East Hampton Town sets lofty green-energy goal

Larry Cantwell, supervisor of the Town of East Larry Cantwell, supervisor of the Town of East Hampton, walks in front of East Hampton village hall on Nov. 15, 2012. Photo Credit: John Roca

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East Hampton Town wants to be the first municipality in New York State to use renewable sources to generate the equivalent of all the electricity consumed within its borders.

Officials want to meet the goal by 2020. That would require roughly 300,000 megawatt-hours of electricity a year -- the amount consumed by every house and building in the town of about 21,000 residents, whose numbers swell in the summer -- using solar panels, wind turbines and other green technology.

The town board made the commitment with a 5-0 vote at a meeting Tuesday. It also set a goal of producing the equivalent of the energy expended on heating and transportation in the town using renewables by 2030.

"It's an aggressive goal, but it makes a statement of where East Hampton wants to be in the future," said Supervisor Larry Cantwell.

East Hampton this year greenlighted seven proposals by private companies to build solar farms on municipal properties such as the Montauk landfill and East Hampton Airport. The projects are awaiting approvals from PSEG Long Island and the Long Island Power Authority. If all are built, the farms will produce an estimated 87,000 megawatt-hours a year of electricity, the town said.

A Rhode Island company is also proposing to build the first offshore wind farm in the country 30 miles off Montauk. If PSEG and LIPA approve, the 35-turbine farm could produce approximately 230,000 megawatt-hours a year, according to the town.

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It's unclear whether the wind farm would provide electricity for the town, the East End or a broader area, a PSEG spokesman said.

Cantwell said the town's goal "doesn't rely solely on those projects, but uses those as an example of what's achievable." He added that the town will continue to develop ideas.

Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said East Hampton will have to rely on outside factors, such as LIPA initiatives and state and federal incentives, to meet the goal. "We can't do it by ourselves," she said.

John Botos, an environmental technician with the town, said reducing energy consumption will play an important role, too.

He said the town is working on a "green building code" to encourage energy-efficient construction and this year will launch an education campaign in schools to spur people to unplug devices.

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East Hampton will also streamline applications for household solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations by bringing the process online, Botos said.

He also said the town plans to install a vehicle charging station at town hall.

"Setting the goal is a big step, but the real work starts now," said Gordian Raacke, a member of the town's Energy Sustainability Committee, which pushed for the commitment.

Frank Dalene, the committee chairman, said emerging technologies could also help the town meet its commitment.

"There are incredible things that are happening," he said. "This is a movement that is worldwide. Until we set these goals, we will never achieve this."

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