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PSEG Gets an Earful in East Hampton

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Heller_PSEG Public Meeting 8-26-14_4568_LR

New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr., East Hampton Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach, Jr., and East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell listened to a presentation by Mike Voltz of PSEG and a public hearing at the East Hampton Emergency Services Building on Tuesday, August 26. Photo by Michael Heller.

By Mara Certic

There was hardly a spare seat in the house on Tuesday, August 26, for an informational session and public hearing hosted by the State Department of Public Services on PSEG Long Island’s Utility 2.0 Long-Range Plan.

PSEG Long Island, a subsidiary of New Jersey-based PSEG, submitted the plan to the DPS on July 1, and almost immediately came under fire for failing to provide specifics about it as well as its decision to install 50-to-65-foot utility poles through portions of East Hampton Village last winter.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and East Hampton Village Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. wrote a joint letter to PSEG, asking that it hold a public meeting in East Hampton because the utility targeted the East End for major upgrades in the plan.

“We believe the Utility 2.0 Long Range Plan needs clarification, detail and public discussion, and we urge a public dialogue for this plan for the Town and Village of East Hampton,” they wrote.

“This is a time my office can hear you, your concerns and take it all into account,” said Julia Bovey, director the New York State Department of Public Services, who hosted the meeting.

And hear from people she did, with many people lining up to once again voice their objections to the installation of the poles.

“They’re an assault on our very core,” said town resident Elena Prohaska Glynn.  “We cannot afford to despoil the landscape. Remove them; bury those lines,” she said to much applause from the audience on Tuesday night.

The new poles have resulted in the creation of two organizations—Save East Hampton and Long Island Businesses For Renewable Energy, a stop-work order issued by the town and even a lawsuit.

Some wore bright orange Save East Hampton t-shirts with “Bury The Lines” written on the back. Many of the orange shirt wearers spoke not about the new plan, but about what they feel to be a more pressing issue: the danger and unsightliness of the new, taller poles in the village.

“It’s not only a matter of aesthetics, it’s a matter of life and death,” said Helen Mendez. “Be the company that you say you are, help us have green solutions. Do what’s safe, do what’s right and bury the lines.”

All three elected officials who spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting also called for the new lines to be buried, including State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.

“They have been willing over and over again to tax themselves to protect the quality of life here,” he said of his constituents.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell also called for the lines to be buried, to thunderous applause.

Jeremy Samuelson, president of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, gave DPS and PSEG Long Island some “history.” He explained that the public meeting process prior to the installation of the taller poles left much to be desired. The process lacked any transparency or community engagement from the utility company, he said.

“You come back a year later, and you have to eat some crow,” he said to the representatives from the DPS and PSEG. “You guys got it wrong, so that’s the history.”

“The question is,” he continued, “are you going to be our partners in fixing this mess? This thing is an atrocity; I won’t sugarcoat it for you. So the question is: LIPA isn’t in charge anymore. Are you going to help us find the somewhere between $20 million and $30 million to fix this mess?” he asked.

Elected officials and environmentalists also seemed unsatisfied by the lack of consideration for the town’s existing policy. “With regard to the presentation: that is something we would like to see more of, alternatives to fossil fuels,” Mr. Thiele said.

“The town has adopted a very important and ambitious goal,” Mr. Cantwell said of East Hampton’s decision to power all of its community-wide electricity needs with renewable energy by the year 2020. “I would urge that the power sources on the South Fork be met with renewable energy sources,” he said.

Gordian Raacke, president of Renewable Energy Long Island (RELI) criticized the shortsightedness of the plan. “I know you will make sure that while PSEG may not be in the room anymore, they will hear our comments,” he said to Ms. Bovey—about 20 minutes prior to that, it had become apparent that Mike Voltz, the director of energy efficiency and renewables for PSEG Long Island, who gave an overview of the plan, had left the meeting in the middle of the hearing.

“The plan is not a 2.0 plan. At best it’s a utility 1.1. It’s more business as usual and fails to provide a vision for utility or the future,” he said. “Work with the Town of East Hampton, work with us to build a sustainable energy future and we’ll work with you.”

PSEG needs “to be a collaborator, not an opponent,” he added. “You need to propose a better plan.

The meeting kicked off with a presentation by Mr. Voltz, who tried to shed some light on the plan and presented a series of slides and bullet points.

Mr. Voltz discussed items on the five-year plan, including a call to spend approximately $60 million on energy saving steps over the next five years, including providing programmable thermostats to upward of 60,000 residential customers.

The plan also includes a four-year-long educational campaign, at a cost of $8 million, an energy efficiency expansion in the Rockaways, which was explained in great detail as well and a $15 million initiative that would aim to install 6,000 new advanced meters in hard-to-reach locations.

The information on South Fork improvements left much to be desired, according to some of those who spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting. In that section of Mr. Voltz’s presentation, he discussed plans to use solar energy, battery storage and programmable thermostats, and also discussed the need for new generators to boost electricity output during periods of peak usage in Montauk, and other places. “They’re very old,” Mr. Voltz said of the generators, “they’re getting worn out.”

Gordian Raacke

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Gordian Raacke

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.