There were some eye-opening comments made during the Express Sessions panel discussion on renewable energy on Friday at The American Hotel, where Gordian Raacke, the executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, spoke in blunt terms about the immediacy of climate change and the need for large-scale, forward-thinking, renewable energy projects. Global warming, Mr. Raacke said, was on the radar of climate scientists as far back as the 1950s, yet we are still “doing a lot of terrible things and we never think about it when we put that toast in the toaster, and that’s got to stop.”
Breaking an addiction to fossil fuels and attempting to solve the riddle of climate change will not come easily, but according to the panelists in the room on Friday, whole included a representative from PSEG-Long Island, it had better come quickly. Mr. Raacke estimates that we have no more than 10 years to the turn the tide in how we consume energy, and it’s become clear that government leaders in East Hampton and Southampton towns agree, having set ambitions goals to be 100 percent renewable by 2025 and 2030, respectively.
Another point made clear during Friday’s conversation was that the burden of change must be shared by individual residents. Lynn Arthur, a consultant to Southampton Town and the executive director of Peak Power Long Island, laid out a number of paths homeowners can take to lessen their carbon footprint, and distributed information on how to receive free home energy audits and solar evaluations. But even with New York State offering rebate programs on everything from solar panels to geothermal systems, and “smart” thermostats to pool pumps, Walter Hoefer, the contract manager for energy efficiency programs with PSEG Long Island, said he is consistently surprised by his company’s inability to break through with these programs on the South Fork, and east of the Shinnecock Canal, in particular, where PSEG sees a 10-fold spike in demand, especially on weekends, during the summer months.
The truth is that every building project, big and small, has a carbon footprint. Even projects with sustainable energy options will leave some kind of mark on the environment. Members of the local fishing industry have expressed concern about how the Deepwater Wind plan to install wind turbines off the coast of Montauk might affect the marine ecosystem. East Hampton Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, who was also a panelist on Friday, explained that the fishing industry might be better off in the long run with wind, rather than fossil fuels, powering the town, and also noted that the fishing industry itself leaves a carbon footprint of its own.
Panelists on Friday emphasized the importance of weighing the environmental effects of projects like Deepwater Wind against what would happen if we didn’t move forward with the initiative. If we fight the development of wind turbines off Montauk, or solar panels on the roofs of historic homes in Sag Harbor, what are the alternatives? According to Mr. Raacke, “nature has given us a deadline, and missing nature’s deadline is simply not an option.”