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Critics rip into LIPA plan to alter solar power valuation

LIPA says the goal is to make sure the excess energy produced by home and business solar is properly valued so the programs last.

Justin Bell, LIPA's director of rates and regulation,

Justin Bell, LIPA's director of rates and regulation, speaks about the utility's new solar-energy pricing scheme, during a Uniondale meeting on Monday, Nov. 27, 2017. Photo Credit: Newsday / Mark Harrington

A contingent of solar-energy installers, environmentalists and a construction company on Monday criticized a LIPA proposal that would alter the current system for valuing power produced by solar and other green-energy systems, saying it would stifle growth in a market already pressured by reduced state incentives.

At hearings in Hauppauge and Uniondale to seek input on the new plan, critics were unanimous in castigating the new system, which they said adds uncertainty and complexity to a program that works just fine in its current form.

“This is a great market — don’t kill it,” urged Dennis Phayre, commercial business director at EnterSolar, a Manhattan-based solar developer. The Long Island Solar Energy Industry Association, an industry group, has launched a petition drive to oppose the program, which it says, will “negatively impact solar adoption at a time when we need to accelerate” it.

Justin Bell, LIPA’s director of rates and regulation, said the new valuation scheme is needed “to prepare for the increasing penetration of renewable energy” on the grid. “We want solar but we want it to be developed in a way that’s sustainable,” he added.

Under the current method, called net metering, excess energy produced by solar systems is banked as a credit at the full value that LIPA charges customers for energy — around 19 cents a kilowatt-hour. Under the new plan, LIPA would use a set of variables to determine the value, including the location of the solar array, its environmental benefits, and the overall value of the system in reducing demand.

Consumers with systems already installed would keep the current system, while new consumer systems installed after January would use the existing net metering plan for 20 years. The new plan would apply primarily to commercial systems installed after Jan. 1, 2018 — around 100 projects, LIPA said.

Other state utilities have already adopted the state plan, but LIPA, which isn’t subject to Public Service Commission jurisdiction, is doing so voluntarily.

Bell compared the new plan, called Value of Distributed Energy Resources, to valuing Christmas trees in January versus the higher demand months of November and December.

But the dozen or so speakers at the hearings were having none of it, saying the plan was ill-timed and ill-conceived.

“It’s going to be a bloodletting,” Jack Kulka, president of Kulka Construction, a Hauppauge construction management firm, warned LIPA officials of future hearings on the topic.

He predicted the program would result not only in the loss of employment in the 4,000-job local solar industry, but “hundreds of thousands of jobs” that would leave the Island with companies if the plan is implemented.

Charles DiStefano, director of commercial sales for Long Island Power Solutions, an installer in Islandia, told LIPA that January was “the absolute wrong time” to implement the new scheme, which he said would create a “disincentive” for new commercial installations. “It’s almost an attack on the small-scale commercial sector,” he said.

LIPA trustees will vote on the plan in late December. If approved, it would take effect in January.

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