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Jun 17, 2015 10:05 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Looks Toward Greener Future With Energy Incentives

The Southampton Town Board is looking into ways to make the town more green, like solar energy.
Jun 17, 2015 11:18 AM

Southampton Town officials are evaluating two solar programs that could potentially help private individuals take advantage of renewable energy.

The two programs, Solarize Southampton and Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, are designed to help make it affordable for businesses and residents to install and maintain clean energy, including solar panels and green heating sources.

The first program, Solarize Southampton, would offer tiered pricing through participating solar vendors, meaning that the cost would go down as more users signed up for the program. The PACE program, meanwhile, would enable local businesses to borrow money to install solar panels through a state grant program and then pay it off over the course of 20 years through a charge added to their annual property tax bills.

Solarize Southampton, designed to help homeowners, is being proposed by the town’s Sustainable Southampton Green Advisory Committee and Christine Fetten, director of municipal works. The program is offered through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA.

The town would issue requests for proposals, or RFPs, from approximately 83 eligible local solar installers to participate in the program, and would choose which ones would participate.

The town would be granted $5,000 from NYSERDA to advertise the program. If tier one includes five houses, the five participating houses would pay a base fee for the services. However, if five more houses were to be included in the program, bringing the total to 10, then the town would move into tier two, lowering the prices for everyone involved.

According to Ms. Fetten, the key to the program is advertising its benefits to the community. “It would be no cost to the town, but would allow the town to support and advertise for these vendors so that residents know about this program and the opportunities for pricing,” she said at a Town Board work session last week.

While Town Board members said they are interested in the program, they wondered if they would be able to initiate a similar incentive without the help from NYSERDA so that the town could have better control in ensuring local businesses are not eliminated from the program because they cannot compete with larger solar companies.

Councilwoman Christine Scalera and Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst suggested that the town look into making the program larger, or potentially starting with the NYSERDA grant program and expanding with additional town resources. “We would take the $5,000 and go through the RFP process, while putting additional funding toward expanding the program and doing our own stuff,” Ms. Throne-Holst said, “welcoming our own businesses that might not have been successful to the RFP.”

At the same time, the town hopes to be able to take advantage of the PACE program, which allows participants to pay off the cost of the installation of the clean energy through property tax bills. The program, which is run through Energize NY and a partnership with the Environmental Improvement Commission, is currently being offered only to businesses and not-for-profits, but might be expanded to residential uses in the future. Houses that are owned by limited liability companies would also qualify for the program.

The PACE financing program was first created in California in 2008 and is still relatively new in New York, and it has not been authorized in the entire state. In order for Southampton to benefit from the program, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone would first have to authorize county participation, because the financing tax would be added to the county portion of the tax bill. Currently, 31 states participate in the program.

In order to qualify for participation, businesses would have to be approved by the town for all solar and energy installations. From there, the selected contractor would complete the installation, which would reviewed by the EIC. Once a certificate of completion has been signed, the EIC would pay the contractor for the work and a financing charge would be added to the tax bill. The total cost of the project could not exceed 10 percent of the total assessed value of the home.

Ms. Throne-Holst said it is an exciting opportunity for Southampton and could potentially benefit the area more than other areas of Long Island. Later this month, the board plans to authorize a letter of support from Southampton encouraging the county to enter the program.

“This is an exciting program for us,” said Mark Thielking, executive director of the EIC, during a presentation. “It is unusual that we get to talk to a beneficiary of the program, so, hopefully, this is another step along the way to encourage Suffolk County to join the program.”

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While the above is a good first step, residences would benefit far more from a PACE type program then they will from the town helping solar companies getting new business. If the STB can't get Bellone to respond quickly they could put in place their own program using their bonding ability to fund the program. This isn't a new idea, it's been floating around for years. While they're at it, they could put some pressure on or state reps to get a law passed for unrestricted net metering.
By bird (824), Southampton on Jun 24, 15 7:56 PM
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