Addressing Peak Energy Plan

The South Fork Peak Savers Program, which encourages energy efficiency through reduced consumption, is offering a new program that would reduce peak electricity demand and save money, the East Hampton Town Board was told on Tuesday. 

Joe Rocco of Applied Energy Group, an energy industry consultancy specializing in efficiency and renewables that is under contract with PSEG Long Island (which manages the electrical grid on behalf of the Long Island Power Authority), described a program akin to PSEG’s Commercial System Relief Program, which reduces energy use at critical times such as hot summer days and has been available to larger commercial customers since 2016. 

Under the program, the town would commit, for four years starting this summer, to operate existing standby emergency generators, such as at Town Hall and the police station, on 24 hours’ notice by and at the direction of A.E.G. during anticipated peak-demand periods. Doing so could reduce or eliminate operation of so-called peaker plants, fossil fuel-fired installations that operate as needed to meet peak demand. 

The town has 1.8 megawatts of natural gas, diesel-powered, or propane emergency generation already installed, Mr. Rocco told the board. The program would be in effect from May 1 to Sept. 30 and would be limited to a four-hour period between 1 and 9 p.m. 

“What we’ve seen through analyzing bills is that the building load is a fraction of what the capacity of the generator is,” Mr. Rocco told the board. “The generators are oversized for what you need.” 

The offer includes a $20,000 enrollment incentive, and A.E.G., Mr. Rocco said, has estimated performance payments that would equate to nearly $180,000 in revenue to the town over the program’s four years. “That’s revenue for operating existing equipment that otherwise is nonproductive, sitting by, relatively idle for emergency situations. Essentially backup, with no usable workload.” 

An additional stipend for fuel expended during peak periods would total an estimated $16,000, he said. 

Last year, Mr. Rocco told the board, there were four peak-demand periods: on Aug. 14 and 15 between 4 and 8 p.m., and on Aug. 27 and 28 between 3 and 7 p.m., for a total of 15 hours. 

“For the utility to invest in resources for 15 hours of operations is not the most cost-effective investment,” he said. “However, it is required to meet the needs of ratepayers. It’s much more cost-effective to . . . use less, or generate site-based power through existing resources.”

In 2017, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said, peak demand was reached on just two days, though peak demand tends to coincide with the hottest summer days, when air-conditioning is in greatest use. Hotter summers, as climate scientists predict are in store, would mean more peak-demand periods. 

“We would isolate ourselves from the grid, and provide electricity consumption we’d normally take in off the grid with generator backup” during peak periods, Mr. Van Scoyoc summarized. This, he said, would reduce demand on the electrical grid, though it would not reduce the use of fossil fuels, rather it would transfer it from peaker plants to emergency generators. 

He described the plan as an interim step between the present and a future in which renewable energy, such as the proposed South Fork Wind Farm, would offset increased energy demand. 

Correct, Mr. Rocco said. The program represents a “switch from utility assets to customer assets,” a “temporary measure until other resources come online,” such as offshore wind and battery storage. 

All parties have incentive to participate in such a cooperative agreement, Mr. Rocco said after the meeting. “The great part of leveraging,” he said, “is that cooperation is easily had.” Those who operate emergency generators regularly test their equipment. “So they know how to operate it, they are trained already. It’s not like they have to hire operators or outsource it.”