’s office, the grids “would integrate renewable power with other advanced energy technologies to create a cleaner, more affordable and more resilient localized energy grid for a limited number of users.”

Port Jefferson Village officials began exploring the idea earlier this year because the area has several critical community and emergency services packed into a small area, and those services cannot stop when an event like a hurricane or a snowstorm knocks out power.

“During a severe weather event such as we had with [hurricanes] Irene and Sandy, where the hospitals lost power and some of us lost power — some up to 14 days, [and the] hospitals were out eight to 10 days — those … patients that were on critical care services were put in harm’s way,” Mayor Margot Garant said during a previous village board meeting. “So basically if we have a microgrid during those severe weather systems … where the overall grid goes down, we flick a switch and keep our critical services online.”

The $100,000 the village won was in the first stage of grants through NYSERDA’s microgrid funding competition. After Port Jefferson works with consultants and local stakeholders, such as the fire department, over the coming months to research its project proposal from technical, operational and financial standpoints, it may apply for more funding to advance microgrid construction efforts.

In choosing which projects to award grants to, NYSERDA is using criteria such as the area’s level of vulnerability to outages, how a microgrid would improve community function and the possible effect on ratepayers.

“We have two major hospitals, a ferry, a railroad station, our own school district, a village hall, a wastewater treatment facility, a groundwater treatment facility, an ambulance company,” Garant said. “We have a lot of emergency services-related components within a very small radius.”

Port Jefferson is not the only local government working toward microgrid grant money. The Town of Brookhaven and the Town of Huntington were also awarded $100,000 grants to perform studies on their own proposed projects — Brookhaven Town, with help from Brookhaven National Laboratory, is seeking to put in a grid to support Town Hall as an emergency operations center and two nearby Sachem schools as emergency shelters; Huntington Town wants to build a backup grid for their own Town Hall, Huntington Hospital, the local wastewater treatment plant and community centers.

Between Nassau and Suffolk counties, NYSERDA awarded grants to 14 projects.

Power generation and distribution in the U.S. used to operate at a local level, but grids became more regional over time to make utilities more cost-effective and reliable, according to NYSERDA’s website.

“These systems are, however, vulnerable to outages that can impact large regions and thousands of businesses and citizens, particularly as a consequence of extreme, destructive weather events.”

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File photo

From unfunded mandates to grounds maintenance, school districts are burdened with many costs, but high energy bills don’t have to be one of them.

State Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) recently introduced legislation that would strengthen the state’s support of alternative energy systems in school districts. All types of alternative energy systems — whether solar, wind and/or geothermal  — would be eligible for state building aid. The legislation would also remove a requirement that has the systems meet an 18-year payback window in order to receive aid. These changes make sense, as they’ll empower school districts to go green while also saving taxpayers money.

A few school districts on the North Shore have discussed installing solar panels on their building roofs, while two — Miller Place and Three Village — are moving forward with plans to install the panels. In Miller Place, the panels are expected to save the district more than half its utility budget. In Three Village, by the time the project is paid off, the district could be saving hundreds of thousands of dollars.

While we encourage other school districts to investigate how alternative energy systems could help their districts reduce costs, we also hope they’ll continue searching for ways to reduce their energy consumption. Replacing an energy source with a clean alternative is a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t do anything to address a greater energy consumption problem that pervades our communities, including in our schools.

Pol pitches bill to broaden alternative energy use

State Sen. Carl Marcellino is behind new legislation aimed at aiding schools to go green. File photo by Elana Glowatz

School districts looking to go green could see more green for it, if proposed state legislation to help school districts pay for alternative energy projects makes its way through Albany.

New York State Sen. Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset) has sponsored legislation that would strengthen the state’s support for alternative energy in school districts. Currently, there’s state building aid available for the installation of wind and solar systems, but Marcellino’s legislation allows all types of alternative energy systems to be eligible for building aid.

Also, currently, only alternative energy systems that meet an 18-year payback window are eligible for aid, but Marcellino’s proposed law removes that requirement, according to Debbie Peck Kelleher, director of the state Senate Investigations and Government Operations Committee.

“It would allow all systems to get the building aid,” Kelleher said.

Most districts see an average reimbursement between 70 to 75 percent of the project cost, she said.
In an interview last week, Marcellino said school districts turning to alternative energies provide a boon to taxpayers, because of energy savings in utility costs over time.

“It’s a win-win all the way around.”

Marcellino’s legislation has been referred to the Senate’s education committee, and has support from assemblymen Chad Lupinacci (R-Melville) and Andy Raia (R-East Northport).

Long Island school officials have pondered solar panel installations, and some districts have embarked on projects of their own.

Last year, Miller Place school district green-lighted a $4.3 million project to install solar panels on the roofs of its four school buildings. The project qualified for $3.7 million in state aid, according to Danny Haffel, the executive director of energy solutions on Long Island of Johnson Controls, a Wisconsin-based technology and energy-savings solutions company that the district worked with. Haffel added that the project would save the district more than $243,000 — close to half of its utility budget — in annual energy costs.

Under the contract with Johnson Controls, the district, which would lease the panels for $362,528 a year over 15 years, would be guaranteed those savings, so that in case the savings are not realized through the solar panels, Johnson Controls would foot the bill.

“The Miller Place school district’s decision to pursue alternative energy projects including solar power will not only benefit the environment, but is anticipated to produce financial savings for the district,” Superintendent Marianne Higuera said in a statement. “If the use of alternative energy sources like solar can produce bottom-line cost savings for other school districts or municipalities like it is projected to do for our school district, then this option may be beneficial.”

Beefing up state aid to school districts for these kinds of systems is a good thing, Haffel said in an interview this week.

“What would be really cool and to me would make sense — which would in the long run help every school district and every taxpayer — is to make all renewable work 100 percent aidable and that the school district would receive 100 percent state aid,” he said. “Now you have no electric bill, and you just helped out the taxpayer for the rest of their lives.”

School administrators in Huntington and Northport-East Northport have considered going solar.

Julia Binger, president of the Northport-East Northport school board, said her district had discussions in the past about going solar, but found it to be too cost prohibitive. With this new legislation, combined with what officials have said is a drop in price for solar panels, going solar is “a question that would be worth reconsidering,” Binger said.

In Huntington, school board member Tom DiGiacomo noted that the district’s aging roofs could make solar costly for the district. But it’s still worth considering, he said.

“I think that we need to look at renewable energy as a way to saving money for school districts,” he said. “Quite honestly, the state should be empowering the school districts and the taxpayers ultimately to find ways to save money by using [renewable] energy.”

Town takes lead on latest Suffolk County initiative saving money by reducing fossil fuel consumption

Smithtown has already shown its commitment to environmentally friendly projects since expanding its solar initiative over the last several years. File photo by Rachel Shapiro

Smithtown has flipped the switch on energy savings.

The town board voted unanimously last Thursday to make Smithtown the first town in Suffolk County to adopt a new county-developed alternative energy geothermal code for residential and commercial properties, paving the way for more energy-efficient construction practices. The motion was brought before a public hearing at last week’s town board meeting and met with praise from those close to the model code.

“There is an energy crisis on Long Island. We have some of the highest electric rates in the entire nation,” said Smithtown resident Mike Kaufman of the Suffolk County Planning Commission, who helped draft the model code. “Fossil fuel energy has high costs and we have severe environmental costs when fossil fuels are used. Town of Smithtown residents need to think globally and act locally by going green as much as possible.”

Smithtown Building Director William White said the code was drafted with help from several state and local agencies with hopes of capitalizing on geothermal technology, which draws energy from the earth to provide heating, cooling and hot water for homes. The benefits, he said, include a reduction in the use of fossil fuels, the lowering of heat consumption and costs, and nearly quadrupling the efficiency of fossil fuel systems.

“The installation of geothermal systems has been increasing statewide,” he said. “And best of all, there are no changes in building permit fees necessary.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) stood beside the Planning Commission as well as PSEG Long Island and the Long Island Geothermal Energy Organization back in November to unveil the new energy code and urged for all towns to consider its adoption. When the code was made public PSEG also announced it would provide implementation assistance of $10,000 to each township and $5,000 to the first 10 villages with a population greater than 5,000 residents across Long Island that adopted the code by March 31.

Smithtown was also one of the first of 10 towns to sign onto another model code crafted at the county Planning Commission for solar energy, which helps municipalities evaluate proposed solar energy systems for residential and commercial properties. Since its adoption, an estimated 6,000 solar installations have been finished throughout Long Island.

Kaufman praised the board for taking the lead as the first Suffolk town to sign onto the code after it was introduced back in November, with his help. Under the new code, he said the town will reduce greenhouse gases and use less electricity while expanding clean technology and making sure it is installed correctly.

“We wrote a model code, and a number of towns have begun the efforts to adopt them. But Smithtown is the first to actually get up to the plate and adopt it,” he said. “This town is one of the leaders in Suffolk with going green efforts and it is a pleasure to see my hometown leading the way and stepping up.”