Guided by the light

| 15 Feb 2012 | 08:52

Federal energy officials look to Warwick as an example of a sustainable community, By Roger Gavan Warwick — Federal energy officials were in town late last month to review the Town of Warwick’s efforts to conserve energy that were funded with a federal block grant. Representatives of the U.S. Department of Energy and the Orange County Department of Planning met with Warwick Town Supervisor Mike Sweeton, Warwick Valley School District environmental science teacher Ed Sattler, Regional Economic Community Action Program (RECAP) Assistant Program Coordinator Mike Dunleavy and Warwick solar energy contractor Pat Gallagher on July 27. The Town Hall’s solar hot water system had just been installed and Gallagher, the local installer, was on hand to explain the system and its savings to the town. Gallagher Solar was the bidder chosen for the job of installing the solar hot water heating system for the Warwick Town Hall. Warwick had received a federal grant distributed through the county and the total cost of the system was $16,000. The Town Hall has been heating water with natural gas and will now only need to use that fuel 30 per cent of the time with solar doing the remaining 70 per cent. Example of a sustainable community The group discussed ongoing local efforts to make Warwick a sustainable community and a statewide example of what can be accomplished with local effort. “The DOE was very interested in our efforts to promote Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) because of the very real potential to create local jobs and make our housing stock more comfortable, valuable and affordable with no up front costs or government programs,” Gallagher said. In areas with PACE legislation, local governments offer a bond to investors and then in turn loan the money to consumers for energy saving upgrades such as solar heating systems. The loans are repaid over a term of 15 or 20 years via an annual assessment on their property tax. Theoretically, property owners will have net gains in energy savings even with increased property tax. Gallagher explained that individual homeowners could opt into the improvement district if they see an opportunity to reduce their bills and save energy. “There are no up front costs,” he said. “It is not a government program but a municipal improvement district that anyone can decide to be part of it if it makes sense to them to reduce their overhead by opting in. And it would create local jobs in the trades, increase banking activity and jump start the cycle of local employers and employees earning and spending wages locally.” Solar hot water According to Gallagher, as fuel costs continue to rise and the demand for use of public spaces increases the savings will be substantial over the expected 30-year life of the system. “Solar hot water becomes more and more valuable with increased use so we are asking the local police to go solar and take lots of hot showers,” quipped Gallagher. He added that residential systems are generally much less and homeowners can take advantage of a 25 per cent New York State tax credit, a 30 per cent Federal tax credit and up to $4000 of rebates through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. “The net cost to home owner ends up being quite low,” said Gallagher, “and the savings pay for the balance of the system in between three and five years on average. After that solar hot water is a positive cash flow into your home.”