Voices of 100%: A Long Island Town’s Ambitious Plan to Protect its Coast and Procure Clean Energy — Episode 97 of Local Energy Rules Podcast

Date: 12 Feb 2020 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

Oftentimes, transitioning to renewable energy is one of many competing concerns in a local government body. In one town on Long Island, leaders are finding that their most pressing concerns can be addressed collectively.

For this episode of our Voices of 100% series of the Local Energy Rules Podcast, host John Farrell speaks with John Bouvier, a town council member of Southampton, New York. Southampton has committed to source 100% of the town’s electricity from renewable sources by 2025, with an ultimate goal of carbon neutrality by 2040. The two discuss setting ambitious goals, the unique challenges coastal communities face, and how Southampton’s work is driven by both technical experts and community stakeholders.

Listen to the full episode and explore more resources, below — including a transcript and summary of the conversation.

John BouvierThis is our hope that we would end up with a lower rate per kilowatt hour for the average consumer, but also it incentivizes people locally to produce more power here.
John FarrellSituated at the tail end of Long Island, New York, Southampton is known for its summer tourist attractions, but it may become better known for its clean energy commitments. This town of 60,000 year-round residents recently committed to getting 100% of its electricity from renewable resources, in just five years, as it works to stave off the impacts of sea level rise on its beaches and protect fragile water quality. I’m joined by Town Councilman John Bouvier to talk about why the community made the commitment and how it plans to achieve its goal. I’m John Farrell, director of the Energy Democracy Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and this is our special Voices of 100 series focused on local leaders and their pursuit of 100% renewable energy. It’s all part of Local Energy Rules, a biweekly podcast sharing powerful stories about local renewable energy. John, welcome to the podcast.
John BouvierWell, thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about Southampton’s initiatives. Thank you, John.
John FarrellSo I was hoping to just start with the kinds of goals that communities have set are varying, you know, largely we’re focused on talking to communities that have made some sort of ambitious, clean energy goal. Sometimes it’s just around electricity, sometimes it’s broadly across energy, across all sectors, and then it’s on different timeframes. Some communities are talking about 2030, 2040, 2050. Could you talk about what is Southampton’s specific goal around clean energy?
John BouvierSure. Well, you know, I’m a firm believer that your reach should exceed your grasp and I like to use the word ambition. I think that’s incredibly important. And you know, we establish these large goals of the two that we established when we first got into office being fully energy independent by the year 2025 within the town of Southampton and also being carbon neutral, net neutral by 2040 so we set those, those are sort of the goals that underlie everything that we’re doing. But you know, in addition to that, as a coastal community, we have a lot of issues relative to sea level rise and nitrate contamination in our bays. We’re mostly a tourist economy. We’re driven that way. So my community’s about 60,000 year round residents and we also swell with a tourist economy, second homeowners during the summer months to about 240,000 people. We deal with things from waste control and waste management, uh, to uh, clean water.

We have a sole source aquifer here. And then of course, uh, what we’re going to talk about today a little bit about our energy initiatives, but I believe that they’re all interrelated and as a coastal community, we’re sort of the first part of the world communities that are seeing the effects of climate change, sea level rise and so forth. So we are actively looking for ways to meet our energy goal. And that would be 100%. So I like the idea of a township or our municipality leading by example. Within our township we have about nine or 10 incorporated villages, which are outside of our jurisdiction. But we work closely with them to duplicate some of the legislation that we’ve brought forward. A number of things that we’ve done in particular, we started this with changing our HERS (Home Energy Rating System) rating. We have the most stringent residential HERS ratings in the state of New York right now, or at least on Long Island.

So we’re, we’re driving to bring our consumption down and that’s sort of where we hit the regulatory wall. We have two entities. We have a power authority, LIPA, Long Island Power Authority, which is a public private organization. And then we have the producer, which is PSEG, which is a Public Service Energy Group, sort of a public-private partnership. You know, we come up against some of that regulation and I think we’re very fortunate in Southampton that we have elected officials that are above us and we work with in our, in our County Legislator in particular, Bridget Fleming, I’ll single out who’s, you know, we have a partnership to do that and that’s made it easier. Right now we’re working on ways to define what our actual carbon footprint is, which is easier said than done. But as a municipality, we’re establishing electric vehicle fleets and putting EV stations so you know where it’s necessary to do that. Replaced all our street lighting with dimmable remote controlled led systems, which has reduced our consumption. So when we come up against the regulatory groups, uh, like on PSEG, when we look at their forecast for us, it’s uh, it’s about a 45 degree slope over 20 years upward slope, uh, that they expect that our energy consumption will arise at that continuing level. And I think quite often that’s a justification for building peaker plants and things like that. But we find that, that our consumption is actually flat lined, if not dipping even with the increase of population during the summer and the consumption.

John FarrellSo let me just dig into one thing here. For folks who aren’t familiar with the acronym or the abbreviation HERS, what you’re getting at obviously, is all of these measures that you’re taking to reduce consumption. Can you just explain what HERS is really quick for folks who might not know?
John BouvierYeah, it’s a, it’s a way to make operation of a home more efficient. So that involves all sorts of things. Insulating your home, changing your bulbs, energy efficient appliances, uh, you know, whole myriad of things in that regard.
John FarrellAnd when you talk about having a one of the strongest HERS ratings, you’re saying for new buildings that you require them to be very energy efficient or do you also have a way that you apply that to existing buildings?
John BouvierYeah, mostly for new buildings. Obviously it’s difficult. We have a, an organization out here that we formed called Tri-Energy group where we will provide for free energy audits. So somebody will come and show where you’re leaking energy and heat, uh, help people voluntarily get into that. We also on new construction have a tax incentive program that will significantly reduce the property taxes on those homes that are built to those standards. So it’s, it’s a transition type thing, but surprisingly we have many residents that get it and, you know, work, uh, work where it’s feasible for them to do that.
John FarrellDo you, um, I remember reading a several years ago about a program called Long Island Green Homes that helped people do financing for existing properties to make them more energy efficient. Is that program still running?
John BouvierYes, it is. I, there, you know, there’s a, a number of different state and County programs that are, that are out there to help achieve the state goal of the carbon net neutrality at 2050. And also energy efficiency as well. You know, they’re successful at varying degrees, but, you know, it always comes down to informing your residents of what programs are available. And uh, we work hard at outreach. We’re fortunate in Southampton that we have something called a CAC. These are community groups that are sort of quasi-governmental and they advise our town board on issues that are local in their areas. And that’s a great avenue for us to, uh, talk about these programs that are available. And then we have sustainability committee that’s, I think next to none. And it’s efficiency and advocacy. They work very hard with us and bring forward initiatives. And as a group of volunteers who spend a lot of time trying to advise us and help us and they have a lot of expertise and that informs our legislation as we bring it forward.
John FarrellI was hoping to take a step back for just a second in terms of the commitments that Southampton has made and I was curious if you could talk a little bit about some of the motivation. You mentioned it being a tourist community, a coastal community. You’ve got issues like water quality for example, not just energy that are important. What do you think were some of the motivating factors for your community in making this commitment in the first place and some of the things that you hope to see other than just reducing carbon emissions?
John BouvierWell, we sit on a sole source water aquifer, which is a, we’re experiencing the horrors of the past. People did not know 50 years ago that that was the case and we have a septic systems that put a lot of nitrogen into our aquifer, create a lot of problems as far as a harmful algal blooms and things like that. And it’s important to us that because we are a tourist destination, we’re doing everything that we can to protect the water by some of those initiatives.
John FarrellAre there a, for example, particular goals that you have as you look at getting to carbon neutral or to get more renewable energy goals or thresholds that you have in terms of water quality as well, for example, that are important. Was there conversations with people who come at, you know who have summer homes in particular about what their interests were?
John BouvierWell yeah, as I said, we have a sole source aquifer, so one of the problems that we’re having is particularly when our population increases over the summers, there’s a lot of irrigation and there’s a lot of this desire to have, you know, emerald green lawns, perfect landscapes and things like that which are chemically dependent. So there’s a lot of fertilizers that are applied onto these lawns and then they run off and this is a big part of the nitrogen source. We’re also partly an agricultural community and we have this legacy issue of nitrogen and phosphorus based fertilizers that are still in the soil. And when you have storm, you know you get runoff, it ends up in the water. So the county’s embarked on a sub watershed study, which will help inform us on how to make those decisions. But that’s a big concern of ours.

So we’ve mandated the use of innovative alternative systems, septic systems, which will remove a large part of that nitrogen contribution to give a visual of that and say a toilet was flushed 50 years ago. The nitrogen that comes from that septic system and solely makes its way into our aquifer and into our base ultimately. But it can take 20 to 30 to 40 years to actually make it to that point. So we’re working on the immediate issue with replacement of the old septic rings with systems that mitigate the nitrogen as we deal with what I call the legacy issue, which is all this nitrogen that is still flowing from the last 50 years towards us. But there’s also, as part of that issue, as a coastal community, we also have the ability to produce tidal power. So the idea is that we have these bays that are behind a barrier beach, which faces the Atlantic ocean. And by helping with the exchange of bay and seawater, we can further dilute the effects of nitrogen on the base behind these barrier beaches. And that’s been done with some success in Massachusetts and in California with the artificial inlets or literally pipe systems and pumps. But it’s also an opportunity for us to, uh, look at the possibility of producing power from that exchange using tidal energy. And then we have a company that’s working offshore to produce, these off-shore wind farms, which was also an initiative by the state to provide a local power. So we’re in this enviable position that we have all these energy sources locally that we can hopefully give ourselves a, a greater opportunity at a better possibility of actually meeting our goal of 2025 for renewable energy. So we look at all the opportunities to parasitically get energy from wherever we can that incentivizes people to add solar and do what they can. We’re also doing legislation to a store this electrical energy, particularly from solar through battery systems. You know there’s a huge increase in the world in electric cars, electric vehicles, and those batteries have a life within the car, but they have another 20 year life after they come out of the car. So instead of ending up in a, in a landfill in Canada someplace, we’re trying to push the manufacturers to provide those batteries for local storage of solar energy. And we also have the opportunity here, on Long Island to use geothermal, which we do to some extent I think. I think the real message here is that we’re trying to be as a creative and open minded and have a broad reach and be ambitious in the goal. That way we have a greater chance of accomplishing that goal.

John FarrellWe’re going to take a short break. When we come back, I ask how Southampton can have a greater stake in its sources of electricity production, what plan they have in place and how they plan to address equity in their sustainability efforts. You’re listening to an interview with John Bouvier, Town Councilman from Southampton, New York, part of our Voices of 100% podcast series.
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John FarrellWhen you were talking earlier about where the energy comes from, so you have the Long Island Power Authority and you have PSEG the utility company and it’s sort of this public private partnership. Uh, you already mentioned a, one of the drawbacks is that they are sort of over forecasting how much energy demand there’s likely to be in the future. You mentioned that 45 degrees slope and their forecast and it sounds like a lot of measures are being taken to try to keep energy demand flat as it has been. I’m curious, you know, where does that put you in terms of whether it’s this offshore wind or looking at tidal power? How can Southampton make a difference in where the energy supply comes from given that you’re currently supplied by this fairly large company?
John BouvierWell, we’ve actually engage a, an energy administrator is a third party broker essentially and we pass legislation locally for a program called community choice aggregation. It’s got other names and different places. But um, that’s one of the ways that we see our ability to have more choice locally in that that’s really our goal. Cause if we don’t have local choice, then we really are at the whim of the larger bureaucracy and it, it makes it more difficult. We’re kind of isolated out here. So if we buy an electron that’s produced by hydro-power upstate, you know, how do we get that electron or how does that work? And so our broker administrator is tasked with the job of being able to buy. Then the ultimate goal is that we would end up with, and this is our hope, that we would end up with a lower rate per kilowatt hour for the average consumer, but also incentivizes people locally to produce more power here, which as part of that deal would be a point where, or a source of energy that we might not otherwise be able to avail ourselves though.

So we’re in the mid stages of that. We have engaged our, our administrator and there’s no cost to us. It’s a really good relationship that we have CCA, the choice that we’re trying to get from CCAs, that we’re able to put more energy into our own local sourcing, but also share that with other municipalities that are adjacent to us to widen the customer base. So we’ve had a lot of the towns around us interested in our exploring CCA as well, which would help the project altogether because we’d have a wider customer base and therefore we would be able to more than likely lower the rates, but we don’t know that yet. We’re in the process of, that’s why we engage this administrator to do this. To give us the facts so that we can factually inform the public as to yeah, what they can do. It’s people are able to yeah, are told that this is, you know, where they’re going to get their power source, but they also have the option of opting out and going back to the regular distribution system. It was something that was started in Westchester. Sustainable Westchester I think was the creator or the first to take that and has been very successful. You know, we’re learning as we go here. Um, but I think it’s an important enough program to explore. We felt it was very important to us that we’re able to make the choices that we want to make that are in the best interests of our residents.

John FarrellSince you brought up Sustainable Westchester, we actually did just publish a podcast interview with a couple of the program directors there back in January. It was really interesting to hear about kind of the way they’re using community choice as one piece of really a very broad sustainability approach where they also work on transit and buildings and, and many other things as well. So it seems like that’s a good example to follow for sure. One other question I had wanted to ask you was about you’ve set these goals and we’ve talked actually a lot about many of the different things that you’re looking at, whether it’s renewable energy, sourcing, tidal power or offshore wind, the efforts you’re making around conservation, encouraging people to install their own clean energy. Is there a like a formal plan that you have to get to the goal where you’re sort of, you know, laying out benchmarks and timelines or anything or is there a planning process that’s happening that people are engaged in?
John BouvierYeah, we were fortunate that we have a really well run and well-staffed planning department and so the goals are obviously there’s a lot of flexibility in that. As I said before, I think you’ve set an ambitious goal and you work hard to achieve it. The plan to do that obviously is one of the big things is define what our actual consumption is and not based on the forecast of the life, but PSEG model, but also to, to understand what our carbon footprint is, which is a big deal. So where do we get the biggest bang for the buck and where is it important to reduce our power? I mean, as an example, we have, we have a huge traffic problem here. Obviously, you know, if we have an influx of people, 240,000 people on top of our 60,000 year-round residents, our roads get just crazy here during the summer. Everybody who drives out here. So we’ve established a commuter hub, uh, working with, uh, the Long Island railroad system to use the use of the trains, particularly for our working residents as well to reduce the time that cars are on the road. And that was an initiative by our state assemblyman Fred Thiele, which is growing leaps and bounds. The usage is growing, but obviously we need to make some changes to single track train, uh, with some spurs. So we need to enable to, you know, the trains to move back and forth more rapidly. We have people who work here that commute in the city. We have people who live outside of our township but work here and we want to provide that. That’s another means of achieving that goal. As I said, converting our town fleet to electric fleets, but also working in tandem with our other townships to provide EV charging stations in those areas that meet the range of current electric cars. So we work with, uh, incorporated villages, but also along our beaches, uh, we’ve just installed, uh, EV charging stations at one of our large beaches in the Hampton bays area. Uh, with that gets a lot of use of how I think we’re going to probably have to expand on that. And so I, it, it’s a lot of creative thinking.

I’m not really sure I’m answering your question as far as the planning goes, but the planning is the incremental understanding of what our usage is, what our consumption is, where we have those opportunities. We’re going to also apply a new HERS rating to commercial operations here, like we did with residential, HERS ratings, which should lower consumption a lot. The plan is to refine where we can get the biggest bang for the buck and you know, as the technologies change, I, I find it really interesting that we’re going to solve a lot of these problems and they are complex and I think it’s important that we have people in office or people in those positions that have an understanding of, of the technological challenges and put that into the legislation so that we can better inform other policy makers who may not have that background. But trust that, you know, we’ve done our homework and our research. I think that’s really the critical thing. So we use our planning department a lot as an example with the streetlights, we replaced all 1700 and 1800 street lights, which is a big deal. And the cost savings just in consumption reduction is, you know, it’s around $8 million over the period of time. The payback for that installation will be in a couple of years, but we’re centering a lot of our goal around the potential of CCA because that will free us up to, you know, tap into those other sources and also allow us to produce power locally

John FarrellOne of the things I wanted to ask you about when you talked about CCA previously about Sustainable Westchester, you mentioned that they’ve been able to source more renewable energy but they’ve also been able to reduce costs. You were estimating it was somewhere like eight, between eight and 20% and we won’t hold you to that number off the cuff, but I was just curious when you are, is good in terms of the context of this like led street light thing you just mentioned. So some of the things you’re going to do will save money, some of them might cost a little bit more. Do you have any sense of the overall costs and benefits of achieving this plan? And then do you have any specific plans around equity? And I, you know, this is an interesting word. It means a lot of different things to a lot of different communities. So for example, in Providence, Rhode Island, they were talking a lot about the communities of color, the low income folks that live near the port and experienced a lot of the pollution. What I was thinking of when I thought of this term in terms of your communities, you have tourists or summer residents and then you have year-round residents. And how are you balancing those potential costs and benefits between those folks, for example?
John BouvierWell it’s, it’s all wrapped up together. We clearly, the goal here is to lower our cost per kilowatt hour because it is very high and it obviously taxes marginalized communities and others. And you know that the, the, the, there’s a double edged sword because on the other side of that are extremely wealthy parts of the community that are sort of absentee landlords in particularly when it comes to water consumption and it’s sort of the price that people can pay in order to live a lifestyle. So we’re very focused on that. We have initiatives for affordable housing and things like that. When we have applications that come into our town for affordable housing complexes, you know, we have a requirement that they not only put in the AIAA septic systems, but they also have a percentage of renewable power that’s part of that complex and those homes and pass that burden onto the developer rather than on to onto any of the marginalized residents that are seeking affordable housing.

Our demographic in Southampton is, you know, we age about four months for every year and we have an attrition rate that’s very high. We’re, we’re losing our, our young people and the cost of living here is prohibitively high for some. So we have a very active community development director and department that looks at ways to provide affordable housing through subsidy, through Long Island housing, partnership plans and developments and things like that that will allow young people to stay here and then ultimately invest in the community. And I think it’s sort of a result of the, this sort of transition. You know, typically this was a maritime community many years ago and largely service driven. Uh, we had, you know, Bait men, there was a lot of fishing and a lot of agriculture programs to help retain that youth and, and give people something better to, to do, uh, and have, give them opportunities for employment. And I think that has a direct impact on our more marginalized communities in particular that we’re not just simply passing those costs on to them, but we’re actually subsidizing their ability to stay here, work here, and invest here and become working thriving citizens in the community. I think sometimes we suffer from this attitude that people have, particularly towards the Hamptons that, you know, it’s a very wealthy community who cares, but we’re very diverse economically and very diverse culturally. It’s a good point that you bring up because it’s something that’s of, of great importance to us. So we have very strong communities, community groups and committees that work on these problems and, and, uh, you know, come to us with solutions. So we’re very, very adamant about working through our community groups, working with our residents.

John FarrellJohn, what advice do you have as you’ve been working through this in Southampton? Obviously addressing a lot of different components of these, making these kinds of ambitious renewable energy goals. What advice do you have for other communities? There’s now over a hundred communities in the United States that have made a hundred percent renewable goals, probably more on the way as they see the opportunity there. What advice would you have for them as they set out after they’ve made this kind of ambitious commitment?
John BouvierI’ve been thinking about that question as a great question. I started out as saying, your reach should exceed your grasp. I think don’t be deterred by people who are resistant to change. I think change is absolutely necessary. I think we’re witnessing that now. For me, the biggest thing I think for most communities is to know where their allies are particular in the parts of government that indirectly or directly help you achieve those goals. In our case, our County legislator, our state assembly men, and in New York, we’re fortunate enough to have a, a governor, uh, and a state legislature that, uh, really work hard on these things and that’s fortunate and you need to build relationships with those people as well. You, you can’t operate in a vacuum. There are, there’s only so much that a municipality can do within the limits of its jurisdiction. So it was important to have those relationships and help inform that kind of legislation, strengthen your home rule laws, give yourself as much ability to impact your own future by working with other public servants that may not understand that some of the legislation that’s directed towards a particular part of, of your state or your area may have a direct impact on you and you need to make your voice known. So I think it’s kind of a new paradigm for, for elected officials and for policy makers that you have to in some ways play the role of advocacy. But you have to also have to bring a sort of pragmatic approach to what you’re doing. There are limits to what you can do and you need to recognize that. And the other bit of advisors he gets get technically informed. These issues are very complicated. CCA energy, um, and the rules and regulations and the power authorities and the distribution systems and the micro grids and the RECs and the REVs. And all these sorts of acronyms that are kind of thrown out. It’s incumbent on you to learn what those things actually mean, what they actually are. Engage your local legislators. We on CCA as an example, we created a, a CCA task force to and you know, anticipating that we would have regulatory hurdles to overcome. We went out in front of that before we ever contemplated using CCA or, or engaging in it to, to work with those people. And in fact I understand that our tariffs are going to be issued very soon and you know, we’ll be able to make an informed decision as to whether or not we’re going to go ahead with something like that. So be ambitious, be bold and don’t be deterred by, by people who have a little more difficult to be changed. And then others.
John FarrellWell John, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today. It’s been a pleasure to hear about what’s Southampton is working on and, and also to carry forward some of this advice to other communities that are trying to deal with the same challenge.
John BouvierWell, thank you very much. I, you know, there’s, there’s a lot more to talk about, so I’m always available.
John FarrellSounds good. We’ll be in touch.
John FarrellThank you so much for listening to this episode of our Voices of 100% podcast series with John Bouvier, Town Councilman from Southampton, New York. To learn about other cities pursuing 100% renewable energy, check out over a dozen additional Voices of 100% interviews, including leaders in Madison, Wisconsin, Cleveland, Ohio, or even Abita Springs, Louisiana. Also on the website of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, you can find the entire list of 100% cities on our community power map and click through an interactive community power toolkit for stories on how cities have advanced toward their goal. Tune back into Local Energy Rules every two weeks to hear more powerful stories of communities taking on concentrated power to transform the energy system. Until next time, keep your energy local and thanks for listening.

A Small Town With a Big Commitment

Southampton, New York, is a town of 60,000 year-round residents on the tail end of Long Island. Since its economy relies largely on tourism, Town Council Member John Bouvier fears the looming effects of climate change on his coastal community — which he knows will be hit first by rising seas. Southampton, however, is not paralyzed by the inevitable. Rather, the town has set ambitious, proactive energy goals to both mitigate their contribution to global emissions and prepare for the effects to come.

Southampton set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2040 seven years ago. Then, in 2017, the Southampton Town Council set a more specific goal to transition the town’s electricity supply to 100% renewable sources by 2025. This goal is very ambitious, considering that many other cities have set similar goals with target years of 2030 and beyond. Throughout the interview, Bouvier, who voted for the 100% target, stresses the importance of setting ambitious goals:

I’m a firm believer that your reach should exceed your grasp.

Although the town has yet to develop an implementation plan, Bouvier is optimistic about Southampton’s options. With a supportive governor and state legislature, renewable energy development is on the rise in New York. The policy landscape is conducive to the town’s efforts, both to reduce energy use and to produce more renewable energy locally.

Reducing Consumption in the Hamptons

As the first step to achieving its goals, Southampton is calculating its carbon footprint. It is important to Bouvier to have a data-driven plan of action. An accurate carbon footprint will inform the Town Council and other advocates where the most work needs to be done.

Where do we get the biggest bang for the buck and where is it important to reduce our power?

The Public Service Energy Group (PSEG) generates the power for Southampton and it is distributed by Long Island Power Authority (LIPA). Bouvier describes some difficulty working within this regulatory framework, because although these entities form a public-private partnership, they do not necessarily prioritize the community’s best interests. PSEG continues to forecast rising energy consumption in Southampton. Bouvier shoots down this prediction, arguing instead that consumption has flatlined. He believes that PSEG uses their forecast to justify building peaker plants, which Southampton does not need.

Read more about how “Customers Pay When Big Utilities Make Big Errors in Electricity Forecasts

Despite regulatory hurdles, Southampton is finding ways to reduce local energy consumption. Bouvier describes how the town has updated the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) to incentivize energy-efficient home construction. To address inefficiency in existing buildings, Southampton program Tri-Energy provides energy audits and solar assessments free of charge. Bouvier also mentions that Southampton has replaced all of the streetlights with LEDs and has created a commuter hub to decrease traffic.

Community organizations have been central to all of this work, says Bouvier. Although the Hamptons have a ritzy reputation, Bouvier says that Southampton is “very diverse economically” and is trying to prioritize the needs of residents by organizing community groups.

We’re very, very adamant about working through our community groups, working with our residents.

Southampton’s Citizen Advisory Committees (CACs) meet monthly. Bouvier also applauds the town’s sustainability committee, which he calls “next to none.” This group of volunteers informs Southampton’s legislation and engages in outreach. 

As Southampton continues its work to lower consumption, it also looks to produce more energy locally.

Communities Have a Choice in New York

One promising route to 100% renewables is through community choice energy, or as it is also known, community choice aggregation (CCA). 

New York is one of nine states that allow communities to act as their own energy brokers — without completely taking over the incumbent utility. Community choice agencies are public agencies with no accountability to shareholders, so they can offer electricity at lower prices. Since they procure electricity on behalf of the community, the community gets a say in where that electricity is coming from. This last point is what has made CCA so attractive to cities and towns pursuing renewable energy goals.

Listen to this podcast episode featuring Dan Welsh, or this episode with Glenn Weinberg, both of Westchester Power — New York’s first CCA.

Southampton adopted community choice legislation in February 2019. 

Now, the town is working with the administrator to create a community choice program that is as transparent as possible for its customers. Bouvier hopes that neighboring towns and townships will consider joining the CCA, which would increase the customer base and most likely reduce rates.

If we don’t have local choice, then we are really at the whim of a larger bureaucracy.

Energy is Part of the Bigger Picture

Although transitioning to 100% renewable energy is a priority in Southampton, it is just one of many concerns.

Southampton is a coastal community that lies on a sole source aquifer. Taking care of the local watershed, especially during the summer tourist season, is a big concern of Bouvier. Much of the damage has already been done, because as Bouvier says, it can take up to 50 years for past nitrogen pollution to make it through the aquifer. To protect its water (and its economy), Southampton must mitigate this “legacy” pollution and prevent further pollution.

We’re experiencing the horrors of the past.

The town has been working on the septic system in order to mitigate the nitrogen, but they have also considered using barrier beaches to “dilute the effects of nitrogen.” A system of this sort could both protect the watershed and generate electricity through tidal power. As Bouvier says, many of Southampton’s concerns are interrelated. 

Because Southampton is a coastal community, it also has the option of generating electricity through off-shore wind. Bouvier says that the town is working with a developer.

We’re trying to be as creative and open minded and have a broad reach and be ambitious in the goal. That way we have a greater chance of accomplishing that goal.

Movement Building

Throughout all of its work, Southampton has been encouraging towns outside of its jurisdiction to pass similar legislation. Since Southampton already has the in-house technical expertise to build these programs, Bouvier is happy to share that knowledge with others that need it.

I think it’s important that we have people in office or people in those positions that have an understanding of, of the technological challenges and put that into the legislation so that we can better inform other policy makers who may not have that background.

Ultimately, Bouvier hopes that Southampton can lead other municipalities by its example. He concludes the interview with this advice:

Don’t be deterred by people who are resistant to change. I think change is absolutely necessary.

Episode Notes

See these ILSR resources for more behind the story:

  • Listen to podcast episodes about Westchester Power, the first CCA in New York: a 2020 episode featuring Dan Welsh and a 2017 episode featuring Glenn Weinberg

For concrete examples of how cities can take action toward gaining more control over their clean energy future, explore ILSR’s Community Power Toolkit.

Explore local and state policies and programs that help advance clean energy goals across the country, using ILSR’s interactive Community Power Map.

This is the 18th episode of our special  Voices of 100%series, and 97th of Local Energy Rules, an ILSR podcast with Energy Democracy Director John Farrell, which shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion.

This article originally posted at ilsr.org. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter, our energy work on Facebook, or sign up to get the Energy Democracy weekly update

Featured Photo Credit: Terry Ballard via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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Maria McCoy

Maria McCoy is a research associate with the Energy Democracy Initiative. In this role, she contributes to blog posts, podcasts, video content, and interactive features.