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Questions linger over how to heat Belmont

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Since Empire State Development released the final environmental impact statement on the proposed Belmont arena project in July, many new details have come to light on New York Arena Partners’ plans for the site. But while much attention has been focused on the construction of a new Long Island Rail Road station at the border of Elmont and Bellerose Terrace, there is also new information about the plans to heat the arena.

In December, developers originally proposed using natural gas, because National Grid was expanding gas delivery services across Long Island. But after New York state rejected the Williams Pipeline Coalition’s Northeast Supply Enhancement Project in May, National Grid stated that it would no longer be able to supply natural gas to new commercial, industrial and residential customers on Long Island.

While many believed that the rejection of the pipeline would halt or stall the proposed developments at Belmont, Jack Sterne, a spokesman for Empire State Development, said that was not the case. “As our final environmental impact statement spells out, there are multiple practical alternatives to natural gas,” Sterne said, “and we’re confident that the Belmont Redevelopment Project can move forward regardless of the pipeline’s status. We will continue to work with our development partners to finalize these plans.”

The leading alternative to natural gas would most likely be liquefied petroleum gas, or propane. According to the environmental impact statement, the development at Belmont would require two 30,000-gallon propane tanks to be installed underground. They would be installed on the south side of the park, near Elmont’s Red Road, and the propane would heat the arena, the retail village and the 250-room hotel. ESD officials anticipated that a tanker truck would make deliveries after arena events.

While propane is a clean-burning fuel and relatively low-risk, and Nassau County fire officials have said that proper installation and oversight should minimize concerns, some residents still say they are worried about having such a large quantity of propane flowing in Elmont. Tammie Williams, of the Belmont Park Community Coalition, said she wasn’t impressed by the propane alternative and wouldn’t want it in her community.

“That’s what you came up with, propane?” Williams asked rhetorically. “You want to put a bomb in a black neighborhood? I don’t think so.”

A second alternative would be to use electrical service to heat the arena. The heating and hot-water systems would comprise electrically powered packaged terminal air conditioning units and heat pumps. Cooking and some other heating would still be powered by natural gas or propane. While the electrical alternative seems like the simpler option, because it would be serviced by the proposed substation at Belmont, developers seemed wary of it, because it is currently the least environmentally friendly option.

But while electrical heating would cause the largest emission of greenhouse gases, the environmental impact statement noted that as New York state moves closer to its renewable-energy goals for 2030, when more than half the state’s power would be produced from clean energy, the electrical alternative’s emissions would decrease.

In order to reduce energy use and maximize heating and cooling power at the arena, Empire State Development would push for New York Arena Partners to implement energy-efficient designs at Belmont, including glazing to reduce heat loss, a building envelope and efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. ESD would also enforce the installation of high-albedo, or more reflective, roofs to reduce energy consumption and reduce the buildings’ contribution to the urban heat-island effect, in which new developments can raise the temperature in nearby communities. The project is also required to meet the requirements for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, one of the top certifications for energy efficiency.

While these alternatives are still under consideration, the Belmont developers’ first choice remains natural gas. Williams Pipeline Coalition resubmitted its application for the northeast pipeline project, so natural gas could still make its way to Belmont come the arena’s opening day in the winter of 2021.

The public comment period for the project, and the environmental impact statement ends, was set to end on Thursday. Empire State Development is expected to vote on whether to approve the statement in the coming weeks.