By Mara Certic
Gordian Raacke is the executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island and has been instrumental in East Hampton Town’s decision to pledge to pursue the goal of meeting all communitywide electricity needs with renewable energy by 2020.
You’re a founding member of Renewable Energy Long Island (RELI). What was it that compelled you to become involved?
It was when the Exxon Valdez disaster happened; I was really upset about that. And I thought what can we do about that? You know, I was blaming Exxon the way that everybody else was, and a friend of mine said you shouldn’t just point your finger at the big oil companies. You should point the finger also at yourself because that tanker was on the way to your gas tank, your oil tank. If we’re part of the problem, we’re also part of the solutions.
In 1993 I became the executive director of RELI’s predecessor organization which was called the Citizens Advisory Panel (CAP.) And it was a federal, court-appointed watchdog. And that had a 10-year lifespan given by the court and when that sun set I figured why not continue this? It’s very much needed and so we established Renewable Energy Long Island.
Your background is in civil engineering. How did you become an authority on climate change and renewable energy?
I was trained by Al Gore as a presenter as part of the climate reality project. I have also helped train others, too. I got a very good look at the science of climate change because he has very good scientific advisors. As an engineer, I have a scientific and technical background, but it really opened my eyes to the urgency of finding a solution to the climate crisis and that’s why it’s so refreshing now to see communities actually taking that on and adopting renewable energy policies so that’s what we need to do; we need to find solutions very quickly and implement them.
What sort of thing does RELI do?
We work on two tracks. We work on policy. We provide information and assistance to government entities to enact policies that are designed to flick the switch from fossil to renewable energy sources. And then we help individuals, homeowners and businesses to find the right solutions that work for them and then we help them find contractors. We provide free assistance, advice and guidance to anyone who asks for it.
East Hampton Town has recently set itself a goal to use 100-percent renewable energy for community-wide electricity needs by the year 2020. Do you think this is plausible?
Renewable energy is 100-percent doable. It requires a big effort on everyone’s behalf, it’s not going to happen all by itself. But it requires effort not only from town government but from every residence and every business within the Town of East Hampton. We need to do things a little bit smarter, a little bit better. Firstly, we need to work on making our homes and businesses more energy efficient. We need to stop the leakage of energy in our buildings. Then we can generate the energy that we need with smaller and much less expensive renewable energy systems. And that’s exactly what I did in my house; I made sure it was energy-efficient to start with and then I was very much able to afford a small solar-electric system.
We know everyone in East Hampton can now afford an energy audit and can afford — through on-bill financing that’s now available — to make the upgrades that the house will need to make it more energy efficient. So you don’t really need any upfront cash to pay for that, you’ll pay back on your utility bills and the monthly savings are greater than the payments you have to make to pay back the principal and interest on that energy efficiency loan. It’s affordable now for everyone. This isn’t just the right thing to do for the environment; it’s the right thing, and a good thing, to do for your wallet.