Southampton Takes a Grassroots Approach to Energy Conservation

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By Stephen J. Kotz

It’s not always about the big-ticket items when it comes to providing for a more sustainable future. Southampton Town is currently focusing on a number of low-key approaches that could also pay significant short-term dividends when is comes to energy conservation.

Under the leadership of Lynn A. Arthur, who chairs the energy subcommittee of Southampton’s Sustainability Committee, the town is urging residents to consider installing solar panels through its Solarize Southampton program and sign up for free home energy audits through PSEG or Long Island Green Homes.

But another program — encouraging residents with central air conditioning to switch to Smart thermostats and sign up for a demand response program through PSEG — may be the simplest and most effective of them all.

To participate, homeowners with central air conditioning purchase Nest thermostats, which is manufactured by a company now owned by Google. The devices, which cost about $250, are eligible for an $85 rebate from PSEG.

Residents who install them in their homes agree to give PSEG access and allow it to raise the temperature in the house 2 degrees for no more than a four-hour period during those brief periods of peak demand.

It doesn’t sound like a lot, but Ms. Arthur says if 8,000 Smart thermostats were installed on South Fork homes, enough electricity could be saved to make up for the 8-megawatt shortfall PSEG is anticipating next year.

What’s more, if enough residents take part in the program, the total cost of energy bills for all South Fork residents could be nudged lower, she said. The reason for that, she said, is that PSEG is required to have access year-round to however much power it anticipates needing during those brief periods in the summer when demand is at its highest. That’s true, even though peak demand usually occurs for no more than six to 10 hours spread over several days during the hottest days of the summer, she said.

Ms. Arthur is fond of showing off a graph that shows the average energy consumption for the eastern half of Southampton Town in 2014. It showed an average demand of 55 megawatts year-round. But that demand leapt up to 95 megawatts on average throughout the summer and spiked at 140 megawatts during those days in mid-summer when temperatures soar.

The power PSEG needs to reserve for those peak periods tends to cost much more than the power it purchases at other times in the year. If the spikes can be smoothed out, the total cost of electricity would decline as well, she said.

Ms. Arthur is has founded a not-for-profit called Peak Power Long Island. It would join with a firm called Joule Assets to act as the agent for PSEG customers across the South Fork, who would be able to leverage their numbers in return for a separate energy contract that would likely result in lower rates and allow participants to stipulate they want their power to come from clean power. Joule Assets has worked with communities in Westchester County to achieve such savings, which have been made possible because of the state’s Reforming the Energy Vision plan, which is encouraging increased local control over energy delivery.

But it’s not all serious business. Peak Power Long Island and Joule Assets have teamed up to sponsor the Peak Power Hour program. Residents can join in by texting “South Fork” to 646-267-5370. They will then get a text message the night before a peak demand spike is expected, which will be confirmed the next morning and be accompanied by an invitation for participants to turn down their air conditioners at a prearranged time and head to an impromptu beach party for an afternoon of flying kites with friends and neighbors. The organizations will work with PSEG to monitor the impact it has on demand.

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