Energy policy

the Town of Brookhaven, along with the New York State Office of the Medicaid Inspector General found a Southampton taxi company was not licensed to operate in the town.TBR News Media file photo

The Town of Brookhaven outlined the first steps toward creating a program that could lower gas and electric rates for homeowners at a public hearing Oct. 3. 

Town officials are considering creating a Community Choice Aggregation or CCA, which is an energy program that allows local governments to buy electricity and gas on behalf of its residents.

In a presentation to the Town Board, Matt Miner, town chief of operations, outlined how the program could be beneficial to residents. 

Essentially, CCA is a municipal energy procurement model that replaces the utility companies as the default supplier. It can be used for either gas or electricity.  

“The suppliers, National Grid and PSEG, would still be responsible for energy delivery and billing,” Miner said. “The advantages of a CCA is pooling those demands and allow us to negotiate lower rates for residents.”

The town chief of operations added it would allow Brookhaven to pursue other clean energy programs. 

The next step in the program would be for the town to begin to work with its eight villages to see if they wanted to participate in the CCA. From there, the town would seek to appoint a program administrator. 

“[The] CCA administrator would then seek bids from energy services companies to obtain competitive rates for residents on behalf of the town,” Miner said. “They would be responsible with creating a data projection and implementation plan.”

CCA is an opt-out program, so residents are not bound by a contract and can go back to their original supplier if they chose to do so. 

The CCA program was created by the New York State Public Service Commission in April 2016. Westchester was the first New York county, through the Sustainable Westchester consortium, to launch the CCA program under Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). If successful, Brookhaven will join more than 50 municipalities in the state to enact legislation to begin a CCA including the towns of Hempstead and Southampton on Long Island. 

Miner said if the bids and rates aren’t competitive then the town doesn’t have to move forward with the program. 

“I want to be clear, this only goes forward if we can save all the residents and businesses in Brookhaven money” 

– Supervisor Ed Romaine

The town would first pursue competitive rates for gas and then would move on to electricity. According to town officials it could take about a year to implement the program. Bid contracts could last from two to four years.  

George Hoffman, a vice president of the Three Village Civic Association, said at the public hearing he supports the town’s initiative to adopt the CCA and believes it moves them closer to clean energy.

“It’s about time we started to take back some local control over our energy future,” he said. “We all thought then, when LIPA was created, we would be starting to get back some of our local control of our energy policy, but that was taken away by Albany. I think this a good start in taking back our energy future.”

 

Birds are known as indicator species: they tell us if things are alright in the ecosystem. Photo above: A male rose-breasted grosbeak rests in a tulip tree. Photo by Luci Betti-Nash

A new study in the Sept. 20 issue of Science has found that in the United States and Canada bird populations have fallen a staggering 29 percent since 1970.

Such a dramatic drop has scientists concerned that the decline could be a sign of an ecosystem collapse. Habitat loss is considered a prime culprit. 

Huntington resident Coby Klein understands the big picture. He’s an ecology professor at Baruch College and a guide with the Huntington-Oyster Bay Audubon Society.

“If the arctic continues to become warmer and drier, it will cause larger and more frequent fires,” he said. “Fires kill birds and destroy nesting habitats and drive down populations of sandpipers, gulls, terns, waterfowl and birds of prey that migrate through or winter on Long Island.”

The best thing people can do, if you really have an interest in protecting birds and the environment, he said, is to vote.

Otherwise, the Audubon Society is committed to transforming communities back into places where birds flourish. Sterile lawns, ornamental species, pesticides and herbicides mean that on a local level, the landscape no longer supports functioning ecosystems.

Klein himself said that he lives on a postage-stamp-sized lot and the only native plant that thrives in his yard is poison ivy. But he notes that the Audubon Society is sponsoring a campaign called Creating Bird-Friendly Communities. The program is designed to educate the public on what they can do to help reverse the damage done and revive disappearing bird populations.

Growing native plants is a key component to re-establishing the ecological functions of cities and towns, according to the society and its experts. And they say the concept is easier on the back and wallet.

To flourish, birds need (a) plenty of food, (b) shelter where they can rest, (c) clean water to drink and bath in and (d) safe places to raise their young. Native plants and the insects that co-evolved around them are vital to a healthy system. The more native plants, the Audubon emphasizes, the more food and shelter. More bugs, caterpillars and seed pods on more public and private land is part of the solution.

The Audubon’s Native Plants Database, which is on its website, suggests plants according to ZIP code. The choices were hand-selected by local experts and include information about the birds and creatures it benefits. Serviceberry, for example, is recommended for Long Island’s North Shore communities. The small, shrublike tree with dense branching produces white flowers in the spring followed by red, purple or black berries. It attracts butterflies and caterpillars, as well as warblers and woodpeckers and about nine other types of birds. The database can be a good first place to explore landscape options.

The Long Island Native Plant Initiative’s website is another good resource. The local nonprofit gathers wild seeds and makes  native plants commercially available. It also grows and sells the native plant species to local nurseries to increase availability. Polly Weigand, the executive director, recommends requesting native plants from your favorite garden center to increase demand. It’s goal is to reach more businesses in the nursery industry. Once people get into the habit of  providing suitable habitats, birds become less vulnerable and are potentially more capable of adapting to climate conditions, according to the Audubon.

Native gardens, experts agree, are also relatively maintenance free and require little to no special irrigation system or fertilizers or toxic chemicals.  So, it saves time and money and is a  healthier option for people in the long run.

This fall consider practicing less drastic and costly yard cleanup. The Audubon recommends leaving the seed heads of perennials in the garden and skipping the raking. Leaf litter, they say, is free fertilizer, and a good place for birds to forage for worms and other critters. If tree limbs fall, they say, consider building a brush pile that will provide birds with shelter from the wind and predators. Branches settle and decompose over the seasons and make room for the next year’s contributions.

Plant asters and woody shrubs like bayberry and winterberry this fall.  The waxy fruit of bayberry provides an important source of energy to migrating birds. Evergreens, too, like cedars, firs and holly, provide shelter and something for birds to eat in winter. In general, milkweed, goldenrod and sunflowers are important plants for the rest of the year.

“When you plant native species in your home landscapes it’s a protective way of ensuring that invasive ornamental species seeds don’t spread and dominate the rest of Long Island’s landscape,” said Weigand.  

Overall, the objective is to lose some lawn, or create pathways through it, and create habitat layers. Tall canopy trees produce nuts and provide nest cavities for shelter. Shrubs and small trees throw fruit for bird food and herbaceous plants supply seeds and a habitat for pollinators. Decaying leaves produce the base of all habitats. It also happens to be where moth pupae live, a favorite food of baby birds.

Start small, the Audubon states, and cluster plants in groupings of five or more of the same species. Pollinators, they say, prefer to feed from masses of the same flower. And remember to include a birdbath or hollowed out rock where rainwater collects, so birds have a supply of fresh water.

In the end, you’ve created a backyard sanctuary and a sure method for healthy, sustainable living. 

Paule Pachter stands on the roof of the Harry Chapin Food Bank in front of a community solar array that will energize households facing hardships.

Long Island Cares — one of Long Island’s well-known charitable institutions — is completing the installation of solar panels on the 35,000 square-foot roof of its headquarters at Long Island Innovation Park at Hauppauge.

The $414,000 project is expected to generate 350,000 kilowatt hours of renewable energy annually and 100 percent of it will be directed off-site to serve the electrical needs of households experiencing hardship and food insecurity. Long Island Cares is paying for system out of its reserves and available funds in its budget. 

“This solar project represents a direct extension of the humanitarian work of Long Island Cares,” said Paule Pachter, the organization’s CEO. “Part of Long Island Cares’ energy focuses on providing emergency food relief to hungry and food insecure Long Islanders through the Harry Chapin Regional Food Bank. But we also engage in direct service programs that address the humanitarian human needs of veterans, seniors, immigrants and others struggling with economic and social challenges.” 

The project is one of the first initiatives that are expected to help the industrial park meet by 2040 New York State’s ambitious goal of converting to 100 percent renewable energy. 

The power pass along is facilitated through an energy management practice called “community solar,” whereby electricity generated by a solar power installation is shared by multiple households, companies or institutions. It’s an initiative of the Hauppauge Industrial Association, a prominent Long Island business group, and its solar task force, which was launched last year.

Co-chairs Scott Maskin, CEO of SUNation Solar Systems, one of Long Island’s largest installers of solar panels and equipment, and Jack Kulka, president and founder of Kulka LLC, a major development and construction firm, are behind the initiative. 

“By taking the entire energy output of our solar installation and sending it off-site to provide discounted power to homes occupied by our lower-income neighbors, these households will have new found income to address some of their immediate needs,” Maskin said. “As such, it has a unique opportunity to bring forward both technology and value in a substantial way. From an energy perspective, the park can act as a responsible, shining example for all of Long Island.” 

Long Island Innovation Park, formerly known as the Hauppauge Industrial Park, is the second largest industrial center in the United States after California’s Silicon Valley, and the largest in the Northeast corridor. The park is recognized as a major driver of the region’s economy and is a focus of the regional development plan of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). 

“Through the successful embrace of this program,” Maskin added, “our park can distinguish itself as Long Island’s single largest energy producer, delivering revenue to its building owners while helping achieve New York State’s renewable energy goals. It’s a win-win all around.” 

The Long Island Cares project is expecting to be up and running in October, but Pachter said that the project has recently encountered several obstacles.

“When PSEG inspected our site, they said that the transformer needs to be changed and wiring upgraded to handle the energy,” he said. 

Maskin said in a telephone interview that the issues are relatively common and protection equipment upgrades are something that will need be addressed as the industrial park  expands its renewable projects. The transformer, he noted, will be covered by a maintenance agreement it has for this specific project.  The additional $11,000 wiring cost, Pachter said, will be the responsibility of L.I. Cares.

“We are building a power plant on the rooftop,” Maskin said. “If you think of the complexity of it all, delays are to be expected. We’re still pushing to have the system up and running in October.”

Pachter said that the construction phase has been underway for the last few months. 

PSEGLI representative Elizabeth Flagler said that Community Distributed Generation makes renewable energy, particularly solar, more accessible to renters and apartment dwellers. The array, she said, is connected to the grid and managed by a host who serves as a liaison with PSEGLI. The pass through is accomplished through accounting, rather than through wiring a system to beneficiaries. 

The project is the first community solar project in the industrial complex.

Northport power plant. File photo

At the Long Island Power Authority’s July 24 board meeting, Larry Kelly, a trial attorney, described at a public comment session how LIPA in 2006 and 2007 instituted what he called “the largest tax fraud” he’s seen in his 35 years as a lawyer, according to Huntington Town councilman, Eugene Cook (R).

Cook has independently asked New York State’s Public Service Commission Chairman John Rhodes in a letter dated Aug. 6 to review and “forcibly address” the issues. 

According to Cook, Kelly alleged that LIPA used the tax system to extend tax exemptions and reductions to Caithness power plant, which was awarded a contract to build a new 350-megawatt power plant in Yaphank, and then used those low taxes to argue in court that National Grid’s four aging power plants on Long Island were overassessed.

“I also request the PSC review LIPA’s ‘unclean hands’ in the Northport filings, and the impact that should have on LIPA’s continued operations,” Cook’s four-page letter concluded. The letter was sent on a town letterhead, but was not signed by other town board members, the supervisor or the town attorney.  

Councilman Eugene Cook

The term “unclean hands” is a legal defense which essentially references a legal doctrine that states a plaintiff is unable to pursue tax equity through the courts if the plaintiff has acted unethically in relation to the subject of its complaint. 

The allegations are surfacing just weeks after closing arguments were presented July 30 in LIPA’s tax certiorari case with the Town of Huntington for the year 2014. It is unclear how the allegation could potentially impact the outcome of the case as post-trial deliberations continue. The unclean hands defense was not part of the town’s defense, according to the Town Attorney Nick Ciappetta, who offered no public comment on the allegations.  

Kelly, a Bayport resident who ran for a New York State Supreme Court judgeship in the 2018 election, is unaffiliated with Huntington’s case, but said his obligation as a trial lawyer is to act as a steward of the law. 

LIPA did not respond to email requests for comment on the public allegations. 

A LIPA press release dated Jan. 25, 2006, stated that the Caithness plant in Yaphank would include a $139 million payment in lieu of taxes agreement with $100 million over 20 years going to Bellport’s South Country school district. 

LIPA’s 2019 Property Tax Reduction pamphlet, which is publicly available and published on its website, highlights the value of Caithness plant in contrast to the Port Jefferson, Northport and three other plants. On page 14 of the report, LIPA stated that in 2016 Caithness paid $9.7 million annually in taxes, while the Northport plant paid “eight times” as much in taxes, or $81 million, and Port Jefferson paid “three times” as much in taxes, or $33 million.  

The report also stated on page 14 that LIPA reimburses National Grid under its contract more than it earns in power revenue, a sum that factors in property taxes. 

“Those losses, the amount by which costs exceed the value of power, are paid by all 1.1 million electric customers,” the report said. It indicated that LIPA’s goal for filing tax challenges in 2010 against Nassau County, the Town of Huntington, the Town of Brookhaven and the Village of Port Jefferson “in an attempt to obtain a fair tax assessment on the four legacy plants.” 

In a telephone interview, Kelly referred to a Feb. 15, 2012 meeting with the Town of Brookhaven Industrial Development Agency, which recorded a Caithness representative explaining that “LIPA pays the PILOT to Caithness who then makes the PILOT payment to the IDA, and then they get a check back from New York State which is then returned to LIPA.” 

The minutes further stated, “This is the only power plant on Long Island that the ratepayers are not paying any real property taxes net out of pocket for the first 10 years, resulting in a saving of $80 million.” 

Kelly and Cook, in presenting the allegations publicly and to the commission, claimed that Bellport’s school district, South Country, which Cook said in his letter is comprised of 40 percent minority populations, were shortchanged tax revenue that could have funded school programs. Representatives from the South Country school district did not respond to email and telephone inquiries about their tax revenue from Caithness. 

The Public Service Commission has said that it has received and is reviewing the letter from Cook. It offered no other response to questions related to its potential response.