From wind power to the internet of things to meshed communication networks and a smarter electric grid, the mood was one of optimism in technological solutions at Renewable Energy Long Island’s second annual South Fork 100% Renewable Energy Forum June 28.
Both Southampton and East Hampton towns have made pledges to produce all their electricity through renewable sources — East Hampton pledged in 2014 to achieve the goal by the year 2020 and Southampton, just this spring, has pledged to do so by 2025.
The power-packed discussions at the forum at LTV Studios in Wainscott began just after noon and didn’t finish until much of the trade parade had already abandoned the Hamptons for points west for the evening, giving attendees a broad spectrum of hopeful solutions to a web of energy-related issues facing the South Fork.
“In order to avoid catastrophic climate change, we have to go to 100 percent renewable electricity, and then we have to find solutions to the transportation and heating sectors,” RELI’s Executive Director, Gordian Raacke, told attendees at the opening of the forum. “We stand to lose an awful lot…. We will need everyone to be involved in it, all hands on deck. Every business owner has to upgrade their facilities.”
“We all have to be involved in the civil society process, at town hall,” he added. “We need to educate everyone, including elected leaders. I hope we can count on all of you to be proactive assistants in this transition.”
The South Fork has staked much of its transition to renewable energy for electricity on the development of Deepwater Wind’s South Fork Wind Farm off the coast of Montauk, but also important in that effort are the reduction of peak electric demand and increased energy efficiency in homes here.
While demand for electricity throughout Long Island has leveled off due to energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, the South Fork still suffers from potential overloads at peak hours in summer, when the population here is triple the winter population and air conditioners and pool pumps are at their busiest.
Bruce Humenik of the Applied Energy Group is working with the Long Island Power Authority and PSEG-Long Island on market-based consumer programs to help get electric customers to reduce their energy use. These programs include giving customers smart NEST thermostats or ThinkEco window air conditioner modules, as well as variable speed pool pumps, in exchange for allowing AEG to control the modules during peak load hours in the summer between 2 and 6 p.m., allowing them to raise the temperature in homes to avoid spikes in power usage on the grid.
“People will be getting the technology essentially free,” he said, adding that the technology would save an average customer between $150 and $225 per year. He said the program will be very user-friendly, with many online options for customers to opt in.
Lynn Arthur, who runs Southampton Town’s Tri-Energy program, urged attendees to get a free Home Energy Audit through Long Island Green Homes and gave advice on financing energy upgrades. She added that many people don’t know that any roof work or tree clearing that they do to prepare their house for solar panels is eligible for a 30 percent federal tax deduction.
“Energy efficiency measures are going to reduce your cost of ownership,” she said. “Solar is one thing you can do right now that has a direct impact on shaving the spikes off the summer peak. It goes into the grid at the same period of time that we have the issue.”
Another panel discussed public policy measures that could be game-changers for energy sustainability.
PSEG-Long Island CEO Tom Falcone said that his company has been working hard since it took over management of LIPA’s electric grid three years ago to upgrade aging grid infrastructure and increase tree trimming, made possible primarily by FEMA funding in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.
Mr. Falcone said tree trimming has resulted in a 50 percent improvement in reliability and resiliency of the electric grid, while “hardened circuits,” created by the installation of new utility poles and other infrastructure throughout Long Island, has led to an 80 percent improvement in reliability of Long Island’s electric grid.
Mr. Falcone said he is a big proponent of renewable energy, including offshore wind, and praised Governor Andrew Cuomo’s commitment earlier this year to produce 2,400 megawatts of the state’s electricity from offshore wind by 2030.
“We’re looking at a rapidly declining cost of clean energy and battery storage, with innovation and economies of scale,” he said. “Right now it looks like we have all the power plants we need.”
He added that PSEG-Long Island plans to reduce energy use by 950 megawatts over the next 15 years.
Greg Matzat, who helped develop the New York Offshore Wind Master Plan for NYSERDA, said that one of the great things about offshore wind is that it’s located downstate, where most of the energy demand is, unlike other sources of power upstate.
He added that New York could generate 2,400 megawatts of wind power in just 2 percent of the area of the ocean off Montauk that the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has available for lease.
“With three sites with 100 turbines or less, we could reach that goal,” he said.
Mr. Matzat urged members of the public to attend a NYSERDA presentation on the offshore wind plan this Wednesday, July 12 at the Southampton Inn at 6 p.m.
Renewable energy consultant Julia Bovey discussed the idea of a microgrid, essentially a power storage center and/or generation center that would be connected to the larger grid, but could be used for electric generation during blackouts.
She pointed out that, after Superstorm Sandy, South Oaks Hospital in Amityville, where many administrators didn’t know they had an “island mode” on their power network, was able to maintain power throughout the aftermath of the storm.
“This is not a new idea,” she said. “The technology has been around to do this with fossil fuels for a long time. The South Fork community can make this happen.”
Representatives from Tesla Motors, who brought several electric cars to the forum, were also on-hand educating potential customers about their Powerwall, a battery storage system Tesla is currently installing on Long Island, which can be used to either charge from the grid at lower night prices and power houses during the day, or draw its electricity from rooftop solar panels or Tesla’s new solar shingles. There is currently a waiting list for those shingles, said Tesla rep Chris Nihan.
Beyond electricity, other presenters shared details about what can be done about transportation and home heating.
Donovan Gordon of NYSERDA explained the barriers to installation of geothermal heating systems, including lack of knowledgable installers, and high initial cost.
He added that, due to resistance to fracking upstate, towns have begun to block natural gas pipelines that could have provided cleaner home heating fuel than oil or electric heat produced from fossil fuels.
Nick Palumbo shared a plan for bicycle sharing, like New York City’s CitiBike program, that may be implemented by Suffolk County.
Brian Fitzsimons of GridUnity discussed the concept of a “dynamic grid” that would optimize the way energy is distributed through machine learning and interconnected energy usage data, while Greta Byrum extolled the virtues of mesh communication networks, which allow people to communicate through interconnected community devices that don’t stop working if one node breaks down.
“Resiliency is a social process,” she said. “We build resiliency by building relationships. Part of what makes a city smart is local engagement. Local folks can be stewards of technology for their community.”
Local leaders also shared their successes and difficulties.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell pointed out that trees on peoples’ property, or on their neighbors’ property, along with town clearing restrictions, are often a major obstacle to rooftop solar panel use.
“Sometimes we have to make hard choices here between two worthy goals,” he said.
He added that Deepwater Wind needs to address where the transmission cable from the South Fork Wind Farm will come ashore, and also needs to address the impact on the fishing industry of placement of the turbines at Cox’s Ledge, among the best cod fishing grounds on the East Coast.
“The fertile fishing grounds could be as big as a street in Springs,” he said. “If you fish, you can see that one boat is on the spot and the other is not. The actual impact areas for fishing are so small. We need to work closely with people who have experience, and ID critical areas on the map so these areas are avoided.”
Mr. Cantwell called the South Fork Wind Farm “a critical part of our energy future,” but added that “some of these issues need to be addressed very carefully.”
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman pointed out that his town had just that day held a ribbon cutting on its first municipal building with solar panels, the Tiana Bayside Marine Center, and the town is working to make it possible for communities to install ground-based solar arrays.
“Trump is not going to stop market forces,” said Mr. Schneiderman. “This is the future. We will see a constant drive toward renewables. I’m encouraged.”
Environmental advocate Jeremy Samuelson compared the current debate about fossil fuel use to the use of whale oil here more than a century ago.
“It’s the same conversation,” he said. “We waited too long in that case and suffered a collapse. We eventually rebounded, but it was a harder path. We are going down a similar path. The sooner we chose to divert from it, the better our landing will be.”
“We don’t often listen to the public at large. They have very real reasons, which are not idealogical, for why they don’t want to embrace solutions,” he said. “We need to make sure we’re not trying to cast ourselves in the role of the folks who know best. That’s a dangerous path that leads to failure.”
Michael McDonald of the East End Resilience Network said the world is currently facing two revolutions simultaneously in communication and energy.
“Throughout history, when we had both at the same time, there was a massive economic boom,” he said. “Unfortunately, now, our president is giving that boom to China, but towns and cities are taking it back.”
“The East End is doing a terrific job. It has the capacity to be a true leader in this next era,” he added. “But it’s going to take initiative on the part of a broad set of players. It requires us to change incentives to enable the public to have the right mechanisms to engage the values they hold.”
He added that the way power is currently distributed is built on a network from another time, that was built around central power stations, not around individual property owners as potential power producers.
“We’ve got laws from another epoch. We need to restructure that, within the capacity of an active public that engages collectively,” he said.