The League of Women Voters (LWV) of Port Washington-Manhasset recently sponsored a very well-attended forum on the subject "Energy Options-Solar to Windmills." The speakers and the printed handouts that were made available provided an enormous amount of useful information to individuals interested in conserving energy both for the sake of the planet's survival and in order to reduce their own energy expenditures. The panelists included Robert Brooks, a Port Washington homeowner who has had his residence equipped with solar panels; Jonathan Lane, solar contractor and owner of Quad State Solar in Plainview; Maureen Dolan Murphy, executive program manager of Citizens [sic] Campaign for the Environment; Maria Anzalone, program manager for Long Island Power Authority (LIPA); Beth Fiteni, program director for the Neighborhood Network; and Michael Levine, Town of North Hempstead (TONH) planning commissioner. Jane Thomas, LWV president, chaired the meeting, pointing out that it was the 30th anniversary year of this league. Thomas acknowledged Rita Tanski, for putting this meeting together. Assembly member Michelle Schimel, who has been in the forefront of environmental issues, made a cameo appearance. She mentioned that the governor had recently signed a bill giving tax credit for solar wind and other alternative energy sources, which has an "enactment period" of 180 days. Town Council member Fred Pollack was also in attendance, prompting Brooks, a lifelong resident of Port Washington to comment, "It seems as if Fred Pollack has been at every meeting I have every attended."
Brooks spoke enthusiastically about his experience with solar energy. He said that when he found out that his house was perfectly positioned for the installation of solar panels, he investigated the feasibility. Working with Lane, they decided to install the maximum number possible-in this case, 66. Brooks said that the original cost was about $64,000, and with a New York State tax credit, the net cost was around $23,500. He commented, "For me, it was a very small cost compared to the price of the house and other renovations," adding, "It's also a good selling point if you decide to sell the house." Brooks said that he initially expected the payback period to be seven to eight years, but with the sharp increase in fossil-fuel-based energy prices, he now predicts that it is more likely the payback will be about five years." He commented, "Despite what they say, LIPA is raising their rates." Brooks explained that the energy he produces is going back into the [LIPA] system, therefore he gets a rebate if he produces more electricity than he uses during a given period.
Lane, who was the contractor for Brook's installation, clarified that the solar energy under discussion is photo-electric, as contrasted with solar thermal. He said, "We are simply converting sunlight into electricity." He added, "If everyone in this room did a small fraction of what he [Brooks] did, we would be paying like 49 cents a gallon for gasoline. We would change everything." Brooks pointed out that energy costs are embedded in everything that we do and buy."
Lane acknowledged that the initial cost of solar panels may seem high, but pointed out that with rising energy costs, the payback time is getting shorter. He said, "This is not a question of to spend or not to spend, but whether you are going to invest the money or give it to the utility." Lane said that the homeowner does need backup batteries, because the home is still linked to the LIPA system. He said, "LIPA is our backup." Further, with "net metering," LIPA is required to buy back any excess electricity produced by the solar panels. He also pointed out that the solar panels require no maintenance and come with a manufacturer's warranty of 25 years. Lane went on to say that there are many indirect costs to our energy addiction: air pollution, climate change, and so forth. He said, "We are all paying for this."
Murphy said that her grass roots organization is committed to renewable energy. They worked with LIPA on the offshore wind park that was planned off the South Shore of Long Island and expressed disappointment that the plan was ultimately rejected. "We were very excited about it," she said. "It would have saved over 13 million barrels of oil over 25 years." She said that she is still hopeful that a wind farm on Long Island is possible. She said, "The only way to reduce greenhouse gasses is to use everything in our tool boxes, including wind and solar energy." [Plans for a possible wind farm offshore of the Rockaways has recently been announced by Con Edison.]
Anzalone brought along a PowerPoint presentation highlighting LIPA's residential energy efficiency initiatives, emphasizing the "Energy Star" program. This program encourages the use of Energy Star appliances. She also mentioned the Solar Pioneer Photo Voltaic System, encouraging consumers to take advantage of LIPA rebates as well as federal and state tax credits. She said that consumers can request an energy audit or even do it on line. For more information, call 1-800-692-2626 or visit www.lipower.org on the web.
Fiteni echoed Murphy's sentiments with respect to wind energy, saying "It was such a disappointment." She agreed with the importance of solar energy, but said that it is very important to make your house as energy-efficient as possible. The organization is promoting "Energy Star Homes," and is encouraging towns and municipalities to introduce energy-saving requirements in their building codes. Fiteni also emphasized the importance of insulation, especially in the attic and around the hot water heater. She said, "Putting insulation around your water heater can save as much as 14 percent on your energy bill." Other suggestions: air dry one load of clothes a week on the line instead of in the dryer and go vegetarian one day a week.
Levine talked about the different ways in which TONH is encouraging energy savings, including the use of many hybrid vehicles. He also mentioned that the current renovation of Town Hall is addressing energy-saving issues, including climate control and automatic extinguishing of lights. Levine described new "green" construction in New Cassel. He said that the town is planning a Public Education Center on energy efficiency. He pointed out that any revision to the code would be a big change, and would require retraining of inspectors. He said that the town is studying the possibility of introducing new features in the code that address the energy issue.
One of the questions raised during the lively discussion that followed was, "What happens when the panels last longer than the roof? Lane responded that, if the roof is an old one, he advises the homeowner to replace it before installing solar panels. Eric Pick, local architect, pointed out how important the position of the house is if one wants to use solar panels. He said, "I have built a lot of houses; they are always bright. There are a lot of benefits all the way around." The problem, he said, is that builders "are just not that interested," and that "customers have no idea or orientation-that is an educational problem." In response to a question about geothermal energy, Anzalone said that, in this area, the rebates are not as high as for solar. It is an expensive proposition and the payback is not as great." A Great Neck resident pointed out that under President Carter there was a great deal of environmental awareness. She asked rhetorically, "What can we do to get Congress to renew the tax credits that will be dead in December?" A few of the panelists and attendees urged, "Let your Congress member know. They do listen."
Many residents stayed behind after the meeting to pick up the many informational handouts and to talk privately with individual panelists.