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LI lawmakers write to Cuomo on LIPA cuts

Eight Long Island Assembly members, including some of the LIPA Reform Act's co-sponsors, sent a letter to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo late last month objecting to planned cuts in the utility's green-energy programs under new system operator PSEG.

The letter takes issue with the recently approved 2014 LIPA budget, which slices a total of $26 million from renewable energy and efficiency programs, including one that funds rebates for solar panels on consumer rooftops. The programs are highly popular and offer LIPA the benefit of offsetting energy use at peak demand times, when stress on the system is highest.

Solar-panel installers have objected to the cuts, noting that by LIPA's own estimates, the utility gets $3 of value for every dollar spent on the programs.

In the Nov. 27 letter to Cuomo, the Assembly members took issue with the cuts, which reduce the total budget to $94 million from $120 million this year, a 21 percent decline. The renewables budget alone is dropping from $30.4 million in 2013 to $11.1 million next year, a 63 percent cut, according to the budget.

"When considering the LIPA reform legislation, we expressed that maintaining LIPA's green energy programs was one of our main priorities," the letter states. "The proposed cuts in the budget are not only disappointing but are inconsistent with the commitment made during consideration of the LIPA reform legislation and, indeed, with the language of the statute."

The letter, signed by Assemb. Robert Sweeney (D-Lindenhurst), Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and Fred Thiele (I-Sag Harbor), among others, concludes, "We would appreciate this issue being addressed in a manner consistent with that commitment and the statute."

A spokesman for Cuomo declined to comment, noting that new utility manager PSEG-Long Island is responsible for that element of the budget. PSEG has said it still expects to meet demand reduction goals next year despite the cuts.

PSEG spokeswoman Karen Johnson the company is "committed to delivering the programs at a lower cost. The 2014 operating budget reduces the expenditures but strives to achieve the same goals -- all while meeting the challenges of a three-year rate freeze and some very necessary infrastructure and process improvements." She called clean energy "a priority for PSEG."

Kevin MacLeod, owner of Bay Shore solar installation company KPS Solar, said the cuts were particularly puzzling given LIPA's plan to have a new 750-megawatt power plant built in Yaphank, with $33 million budgeted just for permits and licenses next year. More solar energy, MacLeod said, could reduce the need for such a new plant, estimated to cost upward of $3 billion.

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