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Source: Long Island Business News

Mixed results for LI green efforts


Posted: November 23, 2011
Originally Published: November 22, 2011

Just when the green movement was ready to kick into a higher gear, the recession throttled the enthusiasm.

“It’s difficult to launch green initiatives at a time when people are being laid off,” said Neal Lewis, executive director of the Sustainability Institute at Molloy College.

Michael Deering, vice president of environmental affairs for LIPA, is singing from the same hymnal, noting that although there’s a greater understanding how energy-efficient improvements creates long-term savings, companies are cautious about making investments today when they don’t know if they’ll be in business tomorrow.

But after the initial shock of the economic downturn, the green industry has begun to regroup, Lewis said, and 2011 saw some green gains.

Overall, Long Island gets a mixed report card for alternative energy, energy efficiency and non-energy related green initiatives.

Alternative energy

It was a bright year for solar power on Long Island. Last Friday, the switch was flipped on the largest solar farm in the eastern United States at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, connecting 32 megawatts of power to the LIPA grid.

“This adds a substantial portion of solar to the energy mix,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Additionally, Suffolk County took the lead on a 17 megawatt solar project featuring the suspension of solar panels over parking lots outside its H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge and at train stations.

“These two major projects will benefit all LIPA customers,” said Gordian Raacke, executive director of the East Hampton nonprofit Renewable Energy Long Island.

On a smaller scale, residential and commercial solar installations, aided by a drastic reduction in prices, continue to grow despite the economy. “With prices coming down, rebates are coming down too, and people want to get in before rebates and tax incentives go away,” Raacke said.

But the sun proved to be stronger than the wind. “Off-shore wind has made zero progress on Long Island,” said Esposito, blaming a lack of political will and leadership on the issue.

LIPA, in collaboration with the New York Power Authority and Con Edison, is still in the drawing board phase for a potential wind project 13 to 17 miles off the coast. On a smaller scale, a few private wind turbines were installed this year, Raacke said.

One sign of green-tinted hope was The Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center opening its doors at Stony Brook University with a goal to develop new technologies that can be commercialized. Current projects include a solar-powered device for cooling and technology for harvesting energy from shock absorbers.

“Federal budget cuts are a concern, but we have been winning competitive grants,” said Yacov Shamash, vice president for economic development and dean of the college of engineering and applied sciences at Stony Brook.

Commercial and municipal buildings

President Obama’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed by Congress in 2009, helped many municipalities on the Island complete renewable energy, energy efficiency and other green projects, Lewis said. One example: The Village of Lake Success recently installed two solar electric systems, stemming from two federal stimulus grants totaling $500,000.

Among private companies, the Great Neck-based North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System has taken the lead in committing to seek LEED certification for all construction and remodeling projects. The health system currently has dozens of projects at various stages registered to receive LEED certification, said Vince Capogna, executive director of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Long Island chapter in Hauppauge.

In total, there are about 40 LEED certified commercial properties on Long Island, with more than 200 projects registered to seek certification, Capogna said. “When you consider that there was only one LEED certified building in 2007 here, we’re making progress every year,” he said.

LIPA has increased its budget for its commercial energy efficiency programs, including new programs and outreach.

But according to Deering, uncertainty rules many businesses. “They’re very cautious about making any kind of investment in upgrades to their facilities or equipment, even if it will lower the cost of operations,” he said.

Energy-efficient homes

The Long Island Green Homes Consortium, a two-year-old partnership encouraging homeowners to make energy- efficient upgrades, expanded this year. Seven Long Island towns teamed up with the Community Development Corp. of Long Island, the Sustainability Institute at Molloy College, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, LIPA and National Grid on the Long Island Green Homes program.

Through the program, all Long Islanders can get a free or low-cost home energy audit, which will detail cost savings from recommended energy-efficient improvements. To date, more than 1,400 Long Islanders have signed up for the energy audit through Green Homes, according to the Community Development Corp.

Though the major stumbling block of upfront costs has been eliminated, stakeholders still have inertia to contend with.

“People are so busy with their daily lives, and they don’t realize how much money this program can save them,” said Marianne Garvin, who saved 30 percent in heating costs last winter after having $5,000 worth of upgrades made to her home.


Long Island gets poor marks in the subject of water, said Esposito, citing red and brown tides in various bays and estuaries this year. More frightening reports have shown an increase in toxins in local drinking water.

While acknowledging there’s no simple solution, Esposito blames a lack of political leadership on this issue. Her organization and other groups met with officials last week in Washington, D.C., pushing for federal funds for sewer infrastructure – both new sewers and upgrades to existing ones – and protections for Long Island Sound. Since 2004, federal investments in wastewater and stormwater infrastructure have significantly decreased, shifting the burden to cash-strapped local governments, according to the Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

Wrap up

On an earth-friendly note, the villages of Southampton and East Hampton banned the use of disposable plastic bags in retail stores, which has become a national model for other communities.

Other good news: Towns have been able to continue and even grow recycling and other low-budget environmental programs. “We have a comprehensive recycling program with nine of our school districts, and we added a program to recycle unopened food in the schools to go to hunger relief organizations,” said Collin Nash, communications director for the town of North Hempstead.