The projects we write about at End are often ongoing and constantly evolving — so here are a few updates on what’s happened since we last went to press.
The Future of The Guerrilla Plan for East Hampton Village
By Christopher Walsh
In last summer’s inaugural issue, Maziar Behrooz and Bruce Engel, well-known East End architects, raised eyebrows when they presented "Restoring Forward: A Vision for East Hampton Village," a dramatic re-imagining of East Hampton Village. Their self-described guerrilla plan — aimed at addressing environmental, transportation, and housing deficiencies while connecting existing and new hubs of activity — can be seen on End’s website, endmag.org. But their advocacy didn’t stop when they put the plan into print: Behrooz and Engel went on to present their findings at an End event at the Parrish Art Museum shortly before Labor Day and in a follow-up article in The East Hampton Star.
Mayor Paul F. Rickenbach Jr. called the plan “thought provoking and stimulating,” and suggested its authors present it at a work session, as well. Five weeks later, Behrooz and Engel personally made the pitch to the East Hampton Village Board, a five-member body that, when it tinkers with established ways at all, tends to emphasize peace, quiet, and continuity. Because neither the village board, nor anyone else, had commissioned them to create their vision, "it gave us an opportunity to think freely and openly," Mr. Behrooz told the board.
Barbara Borsack, a member of the board, said that the presentation coincided with changes in her own thinking about the commercial district’s future. Retail stores across the country are dying, she said, victims to online shopping. “It occurred to me that we do have to consider wastewater treatment,” she said. “In order to open Main Street and Newtown Lane to the possibility of more restaurants, which is one way to keep our village vibrant . . . we need to talk about wastewater.” Some kind of treatment facility will be necessary. That, she said, “would also enable us to encourage affordable housing over the businesses on Main Street and Newtown Lane, because septic is also an issue there. We’ve had a number of what were apartments become office space. It would be nice if we could get them to revert to some kind of affordable housing.”
In April, Mayor Rickenbach commented: "We accepted in good faith the time, energy, and effort they put into that. We listened to what they wanted to say, and they made some very good points." Bill Chaleff, an architect who advised the authors, was more bullish on the ideas put forth. "I find my life is bounded by the laws of physics, so to that degree I am a realist," he said after the presentations. "But I also find there are rules and regulations that are words on paper, and when sufficient amounts of political will are mustered and educational efforts joined with that, the conventional wisdom can change about what's appropriate, and things that have been in practice for over 100 years can suddenly shift."
The architects are continuing their unsolicited, pro bono campaign, and have welcomed input from government and the community. "We're going to take it to the next level," Mr. Behrooz said recently. "We're going to zoom in and develop details in a way that'd be understandable for the layperson. We're hoping to engage, and adapt the plan to realities that face everyone."
Inaction, he said, "has resulted in change, regardless of intention. The town has changed tremendously in the past 10 years, but not in a planned, intentional way."
Rooftop Solar: The Time is Still...Now
By Biddle Duke
A lot has changed since we last wrote about residential solar. Donald Trump has imposed his tariffs on solar panels and thrown squadrons of climate-change deniers into key government positions. But everyone who closely follows the changing economics of solar power agrees: It’s financially wise this year and next to install solar at your house.
“Do it now.” continues to be to the answer to the question, “When should I invest in solar power?”
“Anyone who lives on the South Fork should do it now,” says Lynn Arthur, a sustainable-energy consultant who works for the Town of Southampton.
Several factors are in play. The full 30-percent federal tax credit for solar installations remains in place for this year, before it begins to ratchet down. It goes to 26 percent next year and drops further after that. In addition, both South Fork towns, Southampton and East Hampton, have bulk-buy “Solarize” programs in place through this year that will cut the price of fully installed and operational systems by as much as 10 or even 15 percent for customers who sign up by October. Southampton has run its Solarize program for three of the past four years, adding hundreds of businesses and houses to the growing number that get some or all of their electricity from the sun.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to lock in soon to a solar-installation contract is the impending end to “net metering,” which is a huge incentive to switch to sun power. Basically, net metering enables home and business solar operators to use their local utility company as something of a battery backup. Here’s how: Rooftop and freestanding solar generates power during the day, the sunnier the better, providing power for the house or business. Any excess power the system generates — and often there is a lot of extra —feeds into the grid, running your meter backward.
Net metering for residential solar is expected to remain in place until December 31, 2019. Net metering for commercial customers sunsets this spring, replaced by a system that, on average, makes solar power a smart investment, but the payback is longer.
Killing net metering is a matter of survival for utilities like PSEG, which serves Long Island. It was originally set up to drive solar adoption, which is good for the environment and the planet (and your pocketbook). But to stay in business, utilities need electricity-purchasing customers, which is why many utilities across America don’t allow net metering at all. The important thing to understand is that once net metering ends on the South Fork, solar-power contracts will generally be less favorable to consumers, and therefore the incentive for almost anyone to switch diminishes.
That’s a long way of saying: Get on it.
As for President Trump’s 30-percent tariffs on imported solar panels earlier this year, so far the effect on consumers has been negligible, in part because solar panels themselves are only a fraction of the cost of new solar systems.
“Obviously, Trump’s agenda isn’t supporting the industry,” Green Logic’s Marc Cléjan says, “but he hasn’t done anything specific, except the tariffs, and even those haven’t changed anything in a significant way.”
Manufacturers are scrambling to find run-arounds to the tariffs, and some of the biggest players are considering ramping up American production. But, generally, rooftop solar costs remain low and any slight increases are due to the fact that the solar business is largely fully scaled; any significant economies have already been captured.
“The systems,” Cléjan added, “just aren't getting any cheaper anymore.”