Clear 44° Good Morning
Clear 44° Good Morning

Gollon: Don't squander Long Island's renewable energy opportunity

Wind turbines at the London Array project. Long

Wind turbines at the London Array project. Long Island is ripe for both offshore wind and solar power, and changes to LIPA can't be allowed to disrupt the momentum, says Peter Gollon, energy chairman of the Long Island Sierra Club. Photo Credit: Bloomberg Chris Ratcliffe

A short four months ago Long Island residents saw firsthand in superstorm Sandy the disastrous effects of a storm strengthened by shifting climate patterns. We all understand from direct experience as never before that the causes and effects of such climate change must be addressed with even greater speed, beginning now.

Long Island is more vulnerable to damage from storms like Sandy and flooding from rising sea levels than many other parts of the state. If we do not continue to lead -- and to proceed with ever greater speed the transition from fossil fuels that accelerate climate change to clean, renewable energy from the sun and the wind -- we have no right to expect that other areas of the state will do the same. Here on Long Island, we must provide an example for the rest of the state. We can demonstrate to everyone that investments in clean energy will not only help protect our families from climate disruption, but also spur innovation and create new jobs.

We have the opportunity to provide that example because we're blessed with abundant sun on the land and wind off our shores. Over the past few years, LIPA has begun taking small steps to invest in local solar power, but this transition must be significantly increased and accelerated.

LIPA has responded to public demand for more clean energy by creating the Solar Pioneer Program, which has helped put solar panels on more than 5,000 homes, and the Solar Entrepreneur Program, which provides solar rebates for municipalities and schools. LIPA has also approved New York State's first solar feed-in-tariff program, which will purchase electricity from locally owned solar arrays on homes and commercial properties, and has recently announced its intentions to increase the program by July 2013.

These solar programs are a good start, but they're not enough to protect our families from climate disruption or build a robust clean energy economy. We need Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and LIPA to work together to speed the development of our largest untapped energy resource -- the abundant wind power available off our shores.

Investing in offshore wind at least 11 nautical miles off the Rockaways could create as many as 10,000 new jobs, attract new industries, and generate enough clean, renewable electricity to replace dirty, outdated fossil fuel plants.

The New York Power Authority has applied for a lease from the federal government to develop the Rockaways site, but it will need continued support from both the governor and the state's power authorities to make this innovative, job-creating project a reality.

The great potential we have for these exciting clean energy projects is why the Sierra Club and many others are concerned about the governor's as-yet undisclosed plan to dismantle LIPA. We are apprehensive precisely because it is undisclosed, and all discussions are occurring behind closed doors and out of the public view, and with a rapid implementation timetable indicated.

We and everyone else, including the members of the State Legislature, have no way of knowing how these plans will affect LIPA's existing efficiency and renewable energy commitments and programs. We have no way of knowing whether the successor utility, whatever that may be, will be accelerating these and similar programs, as it should be doing, or whether such programs will be lost as LIPA's assets and functions are parceled out.

We do know that the majority of Long Islanders want more clean, renewable energy. However we're unsure if the new leadership of the authority or its successor will understand and be responsive to that demand.

Many community groups, residents and business leaders have worked with LIPA to move it toward its current, successful investments in solar energy and a commitment to purchase even more clean, renewable energy in the future. Our families can't afford to see the achievements of that work destroyed by a restructuring.

We urge the governor and legislature to protect our families by carefully and publicly examining the environmental, public health, climate and service impacts of any proposed changes to LIPA. This includes the distancing of its governing body from the communities it serves and its continued ability to purchase and source clean, renewable energy for our homes and businesses.

Peter Gollon is the energy chair of the Long Island Sierra Club.