Going green in the village

Solar-panel discussion follows private movie screening at RVC’s AMC theater


A private screening of the new anti-climate change film “An Inconvenient Sequel,” successor to Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth,” at the AMC Fantasy movie theater on Sept. 27, drew residents from Rockville Centre and beyond, and was followed by a panel discussion and question-and-answer session with local and state environmentalists.

The film paints a grim picture of a future in which unaddressed climate change will lead to rising sea levels, and more disastrous storms, floods and droughts.

“I didn’t want people to just go home after the movie feeling depressed and hopeless,” said State Sen. Todd Kaminsky, who hosted the event, "so I organized this panel to show people that it’s not hopeless, that there are things they can do to help.”

The panel comprised Mark Lowery of the Department of Environmental Conservation, who discussed state-level policy issues; Lisa Dix, of the Sierra Club, who talked about environmental activism and political engagement; John Weber, of the Surfrider Foundation, an organization dedicated to protecting oceans and coastal communities; and David Schieren, co-founder of EmPower Solar.

The first question was from resident Bret Sanford-Chung, who asked Schieren, “I’ve heard that we can’t get solar in Rockville Centre. Is that true, and if it’s true, why?”

The village does not currently give permits for solar panels, but “is in the process of reviewing this matte,” village spokeswoman Julie Scully told the Herald after the event.

The reason, she said, is that Rockville Centre residents pay low rates for their electricity, due to the hydroelectric generator operated by the village.

“Rockville Centre electric customers pay about half of PSEG rate payers,” Scully wrote in an email, referring to the utility company that services much of Long Island. “Therefore, it would take RVC residents about twice as long as PSEG customers living in neighboring communities to recover the investment in a solar system.”

Schieren acknowledged that while “it’s harder to deliver a zero-down power purchase agreement that results in immediate savings” in a place with highly competitive electrical prices like Rockville Centre, he said that his customers weren’t only looking at their wallets. “People should have the right to install solar and make that financial and environmental decision on their own.

“There are different ways to go solar,” he added, noting that such ways could even end up making financial sense for village residents. He pointed to Freeport, another of the three communities on Long Island that operates its own electrical utility, and which uses a system called “net metering” in order to provide solar power in a way that augments the village’s utility.

Under Freeport’s net metering system, the utility bill of a resident with solar takes into account both the amount of energy they consume, and the amount that they generate. The kilowatt-hours generated by the solar panels are deducted from the kilowatt-hours consumed.

“We would welcome the chance to work with Rockville Centre to make solar an option,” Schieren said, “and advise on best practices from other territories that we’ve been working with for 10 years to get the most cost-effective approach for the residents.”

Even without allowing solar power, the village is taking steps to become more energy efficient. The implementation phase of a microgrid grant it received, “will include demand-side management programs like smart thermostats for residential and small commercial customers and potentially some municipal solar installations.”

About a third of Rockville Centre’s older, higher-wattage street lights have been replaced with LED lights, which are more energy efficient and longer lasting, according to Scully. “This work is being done in tandem with the Road Program and as lights fail,” she added.

The village is also pursuing plans for an Efficient Energy Program, which would include incentives for residents to reduce energy consumption.