From efforts afoot in Southampton Town to enable residents to choose renewable energy when paying their electric bills and join a new community solar program, to a push in East Hampton to require new homes be all electric to changes on the horizon with LIPA’s operating structure to a just-inked agreement allowing Greenport’s municipal electric service to pay back homeowners for the electricity their solar panels contribute to the grid, there are a lot of changes on the horizon for how electricity is generated and used on the East End.

Added to this local mix are tax credits and rebates that are rolling out from the federal government, as well as the rapidly improving efficiency of new electric appliances and heating and cooling systems, which are set to dramatically change our energy future.

 Southampton Town on the brink of reviewing contracts to enable independent Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) focused on renewable energy to provide power, at a fixed rate, to electric customers within the town. 

The program, called Choice Community Power, will automatically enroll Southampton ratepayers in a program that buys electricity, at a fixed rate, from ESCOs that sell renewable energy. Residents who want to remain on their existing rate plan can opt out, but the town is hoping the program will provide cost savings to customers by locking them in at a contracted rate for a set period of time.

“It’s a consumer protective contract, designed to reduce volatility and protect against inflation,” Mike Gordon, Founder and Chief Strategist for Joule Community Power, which is partnering with the town on the program, told the Southampton Town Board at its Aug. 24 work session. “We are about expanding the renewable marked and empowering at the local level.

These types of programs, known as CCA or Community Choice Aggregation, have been in Long Island news in recent months because the Town of Brookhaven recently entered into a CCA agreement that locked in rates for natural gas. The open market price for gas declined after Brookhaven’s CCA locked in their rate, essentially locking them out of market savings. 

Southampton Councilwoman Cyndi McNamara, who is running on the Republican ticket for Town Supervisor this fall on a platform of protecting the working class, said she wants to make sure Southampton residents know they can opt out of the program.

“We now have residents in Brookhaven who are paying double what they would have paid,” she said. “A lot of seniors on fixed incomes are now paying more than they thought they would.”

Democratic Councilman John Bouvier, who has been working for years to help structure Southampton’s CCA, said the inherent volatility of the source of electricity is important, and renewable energy prices tend to be less volatile than natural gas.

More information on Southampton’s program is at choicecommunitypower.com.

Southampton is also embarking on a Community Solar Program, which will provide up to 719 low to moderate income families with a 10 percent credit on their electric bill for the next 20 years funded by  a solar array atop the capped North Sea Landfill. More information on that program is at southamptontownny.gov/1803/Community-Solar-Program.

This September, the New York State Legislature’s Commission on the Future of LIPA held four public hearings on a draft of their final report on how to structure Long Island’s electric company in the years ahead. The report is expected to be finalized by the end of November.

The commission was formed after numerous failures in the response of LIPA’s third-party contractor, PSEG-Long Island, to the wind damage and power outages caused by Tropical Storm Isaias in July of 2020.

LIPA is the only public utility in the country that contracts with a private company to manage its grid, and the commission’s report has found that ratepayers could save between $50 million and $80 million per year without a third party management system. 

The commission’s report details how to protect the unionized labor force that currently works for PSEG-Long Island under a direct management system.

Earlier drafts also recommend LIPA’s Board of Directors be elected instead of appointed by lawmakers in Albany, but the latest draft calls for board members to be appointed locally instead.

“There’s been trouble all along with that third party management system, which dates back to 1998,” said East End State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, who co-chairs the commission with State Senator Kevin Thomas, at a Sept. 20 hearing in Southampton. “Amazingly, since 1998, nobody in the country has wanted to copy what we’re doing here on Long Island.”

Mr. Thiele added that the commission was advised by its attorneys that an appointed board would be looked at more favorably by federal agencies with jurisdiction over labor protections.

New York State’s All Electric Building Law, passed this June, will require most new buildings in the state to have all-electric heating and cooling, hot water and appliances by 2026.

East Hampton’s Energy Sustainabilty Committee would like to go one step further, mandating all new construction be all-electric by January 1, 2025.

“In 2014, East Hampton Town became the first municipality in New York State to meet 100 percent of its econmy-wide electric consumption with renewable sources by 2030,” Lena Tabori of the Energy Sustainabilty Committee, told the Town Board at its Aug. 15 work session. “It’s astonishing to me that the town could be so prescient, when the rest of the world was not.” 

She urged the town to be a leader again on electrification.

Councilman David Lys said he’s heard from residents that they’re concerned that the reliance on electricity could strain the town’s electric grid.

“LIPA is prepared to handle decarbonization in Suffolk County on the scale we’re talking about, and more, through 2030,” said Energy Sustainabilty Committee member Francesca Rheannon. “The transition to heat pumps will lead to a winter peak, but far fewer people live here during the wintertime.”

She added that electric air source heat pumps are far more efficient than older electric and fossil fuel heating sources.

Mr. Lys said people still heat large homes in the winter, even if they’re not here. 

“LIPA said building electrification is expected to add less than 5 percent to the winter peak load through 2029,” said Ms. Tabori. “They have incentives for heat pumps themselves.” 

Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said he believes the town should provide answers the public’s questions about electric buildings through an education campaign to accompany any new electric building mandate.

He added that LIPA believes the South Fork Wind Farm, slated to come online at the end of this year, will provide enough electricity for the entire South Fork. He added that the town envisions using the $29 million the town expects to receive from the wind farm in Community Benefit Agreement funding over the next 25 years to offer financial incentives for residents to upgrade their home electric systems above and beyond rebates and tax credits that are rolling out from the federal and state government and the electric utility.

Greenport Village, a unique place that runs its own electric utility, also had a small victory this fall when the New York Power Authority allowed village residents with solar panels access to something other Long Island electric users have long taken for granted — net metering.

Net metering allows ratepayers with solar panels on their roofs to be paid by the utility company for electricity that they generate but don’t use, which is then sent back into the grid.

“In the next few billing cycles, customers with solar will start being credited for the excess energy they produce,” announced Village Trustee Lily Dougherty-Johnson in an Instagram post. “In the mood to celebrate small steps, small wins and progress, however slow and incremental.”

— BHY

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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