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Brookhaven wants to be able seek cheaper supplier of electricity

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine at Brookhaven

Brookhaven Town Supervisor Edward P. Romaine at Brookhaven Town Hall in Farmingville on Monday, Sept. 30, 2019. Credit: Randee Daddona

Brookhaven Town is taking LIPA to task for being a “stumbling block” to a program that would allow towns and villages to explore securing their own, cheaper supplier for electricity, while criticizing the utility's latest rate increase as "unjustified."

In letters to LIPA and legislators this week, Brookhaven Supervisor Edward Romaine is turning up the volume on his previous request that LIPA follow state law and approve changes to its rules to allow a program called community choice aggregation.

The program allows local governments to hire competitive power suppliers at presumably cheaper costs, but requires a green light from utilities to coordinate billing, customer data, security and rates. Customers would still use the LIPA grid for delivery of the power and receive a single bill from PSEG Long Island. Southampton Town is exploring a similar program, and Hempstead is considering one for its gas supply.

“The problem is we don’t have the LIPA tariff,” Romaine said Wednesday, referring to the LIPA rule change that would permit such programs. Brookhaven has up to 193,384 LIPA/PSEG ratepayers who would be automatically converted to the new supplier should the town move forward with its plan, unless customers opt out. LIPA has 1.1 million customers. 

LIPA, in a statement, said its officials “met with Brookhaven on March 5, 2019 and discussed various options to assist them in meeting their clean energy goals." 

It continued, “LIPA is ready to work with the town in exploring the programs and options that would be of assistance to them.” Asked if that meant the utility would specifically explore a community choice tariff, a spokesman said, “Yes, LIPA will consider tariff changes for Community Choice Aggregation or CCA alternatives on Long Island.”

Southampton Town has sent a similar formal request to LIPA, asking that the utility start the process for a tariff change, said Frank Zappone, deputy supervisor. The town has already selected an administrator for its community choice program.

Zappone said the town has met with LIPA to request the rule change in the past, to no avail.

“I would say they’ve been sort of passive in their response verbally, saying, ‘We’ll do what we can to help you,’ but I haven’t seen any actions that would stand behind that characterization,” Zappone said. There are 49,563 LIPA ratepayers in Southampton, including some in villages that would have to pass their own enabling legislation to be eligible for the new supplier.

Zappone said that with the town's own formal request letter to LIPA this week, “The cat’s out of the bag.” If LIPA doesn’t act, “the town board would have to review what additional steps we might avail ourselves of that might make LIPA move in a positive direction.”

Community choice programs are permitted at utilities across the state after an order by the Public Service Commission in 2016. But LIPA isn’t under PSC jurisdiction and hasn’t approved one, Romaine noted.

He’s sent letters to state legislators in the district asking for their help in forcing LIPA to approve a rule change.

At the same time, Romaine said he plans next week to request a new state law that would require LIPA to receive a formal state review of all rate increases regardless of their size. LIPA is currently seeking a 2.45 percent rate increase for 2020 that is below the formal 2.5 percent trigger for a state review. Romaine called the 2.45 percent increase “artificial.”

“We don’t believe there is justification for the rate increase at all,” he said.

LIPA, in response, said, “Fuel costs are expected to keep customer bills flat while we continue to invest in reliability, storm resiliency, clean energy, and energy efficiency.”

Meantime, Hempstead Town had been scheduled to vote on a contractor community choice administrator for gas supply for 174,000 town residents, but the Republican-controlled town board tabled the proposal on Tuesday. The town has also explored community choice for its 267,966 electric customers, outgoing supervisor Laura Gillen said. 

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