East Hampton Food Pantry Gets a Solar Boost and Cuts its Energy Bills in Half

While GreenLogic's Anthony McNamee and Daniel Volkomer (background) finish the East Hampton Food Pantry rooftop solar installation, the team on the ground includes, from left, Food Pantry board member Sarah Amaden, GreenLogic's Marc Clejan, pantry director Gabrielle Scarpaci, GreenLogic's system designer Vaughan Cutillo and pantry board chair Kathryn Byrnes.

The East Hampton Food Pantry, which has seen the population it serves balloon in recent years, got a needed boost to its bottom line this summer when local energy company GreenLogic donated an array of solar panels. The system will cut the pantry’s monthly energy bills in half–a savings that will mean it can serve more families each week.

Southampton-based GreenLogic has recently developed a reputation for high-profile projects with food and wine businesses. The firm has installed panels at the Southfork Kitchen in Bridgehampton and at other restaurants, as well as a wind turbine at McCall Vineyards, a turbine and solar panels at Shinn Estate Vineyards, and a just-approved 100 kilowatt turbine at Pindar vineyards that will be the largest on Long Island. (GreenLogic turns on one new system a day on Long Island, primarily for homeowners in Suffolk County and large building projects closer to New York City.)

The food pantry, which has been serving East Hampton for three decades, uses electricity mostly to power its refrigerators and freezers, as well as lighting, office equipment, and air conditioning in its community room, which on one particular day in August had about a dozen people preparing bags, helping to clean the pantry and simply enjoying the chilled space with neighbors on a sweltering day.

GreenLogic donates one system a year to charity; former donations have included a solar system for the Childrens Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton and solar power for the extensive deer fencing at Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett. It selected the pantry because, if recent trends continue, the pantry will be serving many more people in coming years. The pantry provides food each year to 45,000 locals, a four fold increase in just the last two years, and nearly a tenfold increase in the last decade. Each week, during the summer, it sees 170 families, a number that grows to 500 familes in the winter, including 1000 children. “People who used to donate to us are now coming here for food,” including a former realtor, said pantry executive director Gabrielle Scarpaci. “That gives you an idea that people are falling on hard times.” It was recently reported that some students at the Springs School were arriving regularly with without breakfast and lunch.

The 8.3 kilowatt system (meaning it generates about 8300 watts when the sun is shining on it, enough to power 166 50 watt light bulbs) had a retail price of more than $46,000, of which GreenLogic donated roughly $20,000, and the Long Island Power Authority donated $22,700. “LIPA is proud to provide assistance to the East Hampton Food Pantry through our Solar Pioneer Program,” said LIPA Chief Operating Officer Michael D. Hervey. “Long Island’s food pantries fill an important need, providing emergency food and support to Long Islanders.” The pantry contributed nearly $4000, which will be paid back in about two years.

“All the money we save can go to straight to food,” said Scarpaci. The pantry provides its clients with a weekly “staples” bag, worth roughly $50, that contains canned foods, pasta, toilet paper, dairy, fruit and vegetables. On Mondays, a corps of volunteers sort, wash, prepare and package the food and groceries. Families and individuals come to the pantry to pick up on Tuesdays. In the winter, the pantry offers soup in the community room, and people come to warm up and eat.

Like other food pantries on the East End, and around the nation, the East Hampton pantry has been confronted in recent years by both a rise in food costs and increased people coming through its doors. The pantry receive substantial amounts of food from Long Island Cares and LI Harvest,  as well as significant food donations from nearby restaurants, bakeries, caterers and event organizers. They recently received excess food left over after the Wounded Warriors ride. EECO Farm on Long Lane grows a sizable plot of vegetables dedicated to the pantry. And the Lions Club donates local venison cuts. The pantry also spends more than $200,000 on food each year, a budget it raises mostly from private donations.

In contrast to the pantry’s annual fundraising, the solar system will endure. “For years,” says Sarah Amaden, a pantry board member who helped broker the deal with GreenLogic. (Her husband’s firm, Amaden Gay Agenceis, currently has the largest commercial solar system in East Hampton.) “We have started calling it the gift that keeps on giving.”

Such maturing benefits are a big part of the appeal for most solar investments, said Marc Clejan, GreenLogic founder and presdient, who lives in East Hampton. “If you write a check, you’ve contributed, but you’re done. This helps every year. In fact, it’s going to get better every year. Because every year energy prices go up.” Clejan estimated the savings at $100,000 over the life of the system (assuming a conservative average annual increase in LIPA rates of 6.5%, which is actually below the historic average), and nearly $2000 a year. The pantry gets to pass on the energy savings to its clients. And Greenlogic ends up helping to build the audience of people who know that a rooftop can generate energy, or a wind turbine can power a vineyard. (There’s even talk of a followup project. an actual windmill for “Windmill Village,” the housing community off Springs Fireplace Road where the pantry is located.)

As GreenLogic’s Vaughan Cutillo, a Montauk resident who designed the system, briefed several pantry board members, Anthony McNamee and Daniel Volkomer paced the barn roof where the two long rows of panels were being installed. They painstakingly doublechecked every connection, synched down any excess wire, and made sure all the panels were centered and square to the roof. “You don’t want to miss any small details that might become a problem in a decade or so,” said Clejan. “This system is going to be working for the pantry for the next 30 years.”