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A Better Electric Plan for Long Island

by Scott Carlin
February 27, 2008

The world faces an unprecedented energy crisis. There is an urgent need to slash regional fossil fuel consumption – year after year, for decades to come. LIPA needs to stop forecasting annual increases in energy consumption and start leading the region toward annual reductions in energy demand. This will require significant and momentous shifts in Long Island’s energy policies.

AddThis Social Bookmark ButtonIn 2007, Gov. Spitzer outlined a new energy plan for New York focused “on energy efficiency, conservation, and investment in renewable energy sources as the keys to achieving economic and environmental goals.” Spitzer’s new energy plan calls for reducing state-wide electric consumption below current levels by 2015. New York ’s renewable portfolio standards call for increasing renewable electricity to 25% of state consumption by 2013. Long Island currently lacks a plan to meet these goals and standards.

For now, utilities, private investors, and energy corporations continue to promote energy consumption and growth. LIPA’s $3.7 billion annual budget for 2008 includes $2 billion for fuel and debt service on $4 billion in Shoreham debt. National Grid paid almost $12 billion for Keyspan. That translates into more debt and gives Wall Street more control over LIPA and regional planning. The current system is organized around energy consumption, not conservation. The mantra remains growth – more consumption, larger power plants, and new regional supplies of energy.

Our goal must be a complete overhaul of Long Island ’s electric infrastructure.

LIPA is currently controlled by Albany . The Governor, Senate Majority Leader, and Speaker of the Assembly appoint nine, three, and three members respectively to serve on LIPA’s 15-member Board of Trustees.

· A 2002 report by the Sustainable Energy Alliance (SEA) recommended replacing the LIPA Board with one elected by Long Island citizens.

· That report also recommended that NY State establish a LIPA Citizen Advisory and Oversight Committee.

LIPA should hold public hearings as part of its planning process to investigate what the region would gain and lose from these recommended structural changes.

Today, our energy system is moving quickly away from local democratic accountability. National Grid is headquartered in London . Multinational corporations are pursuing regional Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) initiatives. Contrary to industry claims, LNG is a significant contributor to greenhouse gases. LNG is more energy intensive and more environmentally damaging than natural gas.

To plan for the future, Long Island should implement the following:

  1. Develop an aggressive energy efficiency campaign. We should aim to reduce total electric demand by a minimum of 25% by 2040. LIPA has ignored the SEA proposal to offer a rate rebate to households that use 15% to 20% less electricity than they used in the previous year, similar to California PG&E’s “20/20 rebate.” In 2002, SEA also advocated reducing regional energy demand 10% by 2010. Now is the time to revisit these proposals.

  1. Set aggressive renewable energy objectives. In his new book, Winning Our Energy Independence, S. David Freeman advocates: 20% renewables by 2017; 40% by 2027; 60% by 2037. Long Island should aim for 60% by 2040. To prepare for that future, we need to clear away existing institutional barriers that impede renewable installations. The region needs improved financial incentives and a simplified approval process in town halls.

In 2002, SEA advocated a goal of 10% renewable energy by 2010. LIPA’s aborted offshore wind initiative would not have met this goal, but was at least a serious effort to expand renewables on Long Island . Reaching Freeman’s targets will be a serious challenge for a region as averse to change as Long Island .

  1. Cut system-wide fossil fuel MW production. We should replace today’s inefficient plants with high efficiency generators. Total electric energy demanded can drop by 25% through improvements in system efficiencies by 2040. In 2002, LIPA sold 18,815,722 MWH of electricity (relying upon 5,000 MW of system capacity). A 25% reduction yields 3,750 MW of future system capacity. 60% should be produced from renewable energy. That leaves 1,500 MW of production from fossil fuels. At most, we should plan for 2,500 MW of fossil fuel capacity – half of today’s needs. We should not build or repower beyond that capacity.

National and regional initiatives exist to support innovation on LI.

· The Apollo Alliance advocates a ten point plan for jobs and energy independence. Its action items include: high performance buildings, energy efficient appliances, modernizing electrical infrastructure, renewable energy development, and improvements in transportation and urban design.

· Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institution have advocated “negawatts” for a generation. This idea has yet to find fertile ground here in New York . But California , North Carolina , and others are experimenting with this powerful model for downsizing energy budgets. Thomas Friedman (New York Times) profiled the work of Duke Energy “save-a-watt” program last summer. RMI has pioneered other programs to dramatically cut fossil fuel consumption.

· Newsday profiled the new McKinsey report (Dec 5, 2007) on effective ways to cut energy consumption without harming the economy. LIPA needs to move on those recommendations that reduce fossil fuel consumption and improve environmental quality. Long Island will need financial assistance from government, but LIPA must lead the process with its own plan.

· Reconnect Long Island to NYSERDA. This state-wide program has many resources, yet Long Islanders cannot tap into the program. Remove the legal roadblocks.

· LIPA needs to move forward rapidly with a solar energy commercial net metering program.

· S. David Freeman is a credible electric utility insider with experiences in NY, CA, and elsewhere. In his new book, Winning Our Energy Independence he proposes national renewable standards of 20% by 2017; 40% by 2027; and 60% by 2037. Explore the potential for these transformations here on Long Island .

· Scientists at Princeton University use a wedge model to illustrate the multiple ways that cities and regions can think about cutting their carbon footprint. Bring those scientists to Long Island , explore its value as a planning and visioning tool.

· How will a carbon credit markets (RGGI, national markets) help accelerate regional conservation and energy efficiencies? How is the region preparing for this new era?

· The Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnership (NEEP) estimates that aggregate energy demand can safely be reduced by 1.38% per year, in their 2005 report Economically Achievable Energy Efficiency Potential in New England. Furthermore, “energy efficiency is 67 percent cheaper than the cost of electric power supply.” Therefore investments in energy efficiency ought to precede investments in new generating plants.

In conclusion, LIPA’s creation was brokered by a series of political compromises in 1986 for fairly limited ends, namely the conversion of privately held debt into municipal bonds with lower interest rates. This public authority is a creature of financial markets. What Long Island needs is a bona fide public authority that champions a new vision of energy supply and usage on Long Island – conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy.

Today, Long Island wastes too much energy on lavish lifestyles reminiscent of America ’s Gilded Era. The waste and conspicuous consumption of that era has now expanded to a much larger, and even more affluent, population. On the production side, we are too reliant upon private corporations and the military to secure foreign oil and natural gas supplies. The result is a world is out of balance – a planet in peril. LIPA has a responsibility to help Long Island build a sustainable 21st century built upon renewable energy.

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