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Long IslandPolitics

Funding questions raised over LIPA clean energy effort

As LIPA trustees Thursday unanimously approved the appointment of a new chief financial officer, new questions are being raised about funding for the authority's Clean Energy Initiative, this time by an advocacy group once contracted by LIPA to promote elements of the $357 million program. The board approved Herb Hogue, formerly chief financial officer of Seattle City Light, to succeed Elizabeth McCarthy as LIPA's finance chief. He joins LIPA as the authority institutes spending reforms and grapples with wildly fluctuating fuel costs. LIPA Thursday instituted a 3.2 percent bill reduction, the second largest in its history, citing lower natural gas prices. LIPA didn't rule out further cuts, or the need to increase its delivery charge, in the future. Critics have questioned the 10-year-old Clean Energy program, which effectively ended in 2008. LIPA chief Kevin Law has already requested two separate audits of the program, which funded research projects such as fuel cells, solar panel installations and incentives to reduce home energy consumption. In a March 13 letter to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, the Neighborhood Network, an environmental and civic group, took aim at two programs for which it suggested LIPA got little bang for the combined $18 million it spent during the five years they were in effect. The letter cites LIPA financial disclosures in noting the authority spent $8.62 million between 2002 and 2007 on a program called Home Performance with Energy Star, which provided energy efficiency improvements to just 114 existing homes. Neighborhood Network noted that the average value of the improvements made by Energy Star contractors was $6,771, yet LIPA paid an average of $75,614 per home to get those results. The letter stated that a related Energy Star Labeled Homes program did somewhat better, costing an average $18,708 per home while reaching some 511 residences, at a total calculated program cost of $9.5 million. Neal Lewis, co-author of the letter stressed that the letter wasn't meant to allege improprieties. Law, in a letter to DiNapoli Thursday, reiterated his support for an audit of the program, including use of Clean Energy funds for charitable donations, sponsorships and contracts, "such as those provided to Neighborhood Network."

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