This is the full text of a letter I sent to Newsday on December 5, 2012.
To the Editor of Newsday:
I was pleased you printed the letter regarding Long Island energy independence [Clean energy, accountability at LIPA, Newsday, December 5, 2012]. There is a vital need to continue this dialog on energy self-sufficiency and alternative energy technologies, including wind power.
As a Green Choices Consultant, member of the Long Island Geothermal Energy Organization (LI-GEO) and owner of an Energy Star® home with both a solar panel array and geothermal heating and cooling system, I applaud the writer for his suggestions. There are some caveats, however.
Number one: In general, it is better to incentivize change rather than legislate it. For this one thing, LIPA should be commended for its “Solar Pioneer” and “Geothermal & GeoColumn” rebate programs. These programs are funded through the Efficiency & Renewables Charges (of $0.006246 per kWH consumed, as per the monthly LIPA bill.) It is essential to continue these programs and not divert the funds to meet LIPA shortfalls.
For those who take part in these LIPA programs, rebates are sent only after the inspection and certification process. In addition, all contractors involved in these programs must be approved by LIPA. Most solar and geothermal customers use these programs to help offset costs.
Number two: Solar panels are a wonderful way to produce power for the electric grid, especially during peak demand; however the solar cells require direct sunlight for a good part of the day to generate enough electricity to make it a viable return on investment.
Many roofs lack the proper orientation to the sun for this to occur. A roof facing solar south is optimal; east-west roofs have some potential, north are impossible. Another factor is trees, which can create a significant shading issue that makes solar a poor investment.
Number three: Geothermal heating and cooling systems have their own challenges with soil conditions, which vary depending on the location on Long Island. Clay and sandy soils and underground water pose different kinds of difficulties for the geothermal engineer.
My point is that it is a good idea to consider utilizing these two technologies when building or renovating, but know that neither solar nor geothermal is right in every situation. Therefore they cannot be mandated.
One thing all homeowners can do is invest in improving the energy efficiency of their homes. This can be funded in part by NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) and LIPA programs, which pay for FREE home energy audits for homeowners and residential landlords. These funds can also be used by those who add energy efficiency improvements, even if they are done as part of their post-Sandy reconstruction. They will see the results every month when they pay lower electric and heating bills.
A final note: any responsible solar panel or geothermal installer will advise customers to make these energy efficiency upgrades before investing in such big-ticket items for their homes.
And yes, as Long Islanders come to accept and employ energy efficiency and conservation practices and alternative energy sources as mainstream—not fringe—technologies, our need for combustion-driven power plants, especially those outdated, polluting ones brought online only during peak demand, will decrease.
Green Choices Consulting
Member of the Town of Huntington Renewable Energy Task Force and
Co-Presenter of the Task Force’s “Home Energy Efficiency” clinics at area libraries
Member of the Long Island Geothermal Energy Organization (LI-GEO)
53 Hillwood Drive
Huntington Station, NY 11746