Â By Russell Diamond
Sag Harbor boasts beauty on both sides of Bay Street and creative inhabitants past and present. The town has a rich heritage and we are only its most recent guardians. It relied on whaling and later manufacturing and saw its fortunes come and go. Each juncture presented threats and opportunities.Â
Just as whale oil or watch cases didn’t prove to be sustainable, aspects of our current society are also unsustainable. The basis of capitalism is capital, and we’ve seen in recent months how unsustainable many of the underlying practices in our economy have been. Another basic input is energy, and if we want to give our children a chance at progress and prosperity, we need to rethink our sources and uses of energy.
Seventy percent of U.S. electricity comes from sources that spew carbon into the atmosphere (mostly coal and natural gas). That carbon is altering our climate in dangerous and unpredictable ways that have enormous implications for the future of human health, food and water supplies, population migration, and world peace. And 96% of our transportation runs on petroleum that not only changes the climate, but also transfers wealth abroad and threatens our security. As the world adds 70 million new people every year, these pressures strain our ability to lead richer, healthier and more productive lives.
All of this leads to a basic question: Are we going to do something about it or are we going to do nothing, relying on government or technology to save us?Â
In Sag Harbor, 725 Green is seeking to do something through local solutions that empower residents with sustainable practices.Â
Government does play a major role, and the new administration has already started to direct policy and money toward these challenges. State and local initiatives also play a big part. Many new technologies offer promise, but the innovation we need is bringing to scale what is already feasible today.
We are setting out to understand our use of energy in Sag Harbor and rethink ways to optimize its use. Reducing waste and moderating demand are the cheapest ways to get started. Efficiency investments such as lighting and insulation often provide paybacks measured in months. We can also consider solar and geothermal for heating/cooling, and wind and solar for electricity.Â
Sag Harbor has excellent solar radiation and the public policy to create a large growth opportunity for solar power. The town has a rich history of wind power, with at least seven windmills powering industry in the 19th Century. A windmill remains the focal point of Sag Harbor today. Perhaps there is some irony to note that for most of the 20th Century a big blue gas ball was the central landmark of energy use in town. That era is gone, with a cleanup site all that remains.Â
For all the threats of transition, there is also opportunity. Smart decisions related to energy can result in big paybacks. New industries create new jobs. Innovative financing can deliver investors compelling and consistent returns while also making a tangible local impact. Customers can lock in reduced electricity rates and not be subject to the variability of utility prices.Â
This transition also presents an opportunity for businesses to interact with customers. Sag Harbor residents have made successful efforts to preserve the character of the village and local commerce. Now businesses can offer consumers another reason to stay, by putting in place practices and products that convey that they are part of the solution. This mindfulness can extend to our schools, public works, private residences, and community organizations.
Interested residents have the opportunity to participate directly – 725 Green is looking for people to organize the effort among all village constituents.Â
In doing so, the village has much to gain. Sag Harbor has always had a prominence that exceeds its small population. This moment offers the chance to turn our big challenge into the opportunity of our generation.Â
Russell Diamond is part of 725 Green and is the General Partner of Solution Capital Partners, a clean technology investment firm. He is also an owner of American Clean Power, which operates The Solar Center, a clean energy installation company.