May 31, 2006

Seeing Red Over Green Choice

Is LIPA's Green Choice program nothing more than a lot of hot air? The program asks customers to pay a little extra per kilowatt-hour in support of renewable energy sources like wind, hydroelectric, or solar power. The trouble is, as time's gone by, more ratepayers, including some East End municipalities who signed on to the program, have noticed that they're still paying increasing fuel surcharges. Additionally, according to North Fork Legislator Ed Romaine, constituents complain they were led to believe the energy they received would be "green."

Rebuking LIPA's Green Choice campaign as "misleading," last week Romaine called on the state attorney general and the Public Service Commission to investigate whether the program is nothing more than a scam.

Back in March of 2005 LIPA held a press conference to applaud East End municipalities that had signed up to purchase some, if not all, of their energy through Green Choice. At the time LIPA and Community Energy Incorporated, the company that promotes the sale of wind energy, acknowledged that the move to wind-generate power was largely symbolic. Only a fraction of the energy in the state grid is truly from renewable sources, they pointed out. The more customers signed up for the program, the more wind turbine farms could be developed, was the promise.

This week East Hampton Village Administrator Larry Cantwell allowed that the village signed an agreement to enter the Green Choice program as a "gesture" in support of a more environmentally sound energy source. Southampton Town did as well. As did Southold and Riverhead, among others. A bipartisan initiative by County Executive Steve Levy and South Fork Legislator Jay Schneiderman also led to participation in the program. The county agreed to allocate $1 million of its $20 million annual energy bill toward Green Choice participation, Schneiderman explained, adding, "I have no illusions about the program. It's about developing renewable energy sources."

While some lawmakers realized the program supports development of renewable energy sources and were willing to pay the extra cost – about $10,000 in East Hampton Village – questions have arisen about the steadily increasing fuel surcharges.

Southampton Town Supervisor Skip Heaney has been asking why for months. The total cost of electricity in Southampton Town went up 22% in the last year alone because of fuel surcharge increases. Last March the supervisor said he felt "burned" by the experience with LIPA.

Schneiderman agreed that the fuel surcharges are a cause for complaint. But, he said, an investigation isn't what is needed. What's needed is for government to remove the fuel adjustment surcharges.

No LIPA officials returned calls for comment as of press time. However, they are reportedly considering offering incentives to ratepayers who are Green Choice participants.

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