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Renewable Energy

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We get it — if you read our newspapers or just about any other media that cover Long Island, you’ve heard enough over the past decade about the legal battles going on between several school districts and townships versus Long Island Power Authority.

If you feel like you’re on LIPA overload, we have some significant news — a major development occurred in the cases last week. A New York State Supreme Court judge determined that the 1997 Power Supply Agreement between National Grid, which owns the power plants, and LIPA, which transmits that electricity to customers, did not contain any language, or “promise,” that prevented the utility companies from seeking to have taxes they pay on the power stations reduced.

The good news is this decision may signal there’s a light at the end of the tunnel to this endlessly drawn-out court battle. We fear the positives may end there.

LIPA has said that its intention in filing these lawsuits is to be able to reduce energy bills for its customers, as it hopes to pay out less in property taxes. On its face, the company’s goal appears to a good thing for residents of Huntington and Brookhaven townships, who will likely see a reduction in their monthly electrical bills should LIPA be victorious, except for the residents in Northport and Port Jefferson, who will see a property tax increase. These odds seem an increasingly likely fact in recent weeks as courts have ruled twice  in LIPA’s favor.

However, these legal battles have been waged for nearly a decade, racking up what we can only imagine are substantial legal bills from lawyers hired to represent the municipalities and the school districts involved. Then adding in fees paid for a third-party mediator when sit-downs begin in September, we find ourselves asking, “At what cost?”

We hope to find out just how much taxpayers’ money has been spent on legal fees for the duration of the saga, so keep an eye out for that. And for what? The “Hail Mary” play that a court would determine the 1997 PSA had implied a legally binding promise that LIPA wouldn’t seek a reduction in its property taxes.

It was such a risky play for Brookhaven Town and Port Jefferson Village that those two municipalities have agreed to settle the cases out of court to avoid exposure to the risk of years of back pay should the issue actually end up in a trial loss for the two entities. Still, why did it take Brookhaven and Port Jeff until 2018 to finally reach a settlement while legal fees kept accruing?

All of this can also be looked at against the backdrop that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has set a goal for 50 percent of the state’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2030. Who’s going to pay for the solar and wind producing plants necessary, for example, to get on track in reaching that goal? We don’t think we’re going out on a limb in speculating that at least some of that cost will fall on LIPA’s customers.

While we’d like to think we’re inching closer to a day when we no longer have to report on legal issues pertaining to LIPA, a positive resolution for all stakeholders is going to take significantly more work. In reality, it should have been resolved long ago.

Huntington Town Hall. File photo by Rohma Abbas

As the Town of Huntington is entrenched in a lengthy legal battle with Long Island Power Authority, its elected officials are looking to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels and move to sources of renewable energy.

Huntington town board unanimously agreed to apply for a $62,500 grant from New York State’s Climate Smart Communities Grant Program at its July 17 meeting. If the funding is approved, the town will move forward with a study of its current energy use and how to transition to using more renewable energy resources.

There is a nationwide movement of towns pledging to go renewable by 2050 and we want Huntington to be one of those towns.”

– Jenny Strandberg

“There is a nationwide movement of towns pledging to go renewable by 2050 and we want Huntington to be one of those towns,” Jenny Strandberg said.

Strandberg is one of many Mothers Out Front, a grassroots community organization pushing for a transition to 100 percent clean and renewable energy, who asked Huntington officials to move forward with the study and renew their pledge to protect the environment.

“If everyone on the planet lived like the average American, you would need five planets,” said Jennifer Browns, a professor of sociology of LIU Post and Mothers Out Front member. “We need a commitment to 100 percent renewable energy and we need it now.”

Huntington first adopted the state’s Climate Smart Communities pledge in 2012. By taking the pledge, the town made several promises to its residents including trying to “decrease energy use” and “build a climate-smart community.”

Supervisor Chad Lupinacci (R) said in order for the town to become Climate Smart Community certified, it would need to hire a consultant to perform a Government Operations Greenhouse Gas Inventory to
assess what emissions its producing, a 100 percent Renewable Energy Feasibility Study and then a Capital Phase-In Plan to determine and set a schedule to meet the town’s greenhouse gas reduction goals. The estimated cost for those steps is approximately $125,000, according to Lupinacci. The town is seeking funding for half through the state grant.

“The sooner we get it in, the more we can beat people to the top of the line to make sure we show our commitment and we are ready to roll on it,” Lupinacci said.

Let me state clearly, it is LIPA’s policy to transition to renewable energy 50 percent by 2030.”

– Peter Gollon

The program requires the town provide 50 percent matching funds, for which it will pull $62,500 from the its Environmental Open Space & Park Fund Review Advisory Committee’s Green Project Fund. The committee has already approved the project.

Both East Hampton and Southampton townships on the East End have already become Climate Smart Communities certified by going through this process, according to Huntington resident Tara Kotlia. She said she would like to see the Town of Huntington become the third.

Peter Gollon, a Huntington resident and board trustee for Long Island Power Authority, said if Huntington moves forward with the study and transitions to renewable energy, it would bring the town more in line with the utility company’s long-term vision.

“Let me state clearly, it is LIPA’s policy to transition to renewable energy 50 percent by 2030,” Gollon said.

He stressed that LIPA and the power  companies will continue to push renewable energy as the future, and encouraged the town to do the same.

“It’s clear different communities must engage, set examples for each other and move toward clean energy, renewable energy as soon as possible,” Gollon said. “Huntington must continue to be a leader

Billii Roberti, a member on the Town of Huntington’s Advisory Committee on Energy Efficiency, Renewables and Sustainability, attends the meeting on solar prospects for churches and nonprofits. Photo by Kyle Barr

By Kyle Barr

A Huntington Station church recognizes that the Bible says God made light and it is good, now if only they could afford to reap the sun’s benefits.

Bethany Presbyterian Church is one of many houses of worship with an interest in harvesting solar energy, but many are finding the upfront costs are too high.

In 2017, the church financed an audit of its electric system and insulation in an effort to increase its energy  efficiency, Pastor James Rea Jr. said. While this helped reduced the congregation’s electrical bill by 20 percent, according to Rea, the  congregation is interested in taking it a step further.

We would do solar, but we just can’t afford it right now.”

– Christopher Sellers

“We would do solar, but we just can’t afford it right now,” Christopher Sellers, an elder at Bethany Presbyterian, said, noting the church is still paying for the energy audit.

While renewable energy proponents point to community solar initiatives, where the output from a solar farm is shared among multiple buildings, there is still a large upfront cost and requires a significant amount of space to build the solar farm according to Ryan Madden, a sustainability organizer for Long Island Progressive Coalition.

“We need solutions like community solar,” Madden said. “Our version of community solar takes the form of bringing in multiple organizations at the same time to bring down cost and creating locally driven solar campaigns.

LIPC partnered with Massachusetts-based company Resonant Energy, which works with nonprofits to provide low-cost solar, to create the PowerUP Solar initiative. The initiative seeks to bring together nonprofits and churches for the intent of purchasing solar systems in bulk to help decrease the cost. PowerUP member organizations held a meeting with other interested groups June 13 at the Huntington Station church to advertise their plans.

Madden said nonprofits have a difficult time when it comes to getting a solar hookup simply because of the issue of affordability.

We’ve seen widespread adoption in single-family homes, but not so much in small commercial spaces.”

– Isaac Baker

“They are not usually looked at by solar developers because its more expensive, or there are multiple decision makers in those organizations that can stall a project,” he said.

Other than cost, Isaac Baker, the co-president of Resonant Energy, said the nonprofits also have to contend with a lack of incentives to get into solar, specifically that nonprofits are not eligible for the federal
solar tax credits that homeowners or for-profits can get. There are no current programs that financially help New York organizations transition from traditional electric to solar.

“We’ve seen widespread adoption in single-family homes, but not so much in small commercial spaces,” Baker said. “[A large amount] of rooftop is available in any state on small commercial buildings that are owned by nonprofits.”

Some religious organizations on Long  Island have already invested heavily in solar technology. The Sisters of St. Joseph in Brentwood made a big splash earlier this year when they unveiled their community solar system on their main campus. The 3,192 solar photovoltaic panels on their roof power 63 percent of the convent’s residential and office space on the 212-acre property.

Karen Burke, the coordinator of land initiatives for the Sisters of St. Joseph, said that her sisterhood was looking to make the switch at other facilities.

The town is really into getting into as much solar as possible, so this is a great untapped resource.”

– Billii Roberti

Baker said that if the PowerUP can bring together 10 different organizations, bulk pricing could bring the cost of solar panels down to $114,000 per building with 56 kilowatts of output. The initiative’s members were promised to save approximately $2,200 per year and a net savings of $212,000 in 25 years, according to Baker.

The time line for the PowerUP initiative would have the nonprofits and churches getting technical assessments by the end of July, having installation done in September and the systems up and running by October.

Billii Roberti, a member on the Town of Huntington’s Advisory Committee on Energy Efficiency, Renewables and Sustainability, said that Huntington should try to look to nonprofits to proliferate sustainable energy.

“[This initiative is] bringing in people who are otherwise unable to take advantage of solar, people who are disenfranchised in a sense,” Roberti said. “The town is really into getting into as much solar as possible, so this is a great untapped resource.”

If approved, BQ Energy would have to manage leftover debris at the solar farm site. Photo by Jared Cantor

A renewable energy company has its sights set on a former landfill in Kings Park to build a solar farm, but residents living nearby and conducting business there are not seeing the light.

The Smithtown Town Board considered a special exception request at its last meeting on Nov. 19 that would make way for roughly 18,000 solar panels on about 27 acres along Old Northport Road, according to Kings Park Solar LLC — a subsidiary group of the Poughkeepsie-based BQ Energy. The proposal was met with disdain, however, when residents voiced opposition on the grounds of potential health hazards and negative business consequences for a separate sport complex approved nearby.

A spokeswoman for Kings Park Solar said it would sell the electricity the panels produce to the utility company PSEG, similarly done at other solar and wind farms built throughout the state. If completed, the spokeswoman said the plan could offset more than 1,700 metric tons of carbon monoxide from the region.

Paul Curran, managing director of BQ Energy, said the project was designed like several other solar farms in Suffolk County and would pose no negative health effects because it would be a stationary system build on top of what used to be a landfill.

He said his group would work in compliance with the state Department of Environmental Conservation by consolidating two piles of waste left behind on the property and capping them before construction. Those piles would also be monitored by BQ Energy, he said.

“We look forward to working with our neighbors in the community,” Curran said at the meeting before several residents approached the dais to oppose the plan. “It is a very compatible use and we can fit in very well in the town of Smithtown and we look forward to that.”

But residents in the area were not convinced the proposal would not be a detriment to their health. Neil Rosenberg, president of the homeowners association for condominiums just north of the area in question, said the proposal was not compatible with the best interests of his neighbors. He requested that the board require BQ Energy to work with a neutral third party in drafting an environmental impact study on the solar farm plan.

“What I’ve learned tonight is that the people who are proposing it have said there is no radiation, no noise, nothing coming off this,” he said. “But there’s literature that says contrary. There’s too many unknowns in our opinion.”

And aside from health risks, residents argued that the solar farm would negatively affect a multimillion-dollar sports complex that was approved for construction over the summer on an adjacent lot in Kings Park. Kenny Henderson, a member of Prospect Sports Partners LLC, said that while he was not against solar power or clean energy, he was certain that a solar farm in that location would deter tenants from doing business with his group.

He said ignoring his concerns would be a detriment to the town, as Prospect Sports is poised to produce more than 400 jobs and generate roughly $38.5 million in annual spending in Smithtown.

“We are really struggling now to keep our head above water,” Henderson said. “We started this dream about six years ago, working side by side with the town to make this a reality. But we are 100 percent uncertain if we can build this now, because nobody wants to come do business behind the solar panels.”

The Smithtown Town Board said it would review the special exception request with those concerns in mind before determining environmental effects.

Supreme Court judge throws out lawsuit against Shoreham solar project

The DeLalio Sod Farm in Shoreham, where a solar panel facility is in the works. File photo by Erika Karp

Brookhaven Town reached the trifecta of adopting renewable energy codes when it embraced Suffolk County’s model solar code last week.

After previously adopting the county’s geothermal and wind energy codes, the Brookhaven Town Board approved the one for solar, which will permit solar energy production facilities by planning board special permit in the town’s industrial zones. According to Suffolk County Planning Commission Chairman Dave Calone, the town is the first in the county to adopt all three model codes.

“Brookhaven is the place where renewable energy is moving forward,” Calone said prior to a public hearing on the matter on Aug. 6.

Deputy Town Attorney Beth Reilly said the code applies to the town’s industrial districts, L Industrial 1, light industry; L Industrial 2, heavy industry; and L Industrial 4. Permitted uses in light industry include banks, agricultural or nursery uses, places of worship, day cares, health clubs, manufacturing within a building, offices and warehouse spaces, while uses in heavy industry include manufacturing of asphalt, cement fertilizers, and chemicals; junkyards; farmers markets and stockyards. L4 districts deal solely with the generation, transmission and distribution of electrical energy.

“The intent of this section [is] to provide adequate safeguards for the location, siting and operation of solar production facilities,” the code states.

The day before the Town Board’s adoption, a state Supreme Court judge dismissed a lawsuit against the town, its planning board and zoning board of appeals that sought to overturn the town’s approvals for a solar-energy production facility in Shoreham.

Eight Shoreham residents listed under the community group Shoreham Wading River Advocates for Justice filed the lawsuit in November against the town entities, along with sPower, a renewable energy company based in Utah and California, and utilities PSEG Long Island and the Long Island Power Authority. sPower has an agreement to sell power generated at a future 50,000-solar panel facility, located on the DeLalio Sod Farm, to PSEG. Many residents who live near the farm have advocated against it, saying the project is too large for a residential area.

Calone said he believes the new solar code, which outlines where the solar arrays should be located, will lead to new projects being welcomed to communities.

The total coverage of solar panels cannot exceed 60 percent of the lot area and freestanding panels cannot reach more than 20 feet above the ground, according to the code, which also adds buffer and setback restrictions. In addition, the code outlines design standards for the solar panels.

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) thanked Calone and Councilmembers Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station), Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) and Connie Kepert (D-Middle Island), who worked with the county on the code.

“The one thing that is so beneficial is getting uniform code that can apply to all 10 towns so there is no guessing,” Romaine said. “It isn’t different from one town to another. It makes it simple for alternative energy to move forward.”

Brinkmann True Value Hardware in Miller Place celebrates its grand opening on Friday, July 24. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The first net-zero energy use store in New York opened in Miller Place on Friday.

Brinkmann True Value Hardware is the first building in the state to earn the net-zero status, according to PSEG Long Island. This means the total amount of annual energy used is approximately equal to the amount of renewable energy created on the property.

Local elected officials, members of PSEG Long Island and Green Logic Energy, a renewable energy design and installation company, attended the grand opening.

“We were always interested in solar power, but when we met Al, it grew into something bigger. Net-zero energy got in our head, as soon as we heard of the idea we fell in love with it,” co-owner Ben Brinkmann said.

Al, or Albert Harsch, renewable energy consultant for Green Logic Energy, was very excited to see the idea come to fruition.

“It stands as an example of what businesses can do on Long Island and I want to congratulate the Brinkmann family for being pioneers in this.”

Green Logic Energy was contracted by the Brinkmann family to design and enhance the different technologies needed to effectively and efficiently create a net-zero result.

During the planning and construction phase, the family also worked with PSEG through the utility’s Commercial Efficiency Program, which offers resources as well as rebates to customers who install energy efficient equipment.

The Brinkmann family was surprised to find out that they were the first net-zero building not only in their industry, but also the first retail facility in the state.

Energy efficiency measures for the store include solar panels, geothermal heating and air conditioning, LED lighting and equipment, and a thermoplastic cool roof. The cool roof is able to reflect sunlight and heat away from a building, which reduces the roof temperature.

By employing energy efficient measures, store will save 64,000-kilowatt hours of energy per year, for savings of roughly $11,000 annually.

According to PSEG, the initiative is equivalent to removing 27 cars from the road or 14,804 gallons of gas not consumed, annually.

“These small businesses continue to invest in the community, and we’re seeing a resurgence of these kind of establishments, our residents want a personal touch when they shop,” Brookhaven Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) said.

Losquadro said he hopes the store will serve as an inspiration and model for the town.

The Brinkmann family is in no way done with their efforts.

“We have more expansion planned, it’s our goal by 2025 to be net-zero company-wide,” Brinkmann said.

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