New York's Public Libraries Going Green

Public libraries across New York State have increasingly been investing in photovoltaic solar technology and geothermal heating and cooling systems for their continuing energy needs.  A number of these libraries have taken advantage of the Public Library Construction Grant Program by submitting applications for matching grants up to 50% of project costs while getting rebates through the NYS Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) for the remaining installation costs.  It’s a win-win situation all around. 

In 2009-2010, the New York State Library awarded 10 libraries a total of $556,036 to install alternative energy resources in the form of solar panels or geothermal wells.  The libraries include the Broome County Public Library (Four County Library System); Town of Esopus Library, New Lebanon Library, and Saugerties Public Library (Mid-Hudson Library System); Waterville Public Library (Mid-York Library System); Bethpage Public Library and Long Beach Public Library (Nassau Library System); Highland Falls Library and Tomkins Cove Public Library (Ramapo Catskill Library System); and Longwood Public Library (Suffolk Cooperative Library System). 

With the exception of New Lebanon Library and Saugerties Public Library, both of which received awards to install geothermal heating and cooling systems, the remaining 9 libraries will be installing photovoltaic solar panels.  Generally, the panels will be installed on rooftops.  In the case of Waterville Public Library, the panels will be ground-mounted since the existing roof is unable to support the weight of the solar array installation.  

Libraries receiving awards through the Public Library Construction Grant Program are required, as per NYS Education Law 273-a and Commissioner’s Regulation 90.12, to begin construction within 180 days of award announcement.  Official announcements of 2009-2010 awards were made on March 16, 2010.  Libraries have 3 years to complete their projects.  For projects funded in 2009-2010, the final completion date is June 30, 2012.

Since 2007-2008, a total of $1,717,414 has been awarded for 24 projects involving the installation of alternative energy resources.  Some of the projects involve new library buildings or buildings with substantial additions, but many are for existing buildings with no physical expansions involved.  

Ramapo Catskill Library System's solar panels; click for a larger versionThe Ramapo Catskill Library System (photo at right), located in Middletown, Ulster County, launched its solar photovoltaic system, mounted on a reinforced roof, in October 2008.  According to Robert Hubsher, System Director, “During the first twelve months of operation, we generated about 22% of electrical requirements from the photovoltaic system and saved $7,604.”

New Berlin Library, located in Chenango County and a member of the Four County Library System, completed its solar photovoltaic panel installation in May 2009.  In the first 7 months of operation, the library saved $2,173 on its electric bill.  The dollars saved have been used to purchase books for their collection.  Darlene LaBrie, Library Director, said, “We are very pleased with the results of this endeavor and intend to keep on the go green track by changing out lighting fixtures and hot water equipment.”

Located southwest of Syracuse, the Marcellus Free Library, a member of the Onondaga County Public Library System, recently constructed a new 11,000 square foot library.  The new library was constructed utilizing many green building strategies that demonstrated the community’s commitment to environmental stewardship and received a “Silver” ranking in the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building ranking system.  The green features in the building include a geothermal heating and cooling system that draws it’s energy from the earth, solar photovoltaic panels that generate electricity, extra insulation, super efficient lighting fixtures, a daylight harvesting system that automatically dims the lights when it is sunny out, operable windows for free cooling on mild days and fresh air, plumbing fixtures that use very little water, carpet and other finishes with low Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and many materials that were sourced as close to the project as possible or contained recycled compounds.  The solar panels were added and came on-line about 1 year after the initial opening of the library.  Prior to the solar panel installation in May 2009, energy bills (electricity only, there is no gas or fossil fuels running to the library) for the building were running about $1,000 per month, or $1.10 per square foot per year.  The super energy efficient library was operating 59% more efficiently than a typical building.  Once the solar panels were installed, during the peak months, the panels generated roughly one quarter of electricity used, saving the library $200-$300 more per month.

In northern Clinton County in the Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System, the Peru Free Library completed installation of rooftop solar panels in August 2009.  According to Becky Pace, Library Director, the panels are generating 60% of the library’s electrical needs.  She anticipates that once they can sell back unused energy on the days they are closed, and once they complete retrofitting the obsolete, overhead fluorescent light fixtures, the payback will reach 100%. 

Orchard Park Library's solar panels; click for a larger imageIn western New York’s Erie County, Orchard Park Public Library (photo at left), a member of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library System, completed installation of rooftop solar panels in November 2009.  While it is still too early to document energy production and cost savings from the panels, Library Director Dawn Peters said that substantial savings of almost $22,000 can be attributable to other energy efficiency initiatives undertaken by the library and funded through the Construction Grant Program.  These initiatives include new windows, new lighting, new boilers, and new doors.   Since 2007-2008, the NYSL has awarded more than $11 million to libraries throughout the state for energy efficiency upgrades to existing library buildings.

Libraries are focused not only on reaping significant savings on their energy bills.  As community resources, they are spreading the word locally about the positive effects of alternative energy resources.  The Ramapo Catskill Library System building is visible from the road.   In addition to serving as an example to libraries interested in alternative energy possibilities, they are drawing curiosity from others as well.  Four different individuals, all business people from the local community who drove past the building and noticed the panels, stopped and had a tour of the facility.  One was from a local golf club looking into the possibility of converting to electric golf carts using solar photovoltaic to charge the carts.  The others were local businessmen exploring the possibility of adding solar panels to their buildings to generate electricity. 

Peru Free Library’s Director, Becky Pace, is working with the Board of nearby Chazy Public Library, “relating my experience and the [Public Library Construction Grant Program] process, answering lots of questions and encouraging them along.”   The Chazy Public Library’s Board is hoping to apply for funding from the 2010-2011 Construction Grant Program for the purpose of renovating and restoring an historic building that was recently bequeathed to them.

Marcellus Library's solar panels; click to enlargeThe Marcellus Free Library (photo at right) is hoping to use the library as an educational tool for the public, explaining the energy savings and environmental benefits built in.  One of their goals is to have a multimedia kiosk display where a patron could view, in real time, the various systems and how they are performing as well as learn about other unique green building features.

Marc Horowitz, Director of the North Babylon Public Library in Suffolk County on Long Island, is a firm believer in the power of alternative energy resources.  Estimating that the library saved, on average, between $500 and $1,500 a month on energy costs during the first six months after installing a solar photovoltaic system, he stressed what he considers to be the bottom line.  “Installing a PV system was the right thing to do!  Not only will the library benefit this year, but every year forward.  We’ve taken an unused portion of the building (the roof) and taken advantage of the sun.  Becoming “green” was not difficult and the savings will become significant over the life of the system.  In addition, we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and our footprint.  Everyone benefits.”

Everyone benefits. 

More information on the Public Library Construction Grant Program | Information about NYSERDA incentivesexternal link opens in a new window

Last Updated: June 30, 2014 -- asm; for more information, contact Lynne Webb