Times of Middle Country

From left, Dr. Eric Cioe Peña, Dr. Anas Sawas, Abit Soylu, Amen Alhadi, Dr. Onat Akin, the Consul General of the Republic of Turkey Reyhan Ozgur, Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling, and Dr. Banu Aygun stand next to medical supplies earmarked for Turkey and Syria. Photo courtesy of Northwell Health

Standing with medical providers of Turkish and Syrian descent, Michael J. Dowling, Northwell Health’s president and CEO, announced on March 3 that the health system is sending 22 pallets of needed medical and disaster relief supplies to the devastated regions after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on February 6 that claimed more than 48,000 lives and left millions displaced.

With Reyhan Ozgur, Consul General of the Republic of Turkey, on hand at Northwell’s Integrated Distribution Center in Bethpage, this announcement comes a day shy of the one-year anniversary of Northwell sending humanitarian relief supplies in support of health providers in Ukraine at the start of a war waged by Russian forces. 

“We’re all part of one global family,” said Dowling. “And when there’s one part of the family in severe distress, we as a health care organization have to be concerned about people in other parts of the world.”

As with Ukraine relief, Northwell is working with longstanding partner Medshare to transport supplies from New York into the affected regions. In addition, Northwell’s Center for Global Health (CGH) is networking with local leaders on the ground to fund relief efforts where they’ll make the greatest impact.

“We are gathering specialized supplies that are difficult to procure locally, things like dialysis kits, trauma supplies that are now already strained in Europe because of the war in Ukraine,” said Eric Cioe Peña, MD, director of the CGH, who’s helping spearhead these efforts.

After the shock

Disaster relief efforts in Turkey and Syria have been continually plagued by high-magnitude aftershocks in already devastated areas, with the most recent 5.6 magnitude on Feb. 27, compounding the crisis.

Northwell has once again aligned with international relief partners, such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) — more commonly known in the U.S. as Doctors Without Borders — to provide direct medical care to survivors and people in need of basic care. The Northwell Health Turkey-Syria relief fund was also created to bring direct equitable financial support to the disaster areas.

This was welcomed news to Abit Soylu, a paramedic with Northwell’s Center for Emergency Medical Services, whose family lives in Turkey. Soylu lost his cousin and her son when their home collapsed in the initial quake.

“It’s hard for me because I’m not there and I’m heartbroken here not being able to help them,” he said. “It took five days for them to find them in the rubble.”

Mr. Soylu was joined by Amen Alhadi, a flight paramedic with Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) who has family in Syria and Anas Sawas, MD, an emergency medicine physician at Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson, who spoke about the limited humanitarian access into Syria from the civil war, now strained by the earthquake.

Also at the event were Onat Akin, MD, a Northwell pathologist with family in Turkey, and Banu Aygun MD, a pediatric oncologist at Cohen Children’s Medical Center. The two discussed the medical risks children face in that region due to the lack of access to care and clean water. Scabies and cholera can spread quickly and other illness from lack of vaccinations.

“Aside from losing their homes, their schools, their friends, some of them are unfortunately orphans,” Dr. Aygun said. “The physical scars are very big, but the psychological scars are much deeper.”

“We’re a culturally dynamic health system,” Dr. Cioe Peña said. “Like in Ukraine, working with MSF and our teammates that hail from these regions will help us build sustainable relationships to get materials and funds to the right place and care for more people.” 

Disaster 24/7 on-call: 

In the weeks that followed the invasion of Ukraine, Northwell Health deployed its integrated telehealth service to provide 24/7 assistance to health care providers to consult and offer guidance on civilian and military patient care. The program has provided more than 350 consults to clinicians caring for patients of blast injury and gunfire, to women with perinatal care needs and patients awaiting organ transplant.

Northwell looks to deploy this same strategy in Turkey and Syria and offer 24/7 access to complement medical care there. “When we launched this program, we quickly realized that using this as a peer-to-peer platform offered the most benefit and impact to the medical community in Ukraine,” said Dr. Cioe Peña.

“We have an obligation and responsibility. It’s part of the culture of Northwell: Any time anyone is in trouble — whether it’s domestic or overseas — we do our best to help,” added Dowling. “If we have the ability and the resources to help — and we obviously have the will — then we should help. That’s why we’re in the health care business. … It’s something we’ve always done, it’s something we always do.”

To donate and support the Northwell Health CGH Turkey/Relief fund visit: https://support.northwell.edu/center-for-global-health

From left, George Eli, Stefan Pallotta and Brooke Morabito star in 'Tape' at Suffolk County Community College in Selden through March 19. Photo by Julianne Mosher/TBR News Media

By Julianne Mosher

The stage at Suffolk County Community College’s Ammerman Campus in Selden transforms this week into a basic motel room set in Lansing, Michigan. 

From the moment the lights dim, we are brought back to the glory days of three friends from high school who haven’t seen each other in a decade. But instead of a happy reunion, things turn dark, secrets are spilled, and the plot thickens with a conversation that is just as important now as it was nearly 25 years ago – sexual assault. 

Tape is a 1999 play written by Stephen Belber, first produced at the Actors Theatre of Louisville as part of the 2000 Humana Festival of New American Plays. In 2001, it became a film, starring Ethan Hawke, Robert Sean Leonard and Uma Thurman. 

From left, George Eli, Brooke Morabito and Stefan Pallotta star in ‘Tape’ at Suffolk County Community College in Selden through March 19. Photo by Julianne Mosher/TBR News Media

Directed by Steven Lantz-Gefroh, the three-character ensemble piece is set within the confines of a tawdry motor lodge in Michigan. After 10 years apart, three former friends (and lovers) come together to play out the unresolved drama of their final days in high school. 

Intrigued, the audience watches through the one-act play as layers of denial are slowly peeled away. Suspense builds as each character is provoked into revealing his or her true nature and motivation — full of plot twists. Mesmerized, we are drawn into their lives as they choose which cards to play and which cards to hold.

Starring SCCC students Stefan Pallotta (as Vince, a drug dealing volunteer firefighter), George Eli (as Jon, a filmmaker who is the reason the former friends are in the same room), and Brooke Morabito (Amy, the girl in the middle and a local assistant district attorney), the three on stage together collaborate so well that watchers can see, and feel, the emotion in front of them. 

Pallotta’s quick witted responses (and stellar dance moves) show promise for his future — he’s graduating this upcoming semester to study acting. The audience deeply empathizes with Morabito, who plays a victim of assault, as she performs her tale of that night and how she overcame it so well that viewers are left speechless. As a graduating senior, as well, she too has a bright future ahead. 

Eli’s performance of antagonist of the story is so impressive, it’s hard to dislike his character. This performance of Tape is so good, you’ll forget that you’re sitting inside a college theater.

Lantz-Gefroh said that although the play was written almost three decades ago, the topic is still important today — and that is why people should come see it this weekend.

“We have come no distance with this subject matter in over 30 years,” he said. “[This show] helps people realize the mistakes they’ve made in their lives that they need to fix — if they can.”

Morabito said that playing Amy was a cathartic experience for herself.

“Amy is the character that speaks for all the victims of sexual assault who get to see this play and she enacts revenge,” she explained. “She gets to close the door on what happened that night and what happened in the motel room, and leave it all behind.”

Eli added he was grateful to perform alongside Pallotta and Morabito for an important cause.

Tape spreads a lot of awareness and shows us that anyone can be a victim or anyone can be an aggressor,” he said. 

Tape continues on March 16, 17 and 18 at 7:30 p.m., and March 19 at 2 p.m. at Theatre 119 in the Islip Arts Building at the Suffolk County Community College’s Ammerman Campus, 533 College Road, Selden. Rated R for mature content. 

Theater continues at SCCC Selden with William Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors from April 13 to 23.

General admission is $14, veterans and students 16 years of age or younger is $10. Suffolk students with a current ID receive one free ticket. For tickets, call 631-451-4163.

Julianne Mosher is an adjunct professor at Suffolk County Community College and a 2013 graduate of the school.

METRO photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Generally, we don’t need distractions. We’re distracted enough, what with our electronic devices allowing us to check the weather in Albany during a storm, the latest trends on social media, the minute-to-minute value of our investments, and the world of sports news and scores.

And yet, there are those times when we desperately need a distraction. Our boss, for example, might ask about a project for which we’ve done almost no work and that we promised to work on last week, but that we didn’t get to because we were, well, distracted by other things.

Everyone likely has their own bag of go-to distractions that they turn to in moments when they need to deflect or distract someone just long enough for a meeting to end, a temper tantrum to subside, or an anxiety to abate.

I often start with almost factual information. By getting a sensational and exciting story almost correct, I trigger people to check their own phones to see if they can prove me wrong about some detail that isn’t as important as recognizing some bigger problem, like not getting an assignment done.

This phone check also tends to pull people’s minds into their electronic devices, where they might see text messages that need attention, a picture of their dog that reminds them of an upcoming trip to the vet, or some other big news that will divert their attention away from my almost factual statement and whatever other subject I’m trying to avoid.

Then, there’s always passion. I’m a generally level-headed person who stays calm, even when discussing subjects that are near and dear to me. Dialing up the passion, like changing the decibel level in a soft song with a message, can be distracting and effective. “I can’t believe the spectacular sportsmanship that women’s softball team displayed when they carried the player from the other team around the infield so she could touch all the bases after she fell. I’m so inspired.”

That, of course, also encourages people to dive back into their phones. Most of the time, that is effective unless the phone reminds them of whatever I’m trying to avoid, in which case, I turn to other methods.

Reverently appreciating silence is also an effective method. It’s the slow-down-so-we-can-think moment. Staring off into the distance, putting up a finger as if I’m coming up with some great idea, and then thanking that person for giving me that time can often alter the trajectory of a meeting.

Once the silence ends, I slowly offer an awed appreciation for the value of time and space, an admiration for nature, or anything else that suggests a depth that counterbalances my ineffective presentation.

Poignant anecdotes or even effective and dramatic metaphors, if given the opportunity to share them, can also suggest that I’m capable of deep thoughts, even if I haven’t had any related to the incomplete assignment.

Then, of course, there’s the Socratic method. Someone asks me something about an assignment, and I lean into it, asking a wide range of questions about the assignment, its direction, our target audience, and opportunities to build on it.

The answers to those questions sometimes reveal more about the expectations.

I never pretend to have a stomachache. I know people do that, but I get stomachaches often enough that I wouldn’t even pretend to have one, lest my system decided to oblige me and turn my charade into an afternoon of discomfort.

In a pinch, I metaphorically beat up on myself, suggesting how I could have done better on this and that I am disappointed in the pace at which I’m completing this project. It’s hard to beat up on someone who has already accepted responsibility and is eager to make amends.

Have you seen Ashley? Photo from SCPD

UPDATE: Ashley Leonardi, 17, of Centereach, who was reported missing on March 12, has returned home and is unharmed.

Below is the original press release.

Suffolk County Police Sixth Squad detectives are seeking the public’s help to locate a Centereach teen who was reported missing on March 12.

Ashley Leonardi, 17, was last seen leaving her residence on Belwyn Lane, on March 11 at approximately 4:30 p.m. Leonardi is Caucasian, 5 feet one inches tall, 125 pounds with blue eyes, blonde and black hair. She was last seen wearing a black sweatshirt, tan sweatpants and white sneakers.

Detectives are asking anyone with information on her location to call 911 or the Sixth Squad at 631- 854-8652.

Have you seen this boy? Photo from SCPD

UPDATE: Mertcan Cakmak, the 12-year-old boy who was reported missing on March 13, was located on
March 15 in the Bronx with the assistance of officers from the NYPD’s 46th Precinct. Cakmak was found

Below is the original release.

Suffolk County Police Sixth Squad detectives are seeking the public’s help to locate a Farmingville boy who was reported missing early this morning (March 13).

Mertcan Cakmak left his home, located on Waverly Ave., on a bicycle sometime overnight and is possibly attempting to go to the Bronx. He was reported missing by a family member at approximately 5:45 a.m. Mertcan, 12, is white, 5 feet 5 inches tall, approximately 150 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes. He was last seen wearing ripped jeans and a dark-color hooded sweatshirt. He has braces and a scar above his eye.

Detectives are asking anyone with information on Cakmak’s location to call the Sixth Squad at 631- 854-8652 or 911.

Dr. Allison McComiskey is one of 18 women who will be honored at the March 23rd event. Photo from BNL

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine has announced the recipients of the 2023 Women’s Recognition Awards who will be honored at the 37th annual Women’s Recognition Night.

The event, which will be held on Thursday, March 23 at Brookhaven Town Hall, 1 Independence Hill, Farmingville at 6 p.m., is sponsored by the Town’s Office of Women’s Services.

Nominated by members of the community, the winners either live or work in the Town of Brookhaven and have demonstrated excellence in a variety of areas. Nominations were considered by members of Brookhaven Women’s Advisory Board and selected based on resumes and letters of recommendation. The 2023 Women’s Recognition Award winners are:

Business: Indu Kaur, resident of Port Jefferson Station

Communications/ Media: Edna J. White, resident of Coram

Community Service Professional: Tijuana Fulford, resident of Mastic Beach

Community Service Volunteer: Joyce A. Bourne, resident of Middle Island

Community Service Volunteer: Erin Dueñas, resident of Sound Beach

Education: Dr. Stephanie Engelmann, resident of Port Jefferson

Health Care Provider: Christina Kocis CNM, DNP, FACNM, Stony Brook Medicine

Law Enforcement: Candice Berezny, Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office

Legal Profession: Melissa Negrin-Wiener, resident of Port Jefferson

Medicine: Ramona Rajapaske, MD, resident of Port Jefferson

Religion: Kara Bocchino, resident of Centereach

Science: Dr. Allison McComiskey, resident of Port Jefferson

This year, the Supervisor, and the members of the Town Board each nominated a woman who resides in the Town to receive a Special Commendation for Outstanding Service. They are:

Supervisor Edward P. Romaine & Deputy Supervisor Daniel J. Panico: Miriam Gillies, resident of Center Moriches
Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich: Dr. Mei Lin “Ete” Chan, Stony Brook University
Councilman Michael A. Loguercio: Lorraine Kuehn, resident of Bellport
Councilwoman Jane Bonner: Jennifer Carlson, resident of Rocky Point
Councilman Neil Foley: Carol A. Seitz-Cusack, resident of Patchogue
Town Clerk Kevin J. LaValle: Patricia Oakes-Poggi, resident of Centereach

The Town of Brookhaven’s Office of Women’s Services, a Division of the Department of General Services, provides a variety of services for women and their families. For more information about the 37th Annual Women’s Recognition Awards Ceremony, please call 631-451-6146 or visit www.brookhavenny.gov.

Daylight Saving Time. METRO photo

Get ready to lose an hour of sleep, but gain an extra hour of daylight! Daylight Saving Time begins at 2 a.m. on Sunday, March 12. That’s when you’ll move your clocks forward by one hour and “spring forward.” The event is also a good time to change the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Daylight Saving Time ends on Nov. 5 this year.

The U.N.’s High Seas Treaty aims to reduce pollution, protect biodiversity and share ocean resources. Stock photo

Determined, passionate and committed representatives to the United Nations, including the United States, spent over 20 years trying to hammer out an agreement to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.

This past Saturday, after extending a deadline, representatives of 193 countries in New York verbally agreed to terms of a High Seas Treaty designed to reduce pollution, protect biodiversity and share ocean resources.

While individual countries still have to ratify the treaty, scientists like Ellen Pikitch, endowed professor of Ocean Conservation Science and executive director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, praised the agreement.

“It’s fantastic,” Pikitch said. “It’s been needed for so long.”

Lisa Speer, a marine scientist and the director of the International Oceans Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, has been working to educate and encourage government leaders to understand what’s at stake and how to protect the oceans.

“This is a big step forward for biodiversity conservation on a global level,” said Speer. “This provides me with a lot of encouragement.”

In addition to the educational and advocacy work she did over the years, Speer spent much of the last 36 hours at the U.N. surrounded by others who had slept on the floor or in various rooms and hallways amid the effort to get this treaty across the finish line.

“Everybody was really emotional,” she said, with spontaneous applause and cheers continuing for a long period of time. “A lot of us have been here since the beginning. There were celebratory hugs and thanks and tears of joy for the efforts of so many people” including some who were not in the room but had worked for decades on this treaty.

The view of the importance of biodiversity in the oceans has changed considerably over the last few decades.

“For most of human history, the high seas have been viewed as an empty wasteland,” Speer said. Now, however, people recognize that it’s “probably the largest reserve of biodiversity left on the planet.”

This treaty, Pikitch and Speer added, can and should help ensure that humans can explore and discover some of that biodiversity before it might otherwise disappear.

Speer is hopeful that United States senators, who will have a chance to vote on the treaty, recognize that the country has “a very strong interest in making sure it has a voice in decisions affecting half the planet. It’s in our interest to be full participants in that process.”

Pikitch, who is an expert in the field of Marine Protected Areas, suggested that the process of coming up with a framework to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by the end of the decade involved considerable back and forth with various interest groups within each country.

“It’s not that easy to determine how this area would be managed,” Pikitch said. Various groups have “concerns that differ among different parts of the global community.”

Pikitch pointed out that a Convention on Biological Diversity late last year agreed that the world would protect 30% of the lands and waters by 2030.

Pikitch said such a goal was unattainable without this High Seas Treaty, which addressed the parts of the ocean that had previously been off limits to such protections.

The treaty and the establishment of marine protected areas will be “huge for biodiversity,” Pikitch said.

Piktich suggested that the commitment over two decades and the increasing public awareness of the importance of ocean resources offers her hope that this treaty, for which numerous details are still in the works, will offer effective protection.

“There’s a huge amount of passion and commitment by countries of the world to work this out,” she said. “They did not give up.”

Pixabay photo

Community choice aggregation, a revolution in energy procurement, is making a splash throughout Long Island.

Starting in May, the Town of Brookhaven will launch a CCA program, contracting with Manhattan-based Good Energy LLC for a fixed rate for natural gas consumers over the next two years.

In an interview, Town of Brookhaven Councilmember Jonathan Kornreich (D-Stony Brook) explained how the program would operate. Under the longstanding method of natural gas delivery in the town, National Grid — based in the U.K. and northeastern U.S. — purchases the supply and delivers the gas. CCA alters this dynamic.

“CCA is just a method of purchasing a commodity on a communitywide basis,” he said. Under the program, “all of the customers of National Grid in a certain area are getting together to say, ‘We’re going to jointly purchase fuel cooperatively from a different source.’”

That source, Good Energy, has agreed to supply gas at a fixed price of 69.5 cents per therm. “That locks in the price for all customers” for two years, the councilmember said. 

National Grid, which still operates the delivery systems, will continue to bill customers for those services. The only section of the bill affected by the changes will be for energy supply.

An August report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration states that the natural gas market saw record volatility last year due to demand changes, storms and geopolitical unrest. 

Given the many variables that contribute to fluctuations in gas prices, Kornreich suggested Brookhaven homeowners and businesses would be less beholden to the volatility of the market under CCA. “We’re going to pay just one price for the next two years,” he said. 

The town is also hedging that the market price of natural gas will rise over the next two years. If that happens, CCA will deliver discounted gas to Brookhaven ratepayers throughout the contracted period.

“The expectation that I have, as given to me by the corporate representatives with whom I met, is that there’s going to be a savings to the customers,” Kornreich said. “My hope is that this price is competitive over a two-year period.” 

He added, “Based on the models that they’ve shown me, this price will — over the long term — on average be lower than what they would have paid if they had just rode that market price.”

CCA: An energy revolution

‘A CCA can play a role in helping the residents to have more negotiation power.’ ­

— Gang He

Community choice aggregation first came about in the 1990s as a model of procuring energy whereby a municipality can pool the buying power of its residents to negotiate favorable energy contracts.

Gang He is an assistant professor in the Department of Technology and Society at Stony Brook University, whose research focuses on energy and climate policy. 

The assistant professor regarded the traditional relationship between energy consumers and suppliers as heavily skewed in favor of suppliers, referring to consumer protections under CCA as correcting the power imbalance.

“When utilities deal with residents, residents have no power,” Gang He said. “It’s a monopoly, and it’s heavily regulated by regulators. A CCA can play a role in helping the residents to have more negotiation power.”

Paul Fenn, founder and president of the Massachusetts-based CCA firm Local Power, drafted some of the original enabling legislation for CCA in Massachusetts, California and throughout the U.S. In an interview, he traced the history of CCA.

Fenn said vertically integrated investor-owned utilities have historically operated as monopolies and cartels, given their guaranteed rates of return by state regulators and energy market deregulation. CCA, he said, seeks to rectify this.

“The basic definition is that CCA is a model of energy supply that is neither a monopoly nor a cartel,” he said.

He likened the energy model to Costco. “The reason that large users achieve cheaper services is like going to Costco,” he said. “If you’re buying 200 rolls of toilet paper instead of 20, you pay a lower price.”

CCA applies this framework to the energy supply, giving the small consumer the perks of a bulk purchaser by pooling the buying power of entire communities. 

“It’s a way for small users … to gain the economic buying power enjoyed by the largest corporations,” he said, adding, “The aggregations are designed to deliver the benefits to the user and not to the supplier.”

Two factors, according to Fenn, have contributed to the rise of CCA nationwide. On the one hand, the economic model has been tailored and perfected to benefit individual users over large suppliers. On the other hand, renewable technologies have progressed to the point where they are now competitive with fossil fuels. 

Fenn characterized CCA as a revolution for capitalizing on the convergence of cheap renewable energy and consumer protections for utility power.

‘Community choice aggregation programs can be a great tool for getting community solar built, paid for and delivered to people.’ ­

— Anne Reynolds

Promoting renewables

Anne Reynolds is executive director of Alliance for Clean Energy New York, a group of private companies and nonprofits partnering to expand green energy opportunities throughout New York state. Reynolds indicated that CCA could be interpreted in two ways — as an economic model or as a way to promote green energy.

CCA “can be purely an economics choice,” she said. “You can think of it as a collective buying co-op,” but “most of the examples in New York state are when the community also wants to get a renewable energy product.”

Reynolds stated that CCA is not the main objective of ACE NY as CCA “hasn’t been the primary way that renewable energy products are getting built in New York, which is what we focus on,” she said.

Her organization instead emphasizes the construction of large-scale, grid-connected renewable energy projects through long-term contracts with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

Under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, the state must procure 70% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030 and 100% by 2050. When asked whether CCAs offer a pathway toward a greener future in New York, Reynolds responded that there must be a mix of large-scale and small-scale projects.

“To get there, we’re going to need an unprecedented construction of renewable energy projects — offshore wind, wind, solar, batteries,” she said. “To get that done, these projects need to have a guaranteed market for their power, what they refer to as offtake agreements.”

She added, “Having those offtake agreements with the State of New York is one way to do it. Having the offtake agreements with communities in New York is another.”

One way CCA can promote new development in renewables, Reynolds said, is through community distributed generation, often referred to as community solar. 

“Community choice aggregation programs can be a great tool for getting community solar built, paid for and delivered to people,” she said. “For the state to meet its goals, and for Long Island especially, it’s going to require a little bit of everything.”

The Southampton model

Brookhaven is not the only municipality in Suffolk County implementing CCA. In the neighboring Town of Southampton, local officials are exploring a different posture, with an energy plan geared toward electricity instead of natural gas.

Lynn Arthur is the energy chair of Southampton’s volunteer sustainability committee and the founder of the nonprofit Peak Power Long Island, a consultancy group that services municipalities and their constituents on renewable energy technologies.

Arthur said there are currently two CCA administrators operating on Long Island, Good Energy and Bedford Hills-based Joule Community Power, Southampton’s CCA administrator. She notes that the difference in administrators has placed the two municipalities on separate trajectories.

In Southampton, the Town Board is working toward obtaining electricity from 100% renewable energy sources by 2025. Arthur said that goal is coming into focus.

“It’s only natural that we would try to get a power supply contract for 100% renewables for electricity,” she said.

To meet this task, Arthur suggested CCA would play a pivotal role. She is now advocating for the Southampton Town Board to submit a request for proposal to supply electricity from 100% renewable sources.

Brookhaven vs. Southampton

Weighing Brookhaven’s CCA against Southampton’s, former New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) suggested that Southampton has the upper hand.

“I think Southampton’s model is the better one,” he said. “Electricity is the future. We should be moving away from natural gas.”

But, he added, “to the extent that the Town of Brookhaven can get started with [CCA] is promising. I think the inevitable success of what Southampton is doing will compel their next-door neighbor, Brookhaven,” to follow suit.

Despite Brookhaven’s gas-exclusive CCA, Fenn did not say that gas aggregation was inherently brown and electricity aggregation green. Rather, he said promoting renewables through CCA is a matter of how a program is implemented.

He objected, however, to the limited scope of Brookhaven’s CCA initiative. “This program is defined narrowly as a discount-only program, and I think that’s not a particularly good idea,” he said. “It’s hard to argue against stabilizing people’s rates, but it won’t help the environment if that’s all they’re doing, and it may hurt it.”

Creating competition

‘I like the idea of moving away from monolithic energy sourcing.’ ­

— Steve Englebright

Fenn regarded municipalities as sometimes prone to short-term thinking. While gas aggregation is a step toward unshackling ratepayers from the market’s volatility, he said it is incomplete.

Instead, he advised Brookhaven leaders to explore fuel switching, that is, transitioning residents from natural gas to electricity. The heat pump, for example, constitutes one way in which a home’s heating can be fulfilled by electric power instead of gas.

“Apart from the climate crisis, which says stop burning this stuff, there are so many reasons” to transition off fossil fuels, Fenn said. By fuel switching, “you’re adding electrical load when you do that, but you’re deleting gas demand.”

By creating a separate program for electrical aggregation, Fenn said Brookhaven could correct course, providing gas customers with greener options for heating. 

Asked whether the Brookhaven Town Board could add a second CCA administrator for electricity, he responded affirmatively. “Just deliver both, and you can,” he said.

Arthur emphasized that municipalities can have separate CCA administrators for gas and electricity. She suggested Brookhaven add a second administrator for electricity to further competition.

“Fundamentally, if competition is good, and if you want everybody to go to electricity and get away from gas, then you should have [CCA administrators] compete with each other,” she said.

Local vs. centralized intervention

Fenn noted the decline of municipal power since the Civil War, which he said had rendered local governments impotent compared to their state and federal counterparts. He criticized the tendency of local officials to outsource services to third-party vendors.

“Part of the problem is the dependence on third parties cripples the governments by making them intellectually captive to those service providers,” he said. “We believe municipalities should have skin in the game and should use the power that they have.”

Fenn attributed the climate and garbage crises in the United States to the decline of municipal powers and the failures of centralized government. He encouraged local policymakers to embrace programs like CCA to counteract these downward movements.

“There has to be knowledge, responsibility and therefore control” vested in municipal government, he said. “CCA uses contractors to provide services, but they’re firmly under the control of the municipality.”

While CCA proposes a local solution to a global climate phenomenon, questions remain about the best forms of intervention. 

For Reynolds, tackling the climate crisis requires a centralized intervention from the higher levels of government, with local governments doing their part as well. “We absolutely need both,” the ACE NY executive director said. 

For the state to reach its aggressive emission mandates, “you’re going to need larger power projects, too, like offshore,” she said. “But it shouldn’t be an either or question.”

‘It’s so clear that this is such a great opportunity to move the needle on renewables and, at the same time, lower costs for their constituents.’ ­

— Lynn Arthur

A sustainable future

Gang He viewed the growth in renewable energy, evidenced by over $1 trillion in worldwide investment last year, as a turning point in energy history. 

“Renewables have gained momentum,” the SBU assistant professor said. “The challenge is how do we maintain the momentum to deliver the outcome that we desire?”

Arthur recommends CCA to local officials as a way to do so. “It’s so clear that this is such a great opportunity to move the needle on renewables and, at the same time, lower costs for their constituents,” she said.

Asked whether Brookhaven’s CCA could spur interest in a similar program for electricity, Kornreich expressed optimism that the town’s program would foster better energy stewardship.

“I hope that it does open people’s eyes to the possibility and to get people more comfortable with the concept of being a more conscious consumer of utility power,” he said. “Whether it’s gas or electric, people can understand they can choose and that their choices will have an impact on the environment.”

Though acknowledging some of the drawbacks to the Brookhaven program, Englebright expressed encouragement about moving away from the preexisting procurement structure.

“Great journeys are made a step at a time,” the former assemblyman said. “I like the idea of moving away from monolithic energy sourcing.” He added, “A more distributed power system is to our advantage, ultimately — more competitive, less monolithic and more responsive to the public.”

For more details on the Town of Brookhaven’s Community Choice Aggregation Program, visit the website brookhavencommunityenergy.com. 

According to the website, “Eligible customers will soon receive additional information in the mail regarding product features, including information about the renewable energy option.”

Correction: In the print version of this article published on March 9, the town’s community choice aggregation administrator, Good Energy LLC, was misidentified as a London-based firm. In fact, Good Energy is headquartered in Manhattan. We apologize for the error.

Pixabay phoro

Community choice aggregation is a nationwide revolution in energy procurement with transformational implications for Long Island.

The benefits of CCA are threefold. It offers ratepayers an avenue for lower energy costs. It introduces competition into the energy marketplace, incentivizing public utilities to deliver a better product. And it places entire communities down a path toward 100% renewable energy.

The popular fiction is that fossil fuels are cheaper and more efficient than their expensive and immature renewable counterparts. CCA proponents challenge this thinking, stipulating that renewables can outperform fossil fuels with the proper economic structure, a structure supporting energy consumers instead of suppliers.

Classical economics indicates that one company controlling the entire supply of a given commodity constitutes a monopoly. Since the Industrial Revolution, vertically integrated utilities have exercised exclusive control over the supply of energy, setting prices arbitrarily and controlling the market at will.

CCA seeks to flip this dynamic on its head, introducing competition into the energy market using the bulk-buying power of a community of people. Though they are opted in automatically, ratepayers can opt out at any time at no expense. More importantly, CCA gives municipalities a choice over the energy source, with the option to select renewables over fossil fuels.

Competitors’ cheaper, greener power may incentivize utility companies to deliver a better product. If consumers want affordable and renewable energy, the utility’s rational choice would be to invest heavily in renewables and reduce rates. Competition spurs innovation and growth, benefiting all parties.

Here at TBR News Media, we hold that local governments must be highly active and potent and challenge the centralized bureaucracies in Albany and Washington when those fail to deliver meaningful results for our communities. For too long, state-regulated utilities have not done enough to counteract the effects of climate change.

A U.S. Energy Information Administration report notes, “In 2021, renewable sources and nuclear power, together, supplied 54% of New York’s total in-state generation from utility-scale and small-scale facilities.” For New York state to reach its energy goals under the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, the report indicates that figure must climb to 70% by 2030.

To meet this task, local governments must do their part, negotiating on behalf of their residents for 100% renewable energy. CCA offers our local officials the means to fulfill this end.

The Town of Brookhaven recently instituted a CCA program for a two-year fixed rate on natural gas prices. Given the volatility of today’s international gas markets, Brookhaven’s program has potential cost benefits.

However, the town has only dipped its toe into the greater CCA dialogue. A gas-exclusive program offers merely the financial rewards of the CCA model without the reduced greenhouse gas emissions. We encourage Brookhaven leaders to study the Town of Southampton’s model, where electricity may soon be procured from 100% renewable sources.

In the meantime, other municipalities should take a close look at CCA. The portside Village of Port Jefferson — already grappling with the hazardous effects of coastal erosion and worsening flooding — could send a strong message by joining this effort. Other municipalities, such as the towns of Smithtown and Huntington, could do so as well.

CCA is a cost-effective, market-friendly and environmentally sustainable policy. For residents and the natural environment, it is time for all our local leaders to take it seriously.