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Municipalities may get rebates from LIPA's plan for renewable energy, but businesses and consumers are left …

Looking for the green


BY Mark Harrington
Newsday Staff Writer

August 30, 2006

The Long Island Power Authority, responding to criticism that its Green Choice program unfairly levies a fuel surcharge on ratepayers who’ve opted to support nonfuel renewable energy, has quietly proposed a rebate to ease the burden of going green – for some.

But the rebate, as suggested to municipal governments last week, thus far doesn’t have an equivalent for consumers or businesses.

LIPA chairman Richard Kessel, in a statement last night, said the program for local governments such as Shelter Island and Southampton, which have criticized Green Choice, wasn’t finalized, despite its appearance in a LIPA brochure shown to Newsday. The brochure says rebates of 1 cent a kilowatt hour would be “capped at the lesser of 50 percent of actual payments for Green Attributes or $30,000 per municipality.” A recently released consumer brochure on Green Choice doesn’t discuss a rebate.

LIPA last night called the government brochure a “mock-up of what a brochure could look like if and when we finalize a program for municipalities. It was made up for discussion purposes only.”

Green Choice customers pay a premium each month that LIPA forwards to green-energy marketers, whose investment adds hydropower and wind power to the overall electric grid in the state – not to specific customers’ homes. Green Choice customers still pay their standard electric bill for power drawn from gas- and oil-powered plants, and the premium becomes an investment in alternative energy sources. It came under fire after some residents complained of having to pay their fuel surcharge when they believed they were buying nonfuel energy.

Shelter Island Supervisor Alfred Kilb, who attended a LIPA meeting with East End town leaders last week, said he still has a problem with the program, particularly with the idea that his town is buying green-energy “attributes,” instead of actual wind energy or hydropower, while paying fuel surcharges.

“We feel we bought green power, but LIPA seems to think we didn’t buy it per se, but attributes,” he said. “I said, ‘Let me ask you this, what are these attributes?'”

One person at the meeting with East End town leaders said LIPA also offered rebates for past Green Choice participation, including $8,000 for Southold and $2,200 for Shelter Island.

LIPA spokesman Bert Cunningham said the utility didn’t consider extending rebates to residential customers because municipalities “are purchasing [Green Choice] with taxpayers’ money on behalf of taxpayers and ratepayers.” In addition, he said, municipalities have longer-term Green Choice contracts; residential ratepayers “can opt out on 10-day notice.”

In May, Suffolk Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) said ratepayers felt “ripped off and conned” by LIPA’s Green Choice because the premium they pay over their normal bill doesn’t actually bring green energy to their homes. Yesterday, an aide to Romaine said rebates for governments aren’t enough.

“We’d like to see consumers get rebates, especially those who feel they were misled,” Romaine aide Bill Faulk said.

Romaine’s office sent letters in May to the state Public Service Commission and the state attorney general calling for a probe of LIPA’s Green Choice. Faulk said the PSC replied that it didn’t have jurisdiction over the program, and Attorney General Eliot Spitzer didn’t respond. A Spitzer spokesman didn’t return a call yesterday.

Mike McCarron, an East Islip resident who signed up for Green Choice more than a year ago, said he dropped out when he discovered earlier this year that green energy wasn’t coming to his home. Told of the possible rebates to municipalities, he said, “Our feeling is that LIPA owes us that money back” for the year-plus worth of premiums he paid for Green Choice.

LIPA’s new consumer Green Choice brochure makes clearer than in the past that ratepayers are buying “environmental attributes,” which “support the building of green electric generation for our future.” It defines an attribute as “the reduction of greenhouse gases associated with replacing old, inefficient electric generation facilities with ‘green,’ renewable resources.”

Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.