Exploring Energy Choices

The Town of Southampton could benefit from a community choice aggregation, or C.C.A., energy program like one Westchester County was first to establish in New York State. But any aggregation on Long Island would face some regulatory challenges that Westchester’s innovative program did not, according to an expert who helped Westchester launch its program in 2016. (New York is only the seventh state in the country to allow C.C.A.s.]

One major challenge is that the Long Island Power Authority, is exempt from the regulations governing C.C.A.s, which were established by the state’s Public Utilities Commission, said Glenn Weinberg, a consultant and former program director for Westchester Power, who spoke at a Sag Harbor forum on Saturday sponsored by the Southampton Democratic Club.

 

‘In the end, we need a reliable entity that’s capable of delivering enrgy that’s both greener and lower cost.’

— Bridget Fleming

 

Creating a C.C.A. would allow Southampton consumers to seek energy from sources or suppliers other than PSEG Long Island, which manages the grid on LIPA’s behalf — conceivably at better rates — and perhaps to also band together with consumers in neighboring towns, like East Hampton, to gain more leverage. LIPA would have to cooperate because energy is delivered over its transmission lines, regardless of who the supplier is.

John Bouvier, a Southampton Town councilman, has formally proposed a local law allowing the town to investigate a C.C.A., and Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming, who was in attendance Saturday, agreed that where LIPA stands on the issue is one of the many details that need to be examined.

Both lawmakers strongly support studying whether a C.C.A. would work in this region. They also are seeking more public comment on the idea. The conversation about C.C.A.s is scheduled to continue at the Southampton Town Board meeting on Jan. 22 at the Hampton Bays Senior Center, starting at 6 p.m. 

Mr. Bouvier said one reason he advocates pursuing a C.C.A. is it could give Southampton “a seat at the negotiating table” and access to data it currently can’t get. As an example, he said the town believes it has reduced energy consumption through actions already  taken, but “LIPA is telling us we’re raising our energy consumption.”

“So how do we make decisions without access to even that kind of basic information?” Mr. Bouvier asked. “Right now what happens is, it becomes almost an adversarial relationship, particularly with LIPA. And that’s a problem. So how we are taken more seriously and dealt with, that is important.”

Mr. Weinberg said Westchester’s C.C.A. had indeed delivered that kind of clout because “the county was able to go to its energy suppliers and say, ‘This is what we want,’ rather than be told ‘like it or lump it,’ which is what the old model used to be.” 

Ms. Fleming said she supports C.C.A.s as a way for East End communities to have a greater say in pursuing alternative energy and confronting challenges like the effects of climate change and reducing their carbon footprint. 

“I think C.C.A.s are an extremely exciting idea, but we have to go into it  clear eyed and do our homework,” Ms. Fleming said. “In the end, we need a reliable entity that’s capable of delivering energy that’s both greener and lower cost. That’s the goal. And we have to figure out what recipe works here on Long Island, with the complicated regulatory structure and unique challenges we have. . . . But there’s got to be some savings just by having competition introduced.”

Westchester’s example suggests that is true, Mr. Weinberg and Lynn Arthur, a  consultant and energy chairwoman of Southampton Town’s sustainability committee, said. Millions of dollars in annual savings are indeed possible here, Ms. Arthur said, and the more towns and villages that joined Southampton in a C.C.A., the more negotiating leverage the new entity could conceivably have.  

Linda James of East Hampton Town’s energy sustainability committee said the town has been studying the Westchester model since it began and is now monitoring Southampton’s efforts. But, she said, no one on the East Hampton Town Board has formally proposed pursuing a C.C.A. “We’re proceeding a bit more deliberately for now,” Ms. James said Saturday after hearing Mr. Weinberg speak.

Once a decision is made to go forward with a C.C.A., Mr. Weinberg said the next step would be appointing a C.C.A. administrator to organize the effort, identify available suppliers, and then draw up a contract and solicit bids.

Mr. Bouvier noted that adopting the Southampton law he has proposed would not commit the town to launching a C.C.A. but would only trigger deeper exploration of the idea. “I firmly believe a C.C.A. has great potential,” he said.