Is Now the Time for Renewable Energy on the East End?

Renewable Energy
Photo: allou/iStock/Thinkstock

Just last month, on May 20, the Town Board of East Hampton voted unanimously to accomplish an extremely ambitious goal—to meet 100 percent of the town’s community-wide power needs with renewable energy. The board plans to realize this by 2020, which would make East Hampton the first municipality in New York State to do so.

“It’s an aggressive goal, but it makes a statement of where East Hampton wants to be in the future,” said Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell.

Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, liaison on the Energy Sustainability Committee, remarked, “Our everyday lives are impacted by the effects of global warming. We owe it to the children of East Hampton to do something about climate change and air pollution caused by fossil fuels.”

East Hampton may be leading the way in New York State, but other communities in both the U.S. and abroad have already switched to renewable energy, both solar and wind. In both Germany and Italy, communities have made the leap to renewable energy with success.

Closer to home, Austin, Texas has been powering all of its public buildings with renewable energy from wind farms in West Texas, and is hoping to achieve their goal of deriving 35% of all their energy needs from renewable sources by 2030. Ninety-one communities in Illinois are operating on 100% renewable energy.

The East Hampton community is unique in many respects, with a population that swells dramatically during the summer, and an economy dependent on both tourism and real estate. Other communities contemplating renewable energy options have investigated whether implementing those systems would create issues with noise pollution, impact on property values, or harm to local wildlife. Wind turbines are relatively quiet, there has been no appreciable effect on property values, and the effects of climate change pose a far greater threat to birds, bats and other wildlife than any danger from wind turbines.

There are other economic benefits to renewable energy besides the obvious. In a press release, Cantwell stated, “Energy efficiency improvements, and solar rooftop systems can save homeowner’s several thousand dollars a year while building local solar farms can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in lease revenue for the town. Making the switch to clean energy is just the right thing to do, both for the environment and for keeping more money in the local economy and creating jobs here.”

The first steps have already been taken. The town has already received proposals from a number of solar developers for large solar farms to be built on land that is already owned by the town. The Town Board is also looking at offshore wind farms—Deepwater Wind, a Rhode Island company, has submitted plans for a 35-turbine wind farm off of Montauk Point. Those 35 turbines could create enough energy to serve the entire East End.

Gordon Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, felt confident that the ambitious goal could be met.

“The East Hampton community consumed 310,000 megawatt hours of electricity in 2010. The reason it is achievable in six years is because we already have proposals on the table. If we build those, it would create more than 310,000 megawatt hours,” Raacke said. Any surplus energy could be stored in energy storage systems such as lithium-ion batteries and liquid flow batteries.

Educating the public is another facet of the plan. Homeowners are urged to get a free energy audit from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

“This is putting East Hampton on the map,” Raacke commented. “We hope to be an inspiration for the rest of Long Island, for the state and the country.”

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