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Urging Speed on Renewables

Thu, 11/19/2020 - 16:44

The meeting had reached the 90-minute mark and adjournment before the last item on its agenda could be considered, but the Town of East Hampton's energy sustainability committee was already acting as though that topic, "the climate change emergency declaration," was a foregone conclusion.

Ideas and updates came fast at Monday's virtual meeting of the advisory committee, with Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, the town board's liaison, listing potential capital projects, including more solar arrays, pollinator gardens underneath them, and closed-loop geothermal heating and cooling systems for town buildings. 

A committee will be formed to begin work on community choice aggregation, the board having passed, earlier this month, enabling legislation that would allow the town, possibly in concert with other municipalities, to procure electricity and/or natural gas from a provider other than the incumbent utility, with the option to seek electricity entirely from renewable sources. Officials of the Natural Resources Department, Ms. Overby said, are encouraging other department officials to electrify the town's vehicle fleet. And the 12 electric-vehicle charging stations installed in Montauk by Tesla Inc. and Electrify America will soon be online. 

Members of the committee volunteered to serve as liaisons to the town's citizens advisory committees, which Lena Tabori, the committee's chairwoman, said "will allow feedback into our committee of what a C.A.C. is concerned with, and will create a nice synergy that will allow that liaison to eventually talk to that C.A.C. about what we're doing."

The growing momentum of townwide initiatives intended to combat and mitigate climate change reflects the ambitious targets set by New York State in the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. On Monday, the committee was told that local-level planning and implementation of such initiatives should be informed by an extensive analysis, conducted by consultants to the state, of the pathways to decarbonization across multiple sectors. 

"We have data now that we didn't have until this work started," Gordian Raacke, the executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, told the committee. It must be incorporated into the town's actions, he said, and those actions should be significantly scaled up and accelerated. 

The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act mandates at least an 85-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2050. Interim steps include 6,000 megawatts of distributed solar by 2025, a 40-percent reduction in emissions, 3,000 megawatts of energy storage, and 70 percent of electricity derived from renewable sources by 2030. Also mandated are 9,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2035 and 100-percent zero-carbon electricity by 2040. 

The state has convened advisory panels focusing on the transportation, agriculture and forestry, land use, power generation, housing, and industrial sectors, and working groups to ensure a just transition to a carbon-free future and implementation that benefits all, including disadvantaged communities. A draft scoping plan and public hearings are due in 2022, with a final plan to deliver those goals to be adopted the following year. 

Mr. Raacke highlighted several takeaways from the state's decarbonization analysis that can be acted on locally. By 2030, he said, technologies like electric vehicles and heat pumps must be normalized, representing at least half of new sales. In transportation, "the energy efficiency of electric vehicles is much better" than internal combustion-engine vehicles, and electrification of the sector will significantly reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. 

Buildings alone account for 39 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to Mr. Raacke's presentation, the elimination of which is key to addressing climate change. Realizing carbon neutrality in new buildings and substantial renovations "points to much stricter energy efficiency building codes," he said, coupled with retrofitting heating and cooling systems in existing buildings.

Six years ago, East Hampton became the first municipality in the state to adopt a goal to achieve all of its energy needs from renewable sources. The statewide framework adopted last year will help the town plan "much more comprehensively than we could in 2014," Mr. Raacke said, and should be incorporated into an updated climate action plan. And "we need to speed up things dramatically" in order to meet the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change's Paris Agreement goal of keeping global average temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, beyond which climate scientists warn of severe and irreversible impacts. 

As an example, he cited the Long Island Solar Roofs initiative of 2000, which set a goal of 10,000 rooftop solar arrays by 2010. It was achieved four years behind schedule, he said, with around 50,000 arrays installed today. But with around one million roofs on Long Island, to solarize them all at that rate "would take us 400 years," he said. "We've got to move much, much faster. . . . If we rely on just voluntary action, we will not make it. We will not transition the way we need to transition on that fast speed and scale. So we need to seriously think about mandatory measures versus voluntary compliance. . . . We need to electrify everything we can, and then we need to generate all of that electricity with renewables. And we've got to do it as soon as possible."


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