Friday, May 29, 2009

Green Babylon

Town Converts Environmental Rhetoric Into Energy Efficient Action

A little thinking out of the box goes a long way, as Babylon Town Supervisor, Steve Bellone, could tell you.

Say hello to Babylon Town's LI Green Homes Program.

A tweak of the law here, and some common sense application of verbage there, and, voila, homeowners can save money while reducing their home's carbon footprint.

In most townships, the talk of environmental stewardship is just that, talk. A moment in the sun for a photo op. A press release coveting the environmental friendliness of the town's programs, designed not so much to benefit the air we breathe or the water we drink as it is to assure favorable ratings for the elected official issuing the proclaimation.

Surely, Supervisor Bellone, politically astute as he is, realizes the personal benefit gained here. And yet, one senses that the low key Bellone recognizes the greater gain for the greater good that the greening of Babylon imparts. Bravo!

The Town of Brookhaven is exploring its Green Homes options, even as we blog.

We implore Long Island's other towns, and in particular, Oyster Bay, North Hempstead, and the self-proclaimed leader in environmental causes, Hempstead town, to get on board as well.

Long Island's towns must be environmentally sustainable, as well as responsible, if our communities are to thrive.
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From Newsday:

Babylon has the right idea for greener homes

For every homeowner worried about what rising energy costs will do to the household budget, an array of energy-generating solar cells would be a fine home improvement.But not many families want to lay out the money upfront to install solar cells, even with the help of rebates from the Long Island Power Authority and state and federal tax credits. It's still money that a homeowner has to spend in the short term for a long-term benefit.

Now the Town of Babylon has devised a way to solve the money problem and move people toward greater home energy independence. It's an idea that other towns should consider - as Brookhaven is. If enough of them do it, a real market for solar installation can develop here, creating not only greater energy efficiency, but also real jobs.

How did Babylon get into this? Supervisor Steve Bellone, an environmental activist as far back as his volunteer work in college, began by pushing hard for greater energy efficiency in new homes and commercial buildings.

Then the town did an inventory of its carbon footprint. The major culprits in the emission of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, it turns out, were older homes that badly needed improvements to help them hold in warm air in winter and cool air in summer.

But how could people pay for retrofitting without laying out a lot of money at the start? Babylon took a novel approach: It expanded its solid waste code to add energy waste as a solid waste, based on its carbon content.That definitional change enabled the town to tap into a reserve fund that the state requires it to maintain for its solid waste operations. So Babylon could use some of that reserve fund to pay for the work needed to increase the energy efficiency of homes.
Homeowners repay that money over time, and it goes back into the reserve fund to help others.

Now the town has added a solar component. If a home meets the town's standards of energy efficiency - otherwise, adding solar makes little sense - it can be eligible for low-interest financing for the installation of solar panels.

Here's how the Green Homes program works: The homeowner gets an energy audit by a town-licensed contractor. (The cost of the home audit can be wrapped into the eventual bill for the actual improvements.) Then the town pays the contractor for retrofitting the home - a process that can now include solar panel installation.

To arrange for repayment, the town figures out how much the owner will be saving on energy costs, and sets the monthly repayment at an amount less than the monthly savings. Once the cost of the work is paid off - in an estimated average of under eight years - the homeowner enjoys 100 percent of the continuing energy savings.

Another reason people don't want to pay for energy efficiency is that they figure they'll be moving soon anyway. But this program gets around that: When you sell the house, the new owner gets to enjoy lower energy costs, but also continues to repay the cost of the retrofitting, through the monthly bills. That benefits both the seller and the buyer, and lets the buyer move on. This concept has attracted interest from municipalities far from Long Island.

Locally, in Brookhaven, Councilwoman Connie Kepert is pushing Green Homes. A public hearing is set for May 28. Her town's lawyers say the state's constitutional ban on using town funds for private benefit may be a problem. But Brookhaven plugs leaky oil tanks at private homes, to protect the groundwater. Is leaking carbon - whether at the home (if it's oil-heated) or at the power plant that makes the home's electricity - less dangerous than leaking oil? Isn't plugging both kinds of leaks a public purpose?Babylon has taken a small but significant first step. True, there may be legal shoals ahead. But reducing our energy costs is so vital that every town should take a close look at Green Homes.

Copyright © 2009, Newsday Inc.

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