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Southampton Makes Big Strides on Sustainability

Thu, 07/18/2019 - 11:57

The Town of Southampton is making significant progress on a range of sustainability initiatives to protect the environment, members of the town’s sustainability advisory committee told the town board last Thursday, and in its annual report the committee recommended a variety of further actions from amending its building code to account for battery energy storage to taking part in a new Suffolk County bicycle-sharing program.

The report is a requirement of the town’s 400+ sustainability plan, adopted into its comprehensive plan in 2013. Southampton, like the Town of East Hampton, is a bronze-status municipality — a designation based on a point system and completion of priority actions and pledges — in New York State’s Climate Smart Communities program. The board and the committee discussed attaining silver status last Thursday.

Southampton town reversed a trend in growing electricity demand last year, driven in part by installation of LED outdoor lighting and its Tri-Energy program, which offers incentives for solar energy installation and residential audits, rebates, and incentives to reduce energy use. It also adopted legislation enabling community choice aggregation, a model for procuring energy that replaces the utility as the default monopolistic supplier of electricity or natural gas within a municipality. (The East Hampton Town Board voted last month to hold hearings to consider a resolution establishing a community choice aggregation program.)

As an example of its work, the committee and board cited this year’s renovation of the Ponquogue Beach pavilion in Hampton Bays, which added LED lighting, rain gardens, and an electric vehicle charging station. Last year, the town held a renewable energy fair and event to showcase electric and hybrid vehicles, as well as an Earth Day observance intended to motivate residents toward sustainable practices.

In its presentation, the committee proposed that the town commit to becoming carbon neutral through a combination of conservation, efficiency, and alternative energy sources. To achieve this, one recommendation is to promote new development that minimizes the carbon footprint of building construction, renovation, and operations. The committee suggested incorporating the new requirements in the state’s fire prevention and building code pertaining to battery energy storage systems. (The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority has published a guidebook to assist governments in battery energy storage system development.)

“Battery storage is coming on big and bold,” Lynn Arthur, who delivered the committee’s remarks on energy and carbon, told the board. “If there’s one thing you remember from this presentation: batteries, batteries, batteries. Batteries are essential to our future.”

In its research, Ms. Arthur said, the committee learned that battery demand response programs, akin to the voluntary rationing system in which a utility’s customers adjust their energy consumption during peak demand times to relieve stress on the electrical grid, already exist in several states. “Imagine a bunch of residential batteries — and small businesses — that are networked together to form a grid service,” she said, illustrating a means of reducing peak demand. “That same battery . . . could also be a backup generator after a severe storm.”

Ms. Arthur said that battery energy storage is essential to the effort to lower greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists say is urgently required to preclude catastrophic climate change. In addition to reducing demand on the grid and providing emergency backup for residential electricity, they could deliver 100-percent clean energy if charged by solar panels or another renewable source, replacing the need for so-called peaker plants, fossil fuel-fired installations that operate as needed to meet peak demand.

Battery storage also enables a utility’s customers to take advantage of time-of-use rates, which are now voluntary but may become mandatory, Ms. Arthur said. As the state oversees development of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s target of 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind, battery storage will be critical to balance that renewable energy source, as well as solar, given the intermittent nature of both.

By installing solar panels and battery energy storage on town-owned parcels, including parking lots, as well as continuing to add electric vehicles and charging stations, the town can both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide a model for other municipalities to follow, the committee said.

Another recommendation was for the town to evaluate requiring a measure of renewable-energy generation in new construction. “Should commercial entities, in addition to residential . . . be responsible to produce some amount of the energy they draw?” Janice Scherer of the committee asked the board. “Let’s keep looking at that,” said Ms. Scherer, who is also the town’s deputy director of land management, offering a vision of “smart” buildings able to function independently and provide energy to themselves and to structures around them.

Communities including Patchogue and Babylon will be among the first four in Suffolk County to participate in Bethpage Ride, a new bike-sharing program sponsored by Bethpage Federal Credit Union, said the committee’s Nick Palumbo, who discussed transportation and its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. “There’s opportunity for the Town of Southampton to participate in that program at no cost,” he told the board. “Hopefully, we can bring that to Southampton.”

In addition to encouraging alternative modes of transportation, a bike-sharing program, Mr. Palumbo said, would further enhance the South Fork Commuter Connection, the coordinated rail and bus system that operates during peak commuting hours and is intended to alleviate traffic congestion and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Mr. Palumbo, who recalled a recent commute from Hampton Bays to a meeting in East Hampton via a South Fork Commuter Connection train, said that “there has been a steady uptick in use of that service,” since its launch in March. He also urged the town to continue creating electric-vehicle charging stations.

“You guys are doing a great job,” Supervisor Jay Schneiderman told the committee at the conclusion of its presentation. “It’s great to have your advisement for the policymaking board, to keep holding that bar high and hoping we’ll jump over it.” The town government, he said, is making a bipartisan effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but “without your leadership, we wouldn’t be where we are today. I think we are, today, a model community.”


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