Officials Say Energy Policies are Reason for Drop in Power Demand

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Southampton Town Hall

The demand in Southampton Town for electricity from the PSEG Long Island grid fell nearly 29 percent from 2010 to 2017 in spite of the energy needs of 1,000 to 1,500 new, often large houses built during that period, Town Planner Michaelangelo Lieberman told the Town Board last week.

How could that be?

The spread of private solar panel installations, the increasing use of low-energy LED lighting, heat pumps, tankless hot water heaters, geothermal systems and other technologies — all encouraged by the town’s aggressive energy conservation policies — are the reason for the drop, Mr. Lieberman and four other officials asserted as they presented a status report on the town’s energy programs at the November 8 Town Board work session.

“This requirement works!” declared Janice Scherer, assistant town planning director, referring to the town code provision that withholds building permits until a certified “home energy rating system (HERS) rater” determines that the house design will meet certain minimum efficiency standards, depending on the size of the structure.

“This is a tangible result” of policies “you’ve approved,” said Lynn Arthur, a member of the town’s Sustainable Southampton Green Advisory Committee who runs the town’s Tri-Energy program, an umbrella agency that coordinates three community programs that help homeowners reduce energy demand or divert it to renewable sources. “We should be celebrating. This is awesome!” she added.

“That’s the good news, the great news, the new news. It warms my heart. We’re actually seeing success from our efforts,” Ms. Arthur added.

A table shown to the Town Board last week during a presentation by five town officials who work on energy policy shows total kilowatt hours used in Southampton Town, including its incorporated villages, declining 2 percent from 2015 to 2017. With the villages not included, the decline was about 3 percent.

She went on to say the downward trend would be even sharper if the Long Island Power Authority’s (LIPA) “Feed-In Tariff” program — which pays businesses that install solar arrays 16.5 cents per kilowatt for excess energy they sell back to the grid — did not “preclude the South Fork from participating.”

LIPA’s minimum requirement is for a 200-kilowatt solar array, which few businesses on the South Fork have enough land or roof area to install, she said. She asked that the board write Tom Falcone, the CEO of PSEG Long Island, which provides the energy transmitted to consumers through the LIPA system, to request a reduction in the minimum solar array size to 10,000 kilowatts.

“I’d drop it to 5,000 to start with that as our bottom,” Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said.

Southampton Town, which last year set a goal that homes and businesses in its boundaries will obtain all their energy from renewable sources by 2025, has policies in place that “have reversed the trend” toward an ever-increasing reliance on the electrical grid, Mr. Lieberman told the board. The 29-percent figure he cited comes from a comparison of the findings of a New York Institute of Technology study of Long Island’s energy demands, last updated in 2010, and PSEG Long Island data he obtained from the utility, Mr. Lieberman told the board.

In his analysis of the PSEG Long Island data, Mr. Lieberman said he found that the town’s electrical usage had dropped nearly 3 percent from 2015 to 2017, not including any incorporated villages.

Asked by Supervisor Schneiderman if that trend might have been caused by a period of milder weather, Mr. Lieberman pointed out that Sag Harbor’s energy usage rose nearly 3 percent during the same period. Southampton Village’s declined 1.5 percent while North Haven’s rose 1.5 percent.

Ms. Arthur said the downward trend — despite all the construction, which Mr. Lieberman was documented in data he obtained from U.S. Census — meant “the new homes are more energy efficient. They have geothermal, they have solar …”

But the new houses can’t use less energy “than the vacant lot they were on,” commented Supervisor Jay Schneiderman.

“Good question,” Mr. Lieberman said. “The data may not be as accurate as we’d like, but there’s a general trend that’s declining” in Southampton Town for energy supplied by the grid, he added. He noted the trend reflects annual electrical demand, not peak demand, which spikes far above average use on summer weekends.

The downward trend raises questions about PSEG Long Island’s longstanding $700-million plan to upgrade transmission lines on the South Fork to handle rising demand. PSEG Long Island expects a steady 2- to 3-percent annual rise in power demand on the South Fork, according to a chart presented at the work session. That prompted Supervisor Schneiderman to comment that Mr. Lieberman’s findings are “very different from their projections.”

“PSEG laughed when I said there was a decline,” said Mr. Lieberman. His data, he acknowledged, does not reflect peak demand. But over time, as Southampton Town’s demand declines, peak demand should start down too, especially if steps are taken to use renewable sources such as solar-powered batteries to meet the summertime demand surges.

Ms. Arthur said she’d written Mr. Falcone asking for data to justify PSEG Long Island’s forecast for the South Fork, which she said Mr. Schneiderman had called suspiciously “too linear.”

Councilman John Bouvier recalled being at a meeting with PSEG Long Island officials, who told him, “You guys keep building all these houses,” he said. They had a “preconceived notion their numbers are correct,” he said, and added, “We questioned it quite loudly.”

Mr. Arthur said she’d asked Mr. Falcone “should not this data be reevaluated” because of “all that’s changed” as a result of the town’s HERS efficiency-rating requirement for new houses; the area’s overall transition to solar power, and the widespread shift to highly efficient LED lighting by consumers and the Town of Southampton itself, which is in the midst of a program to switch all municipal facilities and its streetlighting districts to LED lighting.

She said Mr. Falcone had agreed that PSEG’s projection “probably should be” reevaluated but that “hasn’t happened and we’ve tried to get them to the table.”

“I think more importantly,” said Mr. Schneiderman, “is that they’re making capital decisions based on an incorrect set of data that’s going to lead to an unsightly infrastructure that we don’t actually need.”

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Peter Boody is news editor of The Sag Harbor Express. Previously he was the editor of the Southampton Press for many years and also edited several other papers, including the Shelter Island Reporter and the East Hampton Press, of which he was founding editor. He was a regular correspondent for the New York Times Long Island section and wrote the novel “Thomas Jefferson, Rachel & Me.”