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Looking for Energy Answers

Thu, 12/10/2020 - 14:11

Long Island is typically second only to Hawaii in the cost of electricity, but only 5 percent of that electricity is derived from renewable sources, Suffolk Legislator Bridget Fleming, who chairs the county's community choice aggregation task force, told the Legislature's Public Works, Transportation, and Energy Committee on Monday.

With the burning of fossil fuels raising global temperatures and sea level, "it's just not acceptable to let this go on," she said.
Ms. Fleming spoke as the task force presented a report that both detailed a community choice program's purpose and recommended several steps the county could take toward its implementation, this one month after the East Hampton Town Board voted to pass legislation enabling the creation of such a program.

Community choice aggregation, or C.C.A., allows a local government to pay for electricity and/or natural gas on behalf of its residents, businesses, and municipal accounts from a provider other than the incumbent utility. A municipality enters into contracts with energy service companies for power supply purchase options within its jurisdiction. Options include power produced through 100-percent renewable sources, power produced through nonrenewable sources, or a blend. C.C.A.s can also offer additional energy efficiency, demand reduction, or bulk purchase programs to help reduce utility bills.

Cities, towns, and villages can develop community choice programs. While a county cannot, the Suffolk Legislature should nonetheless consider participating in relevant proceedings, Gordian Raacke of Renewable Energy Long Island, and Paul Pallas, administrator of Greenport Village, told the committee. The legislature should also establish "clearinghouse" web pages offering information about regional C.C.A. resources, consider offering shared services under the county's Shared Services Initiative, encourage and coordinate an intermunicipal C.C.A. and support it in an administrative role, and consider petitioning the New York State Public Service Commission to seek a determination from the Department of State as to whether counties could be enabled to authorize and form a C.C.A. and sign contracts on behalf of member municipalities.

"We don't know the answer, currently," Mr. Raacke said of the latter recommendation. "But if there was a desire, the county could seek that information."

Some C.C.A.s have successfully negotiated lower rates across the country, according to the presentation, including in Westchester County. Other municipalities, however, have been unable to achieve significant savings. C.C.A.s nonetheless typically offer greater rate stability through longer-term fixed-rate contracts.

Mr. Raacke and Mr. Pallas, who is responsible for Greenport Municipal Utilities, which selects and procures the village's power, described the potential obstacles to community choice adoption on Long Island. The Long Island Power Authority's board voted in May to adopt the Public Service Commission's 2016 order authorizing a framework for community choice, which allowed Long Island municipalities to launch a program. But LIPA requires customers to pay for on-Island power capacity under long-term LIPA contracts, limiting competitiveness.

"Virtually 100 percent of peak load on Long Island is required to be located on Long Island," Mr. Pallas told the committee. "LIPA entered into these long-term contracts in an effort to keep prices as stable as possible. It made sense at the time, maybe not so much now." This structure limits the ability of an energy service provider, and by extension a C.C.A. program, to offer competitive pricing, he said.

The billing system of PSEG Long Island, which manages the grid on LIPA's behalf, does not offer consolidated bill capability, meaning service providers would incur additional billing-related costs, Mr. Pallas added, though that "may be resolved fairly soon."

The report also includes recommendations to LIPA and PSEG. "We hope they can simplify their very complex, convoluted LI Choice tariff," Mr. Raacke said of the existing program that allows customers to buy electricity from an service provider and through which a C.C.A. would engage with the utility. LIPA should also seek a reduction of on-Island capacity cost and offer consolidated billing capability, he said. Similar recommendations have been made to the Department of Public Service and the Public Service Commission.

Community choice aggregation has the potential to be "a real power tool" for New York's municipalities, Mr. Raacke summarized, "but we still face some challenges, particularly here on Long Island, to make that tool work, and we need to keep pushing the envelope on that and make sure C.C.A. can actually deliver on the promise that it holds."

C.C.A. offers an opportunity to spur renewable-energy infrastructure and achieve price stability, if the existing, complex regulatory structure can be navigated, Ms. Fleming said. "I don't want us to feel like it's too daunting to address," she said. "We can't invite new industry, we can't keep young people on the Island, we can't allow families and small businesses to flourish if our electricity rates are as high as they are."

But neither can we allow Long Island to be inundated by rising sea level, she added. 

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