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Local Politician Lights the Way for Solar and Sustainability

Raina Russo and Steve Bellone, solar conferenceWhen I attended the Long Island Sustainability Conference, I was treated to a bright surprise! I read that Suffolk County legislator and former Babylon Town Supervisor Steve Bellone would give the keynote address, but it wasn’t until I saw him behind the podium that I realized exactly who he is… Without hesitation, I can say Steve’s work with sustainability, renewable energy and positive change was one of the driving forces behind the launch of EcoOutfitters.

Solar energy has become a political show-horse in the U.S. Some politicians who appear to be in support of solar seem to do it more for the photo op than out of a true desire to help provide free, clean renewable energy for their constituents.

There are some, however, who do the right thing for the right reason, and Bellone is one of them. His creativity and motivation has led him to pioneer programs like Long Island Green Homes, the first Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) efficiency program in the U.S. He’s been named by the International Council on Local Environmental Initiatives as one of eight leaders driving green issues in the U.S.

He does it because it’s the right thing to do, and, in my observation, he does the right things. He spends money allocated for green improvements in a smart and practical way; PACE is the prime (but not the only) example.

Under PACE programs, municipalities issue bonds to help pay for energy efficient or renewable energy retrofits. In the Long Island program, homeowners pay back the loan through their LIPA bill; since energy improvements bring homeowners’ electric bills down, they can pay the loan back with no additional out-of-pocket expenses. More than 1 percent of homes in Babylon have taken advantage of the program as of December 2011, and homeowners participating in the program have saved an average of $1,000 annually, while the program creates local jobs and contributes to the local economy.

Bellone raised the bar on a national level by pioneering PACE, paid it forward locally, and encouraged Babylon town residents to continue down the “green road,” making it easy for them to do so. The success of Babylon Green Homes shows that whatever your economic status, you can live sustainably. Eco-conscious measures like gardening, composting, weatherstripping for energy efficiency, and, of course, solar panels, save money after a small upfront investment.

As we waited patiently to speak to Steve about voting for the New York Solar Jobs Act, one of his constituents approached him … a young college student concerned about the environment. She offered Steve her resume in hopes of applying for an internship, and spoke a bit about how his work in Babylon had inspired her to a career in public service. His attentiveness actually evoked tears and, as I looked on, I couldn’t help but get emotional, too.

When it was my turn to speak, I tried to convey to Steve, in just a few words, what an inspiration his passion and enthusiasm had been. Here is the supervisor of just one town out of hundreds of Long Island communities, making a difference locally and nationally with creativity and outside-the-box thinking.

The New York Solar Jobs Act may not have passed, but I’m still proud to live in an area that values our environment. If one person can make a difference in a region of 1.5 million people, I know that EcoOutfitters, with our expanded reach thanks to the internet, can help simplify and amplify the solar message to save people across America money while they’re also saving the planet.

Readers, we’d love to hear from you: Who’s been your inspiration when it comes to green living?

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For Raina Brett Russo, taking care of the environment is a necessity, not an option. Having grown up in Israel, a place where conservation is required and solar hot water heating is the norm, Raina knows the importance of solar energy. Through her work with the EcoOutfitters.net team, Raina found a way to help grow the solar industry in a significant way. As the founder and host of #SolarChat, a bi-monthly "gathering" on Twitter, Raina and her team have created an engaged solar think-tank community that comes together regularly for collaboration and networking with the ultimate goal in mind of spreading the solar message.

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