A New Era for Renewable Energy

Pictured Above: A new LIPA substation on Edwards Avenue in Calverton has proved a boon for solar farms, which have cropped up surrounding the substation, feeding power into the grid.

As the U.S. prepares to rejoin the global fight against climate change, New York State is beginning to roll out some of the most bold features of the state’s 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which lays out “the most ambitious emission reduction standards in the country,” according to Lauren Steinberg, an environmental analyst in East Hampton Town’s Natural Resources Department.

Ms. Steinberg and Renewable Energy Long Island Executive Director Gordian Raacke discussed the state law and how it dovetails with East Hampton’s own ambitious renewable energy goals at the East Hampton Town Board’s Dec. 8 work session.

In 2014, East Hampton set a goal to produce all its electricity by renewable methods by the year 2020, a herculean ambition greater than the state’s new goal of producing 70 percent of its electricity statewide from renewable sources by the year 2030 and 100 percent by 2040.

Electrification of our transportation, electric and building energy usage is one of the first steps toward meeting those goals, said Mr. Raacke, followed by ensuring that the electricity that powers these sectors is produced by renewable methods.

He pointed out that electric vehicles are expected to make up 60 to 70 percent of new vehicle sales by the year 2030.

“That’s a key driver in decarbonizing the transportation sector,” he said. 

Buildings are one of the most stubbornly fixed energy users, in part because people update their  home heating and electric systems so rarely.

“We need to make sure we see dramatic improvements in energy efficiency in our buildings and electrify our buildings,” he said. “Heating systems will have to turn to heat pumps.”

“The big picture here is that what we’ll see every decade is a shrinking amount of fossil fuel use and a growing amount of offshore and land-based wind, solar, hydro and bioenergy,” he said. “By 2050, the majority of our energy will be from wind, a good chunk from solar, some hydro and no fossil fuel. There will be a sliver left of nuclear generation from existing plants, but not new generation.”

Mr. Raacke said about half of the renewable energy generation facilities statewide have already been constructed, and the New York State Energy Research & Development Agency is “working on rapidly procuring the remaining amounts.”

Getting alternative energy to scale quickly is crucial, he said, to keep our the temperature in our atmosphere from climbing more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, which scientists believe is a tipping point that will trigger a series of feedback loops that could lead to irreversible and catastrophic climate change.

“If we start today, we can still make it to zero,” he said. “We still have a window now, but it will close rapidly.”

One of the biggest takeaways Mr. Raacke sought to leave board members with was the importance of speed and scale of new renewable energy projects.

He pointed to the Long Island Solar Rooftops initiative, sponsored by a consortium of environmental activists, which had hoped in 2000 to install 10,000 solar systems on Long Island rooftops by the year 2010. They fell short of that goal, but by 2020 there were 50,000 Long Island houses with rooftop solar systems.

“That was quite an achievement and everyone in that coalition was very proud of making that happen,” he said. “But we have about one million roofs on Long Island. It would take 400 years to do them all at that rate. That’s simply not fast enough.”

He asked the town board to consider making solar rooftops mandatory.

“We need to scale up dramatically. That means implementing aggressive policies and codes,” he said. “Electrify everything, then generate that electricity entirely from renewable energy resources.”

Mr. Raacke added that, in 2014, East Hampton was the only town in the state that had adopted 100 percent renewable energy goals.

“Five years later, New York State adopted such goals,” he said. “Having that statewide framework, we can now plan much more comprehensively…We need to act, as you see clearly now, very quickly and very decisively on implementation.”

Ms. Steinberg said the town’s consumer renewable energy initiative, Energize East Hampton, contains useful and energy and money-saving information on how to have a home energy audit performed and on discounted solar installations in partnership with Green Logic.

“It’s constantly evolving,” she said. 

You can learn more at energizeeh.org. 

Southampton has a similar project, Tri-Energy, online at tri-energy.org.

“We all need to do our part in addressing climate change,” said Councilwoman Sylvia Overby. “This should be lighting a fire under us. We need to really educate the community on where we are and how climate change is affecting our community now.”

“We have pathways forward and choices to make,” said Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc. “Some of those pathways will result in us putting at risk our future and the future of our children and their children…. Our opportunity to act has become even shorter.”

Councilwoman Kathee Burke-Gonzalez quoted from a poll that showed that 79 percent of Americans believe our energy supply should come from renewable sources, and 58 percent said they believe government regulations will be necessary to encourage businesses and consumers to rely more on renewable energy. 

“This act has very actionable items that can be implemented on local level,” said East Hampton Energy Sustainability Committee Vice Chair Paul Munoz. “These things are affecting us today and will continue to affect us.”                           —BY

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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