By Ellen Frankman
Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi believes it will take more than regulations and mandates to further the town’s efforts towards encouraging alternative energy sources, and once more he is looking toward incentives as the answer.
On Tuesday, July 23, Councilman Nuzzi introduced a series of alternative energy measures at the town board meeting to promote the installation of renewable energy systems in homes and small businesses across the East End, expanding upon the town’s existing solar electric system rebate and incentive program.
“We are in the process of working through our Sustainability Plan and have been over the past several months,” said Nuzzi. “Coming off of fossil fuels is an important component of that.”
The Southampton Town Sustainability Plan has received significant pushback in recent months in its efforts to increase energy efficiency and protect the town’s natural resources. But Nuzzi believes that residents will be more receptive to an incentivized path to alternative energy, as opposed to one mandated by law.
The proposed legislation would revive the existing program by adding a rebate for geothermal systems, increasing the maximum rebate for solar electric systems from $2,500 to $3,500 and allowing for an expedited review and fee waiver of building permits for certain subdivisions deriving 50 percent or more of their total energy consumption from solar technology.
“We want to incentivize it right up front,” said Nuzzi of the element geared toward subdivisions. “Instead of having these homes built and then waiting for the homeowners to come in after the fact to install solar energy equipment.”
Another major component of the legislation would be for New York State to provide a tax break on those who choose to invest in alternative energy technologies. In order to do so, Nuzzi has put forth a bill that would request the state to allow for the town to offer a reduction in the assessment of property taxes for residences and businesses where green improvements have been made.
“One of the things that I’ve been talking about with people in the alternative energy business is that one, people have to want to go ahead to install it on their properties, and two, it has to be financially obtainable,” said Nuzzi. “I think that the way you do that is a combination of rebates, fee waivers and tax adjustments.”
Nuzzi added that he would like to increasingly focus on making alternative technology accessible to everyone, not just the upper and middle-upper class who can afford the initial investment.
“We want to reach everybody,” said Nuzzi. “It shouldn’t just be for the 7,000 and 8,000 and 10,000 square foot homes.”
According to Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, the rebate and incentive programs have already proven they can be successful. But questions arise for Throne-Holst over whether the funding for the measures is feasible.
“[The rebates] have always been an effective and well utilized tool for constituents to move in that direction and I applaud all such efforts,” she said. “My only concern is the source of funding which relies on anticipated but to date unrealized FEMA reimbursement in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. I worry that we may promise something we can’t keep.”
Throne-Holst added that it is also important to keep in mind next year’s budget as well as the town’s commitment to keeping taxes low before assuming that the funds will be available for the alternative energy proposal.
Nuzzi recognizes that the rebate program is at the mercy of funding and the economy at large. He says alternative energy options particularly suffered during the downturn in the economy in 2008.
“While things in certain areas appear to be a bit better, many are still tight on money,” said Nuzzi. “When that happens a lot of these rebate programs go by the wayside.”
The legislation is scheduled to go to a public hearing on August 13 when the town board and the public can make recommendations and changes to it. Nuzzi remains positive that the proposal has been well-received thus far.
“I think it is important to make this investment because of what we are trying to incentivize,” said Nuzzi. “It’s a worthy investment by town hall.”