For more than a year, LIPA customers have had the benefit of knowing just how much of their monthly bills goes to efficiency and renewable-energy programs such as solar-panel rebates.

But there's one class of customers who never see the charges because they never pay them: Those with LIPA-funded solar panels.

LIPA this month confirmed that customers with solar systems that essentially cut their energy usage to zero avoid the efficiency and renewables charge entirely. LIPA rebates for the same customers frequently amount to tens of thousands of dollars for systems costing up to $70,000 for a typical household.

One reason solar customers avoid the renewables charge, said a LIPA spokeswoman, is because a state net-metering law requires that charges for the programs be based on metered usage. If customers don't use any energy, as those with large solar panel systems often do, there's no renewables and efficiency charge. The concept is to reward those who use less energy.

But one LIPA critic said law or no law, the system puts the full burden of funding money-saving solar systems on those who can't afford solar panels -- including businesses that pay much higher renewable fees because their usage is typically much higher.

"Everybody should be putting something into the kitty," said Paul Lozowsky, director of the Utility Consumer Advocacy Project, a ratepayer group in Patchogue. "I would lean toward levying the fee on everybody; that would be more money in the pot for efficiency."

Gerald Norlander, executive director of the Public Utility Law Project, an Albany group that advances programs for low-income ratepayers, said that added energy costs to achieve environmental goals place greater economic burdens on the poor. "These burdens result in termination of service and hardship every year to hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers unable to pay their bills, and the situation is likely to worsen in the future without improved programs to make energy affordable to lower income households," Norlander said.

Gordian Raacke, executive director of Renewable Energy Long Island, a green-power advocacy group that works with LIPA, said given their investments, ratepayers with solar systems deserve the break. "The people who have put their own money down to put a power plant on their rooftop in the form of solar panels, have already done what LIPA is trying to get others to do," Raacke said, adding, "I don't think it's wrong that it's charged by usage. Someone who uses three times as much as the average user will pay three times more."

LIPA has long charged customers for the renewable and energy efficiency programs. But before January 2010, those program charges were buried in the delivery charge.

Solar systems "are a benefit to the entire system," Raacke said, cutting local usage and actually supplying local power to neighborhoods they are in when they produce more than the host home needs.

LIPA rebates have funded 4,196 solar systems since 2000, according to the authority.

Brenda Parris, who has a solar system, said her most recent bill was $9.72, including a $3 jump in her fixed service charge. There is no renewables charge, just $8.88 for basic service, 11 cents for a state utility assessment, 31 cents for payments in lieu of taxes and 24 cents in sales tax. She figures she's saving $200 a month with a system that will pay for itself after seven years.

She questioned whether the lack of a renewables charge was incentive enough to make consumers rush out to get solar. "I found from talking to my neighbors that most just pay the LIPA bill. No one actually looks at it or understands it," she said.

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