Now, It Pays to Power Down

Bruce Humenik, an energy-savings consultant working for PSEG Long Island, held up a Nest “smart” thermostat of the type now available free to homeowners who sign up for a peak power reduction program. David E. Rattray

As of this month, East Hampton and Southampton residents and businesses can sign up for free energy audits through a program sponsored by PSEG Long Island.

South Fork Peak Savers also provides free Nest “smart” thermostats and rebates for pool-pump upgrades, among other offers and services.

The goal is to reduce demand for electricity, especially in the summer months, when the South Fork population exceeds an estimated 100,000.

While the rest of Long Island’s electricity use is leveling off, on the South Fork it is a another story altogether. According to figures presented at a well-attended meeting Monday in East Hampton Town Hall, the energy need is expected to soar in East Hampton and Southampton, while demand remains unchanged or even falls in communities to the west.

When the days are hot and muggy and demand spikes, particularly on Friday and Saturday afternoons, the grid is already taxed. According to figures from PSEG, that peak need for electricity will more than double by next year and continue to rise each year through 2030. 

The utility has relied on diesel-fired mobile generators to make up the difference. However, as the amount being drawn from power lines grows over time, these polluting power sources will no longer be adequate.

Among the solutions that the utility has adopted are battery facilities in East Hampton and Montauk, at which electricity will be accumulated during low-use periods and released as residents turn up their air-conditioning on hot days.

On the generation side, advocates still promote rooftop home solar panels; previously mothballed plans for commercial arrays may soon be revived, at least in East Hampton. The big factor is the Deepwater Wind offshore-turbine project, slated to go online in 2022, which would provide enough electricity over all to meet the needs of about 50,000 houses on the East End.

Cutting individuals’ consumption is the mission of the Peak Savers program, and is part of PSEG’s strategy going forward. Free home audits can be signed up for online or by phone at 800-567-2850 or on the Long Island Green Homes website. After an initial consultation, a certified inspector will visit each property to assess conditions and make recommendations for improvement. 

Long Island Green Homes, which is affiliated with Molloy University’s Sustainability Institute, can provide information about rebates and assistance programs for low-income homeowners.

The audits are also available for commercial PSEG customers and can include free LED lighting conversion and other perks.

At Monday’s meeting at Town Hall, Bruce Humenik of Applied Energy Group in Hauppauge, which is running the demand-reduction program for PSEG, said that almost all of the energy use east of the Shinnecock Canal was residential. Of the roughly 50,000 utility customers, only about 8,000 were business accounts, and these, with very few exceptions, used relatively little electricity.

Ever-bigger vacation houses appeared to be driving the increasing call for power, he said. “This is a need for more lines or more generation. We seek to reduce demand,” he said.

The remotely programmable smart thermostats, supplied by Google’s Nest division, would be installed by trained personnel, Mr. Humenik said. They would be turned down a degree or two only when necessary for up to four hours at a time and on only 10 or fewer instances each year. 

PSEG customers who already own Nest units are eligible for a $250 rebate upon joining the demand-reduction program. There are about 6,000 Nest units already installed on the South Fork, Mr. Humenik said. 

All participating homeowners get a $25 annual bonus.

“It’s really the air-conditioning, rather than lighting, that drives up electricity demand at peak,” he said. By signing up for the smart thermostats, customers could save up to 50 percent on their electric bills under some circumstances.

Rebates of $250 for variable-speed pool pumps, up to two per property, are also available, and the program sweetens the pot with a $100 offer for licensed installers. “We’ve got to get the old ones off the street,” he said. The East End, Mr. Humenik said, has twice the number of pool pumps in operation as the rest of the Island.

Another service Applied Energy Group offers is help for commercial users in obtaining financing for upgrades. Often a project stalls because business owners do not follow through on getting an efficiency project off the ground.

“It’s a really good deal, and I hope that people take advantage,” Mr. Humenik said.

He said the home audits were off to a great start, particularly in Montauk, thanks to word of mouth.