Suffolk County may soon incentivize energy-efficient upgrades

Neal Lewis (second from right) presents a proposed county Climate Action Plan at Tuesday's meeting. (Credit: Paul Squire)
Neal Lewis (second from right) presents a proposed county Climate Action Plan at Tuesday’s meeting. (Credit: Paul Squire)

In an effort to curb greenhouse gas emissions, Suffolk County is hoping an incentive for business and homeowners to improve their buildings will help spur upgrades on outdated structures.

A low-cost, long-term financing program to help cover the costs of those upgrades was pitched on Monday as a means to help finance them.

The money would be available through Energize NY Financing, a nonprofit organization funded by state and federal grants that would encourage business owners to make repairs and improvements to the county’s aging commercial buildings.

The proposed funding program was included in a 95-page Climate Action Plan presented to the county legislature’s Public Works, Transportation and Energy committee at its meeting Tuesday afternoon.

The report has been in the works for two years, and mostly covered the past successes of the County in becoming more energy efficient with its facilities.

“I think this is a good news report,” said Neal Lewis, Executive Director of the Sustainability Institute at Molloy College and an author of the climate action plan.

The report — which would serve as a guideline for the Legislature if adopted next week — suggested further efficiency upgrades, SUCH AS better heating systems and LED lights.

Mr. Lewis said Suffolk County is among the most progressive counties in the state when it comes to energy efficiency concerns. But while the county-owned buildings are in decent shape, Mr. Lewis said the commercially-owned buildings within the county need work.

Business owners currently spend about $35 billion in energy costs each year, but $10 billion could be saved — and less energy used by power plants within the county — if the properties had more efficient heating and cooling systems or lighting, he said.

“The biggest elephant in the room is the commercial building stock,” Mr. Lewis said. “It’s old and it’s wasting a lot of money.”

Mr. Lewis suggested the Energize NY Financing would be an ideal solution.

Under the program, up to 100 percent of upgrade costs to commercial buildings would be covered by low interest loans. The funds could also be used for residential buildings owned by companies, like apartment housing.

The owner would pay back the loan at a low interest rate — between 3.5 and 6 percent — which would be added to their tax bill.

Mr. Lewis said paying for the total cost of the upgrades would help businesses keep a “positive cash flow,” since they’ll see immediate savings that will outweigh the cost of the loan payments.

The county would be required to cover those payments if the property owner failed to pay their taxes, he added. There would be no fee to join the program.

After the meeting, Legislator Al Krupski said he would support adopting the financing plan.

“It sounds like a great idea,” he said. “There isn’t really [a downside].”

The legislature’s Environment, Planning and Agriculture Committee accepted the plan at its meeting earlier in the day on Monday. It will now go in front of the full legislature for review.

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