Pulse of the Peninsula : County missing out on state funds

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The historic International Climate Change Agreement just signed by 195 countries in Paris is significant, but the real progress on making the necessary infrastructure changes to mitigate and reverse the adverse impacts needs to come at the local level. 

This is obvious in light of the perverse opposition the Republican Majority continues to wield in Congress, still intent to reverse climate actions taken by President Obama and the Environmental Protection Administration.

Long Island’s infrastructure is at a crossroads, and we have a rare window of opportunity, at a time when millions of dollars need to be invested, that we move to sustainability. 

That means that the power plants — described as aging, inefficient, costly, and spewing tons of global warming-causing and sickening carbon emissions — should be rebuilt not to be powered by fossil fuels, even so-called “clean” natural gas, but by renewables such as offshore wind power. 

That means that PSEGLI and its overseer LIPA should provide a Power Purchase Agreement so that the private company that has had the plan to build an offshore wind farm in the area of North America most ideally suited, can finally get the approvals from the federal government. 

A PPA is necessary because unlike fossil fuels, for a renewable energy company to get a license, such as to lease part of the Atlantic Ocean to place wind turbines, it needs such a pledged customer on the other end (the Port Ambrose Liquified Natural Gas terminal did not need such a purchase agreement).

It also means that Nassau County’s sewage treatment plants at Bay Park and Cedar Creek, badly damaged by Superstorm Sandy (which is why the county is getting millions of dollars from FEMA to rebuild, even though they were crumbling before), should be built not just to dump treated effluent into the ocean, but to capture water treated to such a high degree that the water can be reused — to irrigate golf courses and landscapes and cool buildings and industrial plants for example — and most importantly, to recharge Long Island’s aquifer. 

They should be built so that they can be powered by the methane the process, itself, generates, often producing so much power that there is enough to send back into the grid. 

And the county should provide a concession to a private operator to take the used cooking oil from the Island’s thousands of restaurants and kitchens and reprocess it into biofuel that could be used to power not just the county’s fleet, but local governments, school districts, hospitals, rather than simply disposing of it, which entails a cost in itself. 

What we can’t recycle, we should be turning into biogas.

These kinds of technologies are not pie-in-the-sky, but were on view at the Vision Long Island’s Smart Growth Summit (visionlongisland.org). 

A company that presented there, Natural Systems Utilities, builds stormwater treatment facilities that treat water to a level of purity sufficient to be reused, in systems small enough to be in the basement of an apartment building — systems cost-effective enough and small enough to serve as few as 20 households. 

That means that the Village of Kings Point could install a system under Village Hall, and use the treated water to recharge the aquifer now too polluted with salt-water intrusion to be used by the Great Neck North Water Authority, irrigate the lavish landscaping and even generate electricity. 

Systems like this could be used in Great Neck Plaza — a village which hopes to be the first on Long Island to implement a climate action plan — where there are large office buildings, hotels, apartment houses, means that the reused water can be used to flush toilets, in cooling towers and heating systems. Even generate electricity that could go back to the grid.

We saw parking lots turned into parks, which keep stormwater run-off from dumping nitrogen and other toxins into the waterways.

We saw how solar power systems  — which have really taken off with the Obama Administration’s tax incentive – are making localities self-sufficient. the Long Island Solar Farm, a partnership of LIPA, BP Solar and Brookhaven National Lab already has the largest array on the Island — generating 32 mw of power (enough to power 500 households), and now Invenergy is seeking approval for a 25 mw facility in Shoreham. 

And while we are connecting the grid to accommodate alternate sources, we need (anyway) to strengthen the grid, decentralize it, make it less vulnerable to disruption from natural or man-made attacks including cyber attacks. It has long been known that the nation’s grid is obsolete. We need a smart grid. The time is now.

We need to tap new sources. We keep hearing that Long Island is an island, surrounded by water. Why aren’t we doing more to tap water power? 

A few years ago, I saw an engineer’s design for small underwater turbines – small enough to supply a locality. We’ve seen this before – going back hundreds of years, at the Saddle Rock Grist Mill. Water power is one of our earliest forms. 

As discussed in an earlier column, this could provide an additional use for Stepping Stones Lighthouse — where the boulders that make it so dangerous for vessels on the side closest to Steppingstone Park and the Merchant Marine Academy — you could have small underwater turbines sending power back to the Great Neck Peninsula (there are already underwater cables for the cable companies). 

Perhaps the Town of North Hempstead’s sustainability officer (the very fact the town has one is notable), could take charge of seeking grants and issuing a design contest as discussed in the Dec. 25 column.

We always hear that the problem is money. 

But the money has to be spent anyway. 

Indeed, New York State is giving millions of dollars away to help communities devise sustainable solutions — clean energy, water reuse, waste treatment — that reduce use of resources, reuse the byproducts, and decentralize power generation and vital systems to make communities more resilient.

This is actually happening — but in Suffolk.

In September, Gov. Cuomo announced the launch of an anaerobic digester project in Suffolk that will serve as “an innovative model of how clean, on-site power can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support sustainable communities.”

The new anaerobic digester at Long Island Compost’s 62-acre facility in Yaphank, scheduled to open in August and operated by American Organic Energy, will process 120,000 tons of food waste, 30,000 tons of fats, oils and greases and 10,000 tons of grass clippings from the Long Island region annually that would otherwise have been transported and dumped into landfills, contributing to harmful greenhouse gas emissions. 

The digester will convert these waste streams to clean energy, clean water to be used for plant processes, and solid-based fertilizer, and is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 40,000 tons annually, equivalent to removing 8,125 cars from the road. 

All the electric power needed to run the digester and the existing facility will be generated using biogas from the project. Long Island Compost also plans to convert the biogas to renewable natural gas that will be used to fuel its trucks on-site, reducing diesel consumption by 200,000 gallons annually. 

An additional 1.9 million gallons of diesel per year will be offset by injecting the remaining renewable gas produced by the digester into the National Grid natural gas pipeline on Long Island. This will enable the gas to be used to fuel compressed natural gas vehicles in other areas.

The project is part of the Cleaner, Greener Communities program, a major statewide initiative encouraging communities to incorporate sustainability goals and principles into local plans and projects. 

The program enables communities to form partnerships that transform markets and lead to expanded deployment of clean energy, the reduction of emissions and the generation of economic development benefits. The program, administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, also empowers communities to take action, providing technical resources and decision-making tools on land use, housing, transportation, energy, economic development and environmental practices, resulting in a more vibrant and prosperous New York. 

“Under Reforming the Energy Vision, New York is making it possible for innovators to test and market sophisticated energy solutions uniquely tailored to the needs of our communities — a vital part of building a cleaner, efficient and affordable energy infrastructure,” Richard Kauffman, chairman of Energy and Finance for New York said. “Projects such as this anaerobic digester are positioning New York today to meet its ambitious renewable energy goals of the future.” 

John B. Rhodes, president and CEO of NYSERDA said, “Communities are at the heart of New York’s clean energy goals and play a central role in advancing the state toward a cleaner and more sustainable future. This anaerobic digester project is a significant step forward for the Long Island region in minimizing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing material going into landfills, providing economic and environmental benefits to its residents.”

“The Department is committed to working with communities and businesses to expand and enhance organics diversion and use in order to conserve existing resources, reduce environmental impacts and promote alternative uses of previously wasted materials,” NYS Department of Environmental Conservation Acting Commissioner Marc Gerstman added. “This project demonstrates that excess food and food scraps, that cannot be donated or used for animal feed, are resources that can be used to generate clean energy with the end products being recycled into a valuable soil amendment. This outstanding project will help New York lead the way in these efforts.”

Heiner Markhoff, president and CEO, water and process technologies for GE Power & Water, said, “To achieve greater regional and national sustainability, we are seeing a growing trend underway in which municipalities and industries across the country are focusing more of their efforts on energy neutral resource recovery solutions to reduce their environmental impacts and boost local economic development, including producing more of their own on-site cleaner water and energy.”

Reuse of water is another critical area of sustainability. At the Riverhead Sewage Treatment plant, piping is being installed so  that beginning in April 2016, the Indian Island Country Golf Course will get 300,000 to 350,000 gallons a day for irrigation, instead of the water being dumped into the Peconic River — saving 2000 pounds of nitrogen a year, and cutting the amount of water being pumped out of the Long Island East End aquifer by 63 million gallons. 

And because the golf course will no longer need to pump their own water, it will save energy and money.

There are 128 golf courses in Nassau County and Suffolk in close proximity to dozens of sewage treatment plants of various sizes that could provide the wastewater in close proximity.

Meanwhile, Dave Smith, Natural Systems Utilities, a sustainable water company, discussed small-scale wastewater treatment and reuse systems, small enough and economical enough to be installed in the basement of office buildings and apartment houses. 

One is under the Banana Republic store in the Streets of Chester Shopping Center, NJ, that treats 15,000 gallons a day. The heat recovery offsets the cost for hot water use. It uses 367 kwh/day to run but recovers 610 kwh/day, for a net energy gain of 243 kwh/day.

So given the eagerness of the state to encourage innovation in communities, where is Nassau County? With our population density and high living standard, we generate tons of waste. 

But instead of hearing about such an innovative project being based in Nassau, we get reports of trucks being turned back because they carry waste oil, when instead, with all the restaurants in Nassau, this can be a source of fuel, as the Great Neck Water Pollution Control District has proved, and is using waste oil to fuel its vehicles.

Suffolk is where virtually all the Long Island StartUp NY funding has gone — for entrepreneurs to develop new batteries, new technology that plugs into the green energy revolution. 

Suffolk is where there are solar farms, waste treatment plants that generate electricity, biogas and reuse water.

But Nassau County has been pathetic in terms of any clean power and sustainability initiatives, or making any effort whatsoever to green our economy, or even make our county a center for technology development — which means more jobs — despite the high concentration of academic institutions (NYIT, CW Post-LIU). Instead, the Mangano administration has squandered millions of dollars in bonds on its sewage treatment plants, getting bailed out by Superstorm Sandy which generated a whole new federal funding stream. 

But what is happening? Is there any thought to moving toward a 21st century facility?

Sean Sallie, planning division supervisor of the Nassau County Planning Commission in the Public Works department, was greatly outgunned at the Smart Growth Summit, saying meekly that the county is “heavily engaged” in retrofitting its stormwater infrastructure. “We’re working with New York State and NY Rising — a bunch of projects through community planning process. Now we have real projects to implement.”

But the projects he only obliquely described are for flood mitigation and resiliency, not going the extra step to harness energy or reuse water (for irrigation, street cleaning, cooling, industrial processes, agriculture, groundwater recharge, preserving wetlands).

And yet, there are literally millions of dollars being made available for communities to pilot and implement innovative projects.

Indeed, also in September, Gov. Cuomo announced 53 state-supported projects are underway or set to begin in New York to provide clean, resilient on-site power for hospitals, schools and other buildings, as well as reduce demand on the state’s power grid. 

When completed, these projects will increase the total number of combined heat and power systems in the state by approximately 10 percent. The NYSERDA is providing more than $41 million with $217 million coming from private investment for these 53 new systems.

“New York is committed to a clean energy grid that also reduces our electricity demand, saving money for taxpayers and businesses,” Gov. Cuomo said. “These projects will help contribute to this goal, cutting existing energy consumption and working toward creating a sustainable and resilient community.” 

Also known as co-generation, combined heat and power uses on-site power generation to provide efficient and affordable energy, often shaving 15 to 30 percent off existing energy consumption. It is currently employed in more than 500 buildings in New York State, which is equivalent to approximately 12 percent of the 4,100 buildings nationwide that use the technology. 

Examples of these systems can be found at sites across the state, from medical centers to universities and hotels. While most systems run on natural gas, other types operate on biogas produced through anaerobic digestion of waste water or organic farm waste, and a combined heat and power site at a landfill near Buffalo runs on landfill gas. 

When the 53 pending projects are completed and join the ranks of previously-supported projects, total NYSERDA-supported combined heat and power systems will offset more than 200 megawatts of grid power, equivalent to the energy needed to power more than 32,000 homes. 

But out of the 53 projects, only one is slated for Nassau County: Adelphi University Nassau, which is projected to reduce peak energy consumption by 1.979 mw. NYSERDA is ponying up $2,400,000 with $ 5,445,000 coming from private investment, for a total of $ 7,845,000

“Combined heat and power also played a critical role in providing uninterrupted energy to facilities in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee,” the governor’s office stated. “In the event of wide-scale electrical outages, on-site generation improves a system’s ability to provide greater resiliency and reliability by acting as a main component of a community’s microgrid.”

It is also notable — and deserving high praise — that the Village of Great Neck Plaza has declared its intention to be the first Long Island village to implement a climate-action plan.

 “I think this is an issue people care about and they want to see how we are becoming more energy efficient. We don’t want to see all the dramatic effects that climate change is doing all over the world,” Village of Great Neck Plaza Mayor Jean Celender said. 

Celender said that while 170 municipalities have pledged to support the DEC’s Climate Smart Communities Program, no village has implemented a climate plan on Long Island and she wanted them to be the first, Joe Nikic reported,

“We’ve been part of all those planning sessions and we took the pledge and we have been drafting our own village climate-action plan to become more energy efficient, reduce our carbon footprint, incorporate renewables, and all the goals and objectives that the state level has been set,” Celender said. “We’re now doing analysis of how we can further that in our own village and actually using data on the amount of electricity we use in our village facilities through all the infrastructure that’s here that we have information on.”

Mayor Celender has shown the way to obtaining grants and support for sustainable projects, such as traffic calming. She can lead the way in showing how localities as small as a village can implement climate action strategies.

The village is scheduling a hearing on the plan for Feb. 3.

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