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For LIPA, it's not cheaper going ‘green' - Despite new energy models in LIPA's pipeline, so far, it's not cheaper being green

The belief that Green Choice would reduce the amount of oil and other fuels LIPA must purchase for energy -- and thereby reduce costs the more it's used -- appears to be widespread. The reality is somewhat different.

When Odette Lalik and her husband, Mike McCarron, of Patchogue first heard about LIPA's Green Choice energy program last fall, they were "all for" the utility's aim of lessening dependence on foreign oil while turning to cleaner energy sources.

So in October they signed up, opting for half their monthly energy usage to be assigned to a 60-40 mix of wind and hydroelectric power at a slightly higher price than their standard electric rate.

But when the bill came, something struck the couple as odd: The fuel surcharge that the Long Island Power Authority was tacking on to cover skyrocketing oil costs continued to appear on their bill, without taking into account their new "green" energy. While they did not necessarily sign up for green energy to avoid the surcharge, it seemed unfair that the switch to green wouldn't be rewarded with even a slight discount from a fuel-based charge.

They were also surprised to learn that the energy piped to their home wasn't necessarily any more green than that delivered to LIPA's million other customers.

When will reward come?

When it introduced Green Choice in August 2004, LIPA did not say the program would reduce bills. But in a... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  
When Odette Lalik and her husband, Mike McCarron, of Patchogue first heard about LIPA's Green Choice energy program last fall, they were "all for" the utility's aim of lessening dependence on foreign oil while turning to cleaner energy sources.

So in October they signed up, opting for half their monthly energy usage to be assigned to a 60-40 mix of wind and hydroelectric power at a slightly higher price than their standard electric rate.

But when the bill came, something struck the couple as odd: The fuel surcharge that the Long Island Power Authority was tacking on to cover skyrocketing oil costs continued to appear on their bill, without taking into account their new "green" energy. While they did not necessarily sign up for green energy to avoid the surcharge, it seemed unfair that the switch to green wouldn't be rewarded with even a slight discount from a fuel-based charge.

They were also surprised to learn that the energy piped to their home wasn't necessarily any more green than that delivered to LIPA's million other customers.

When will reward come?

When it introduced Green Choice in August 2004, LIPA did not say the program would reduce bills. But in a statement at the time, the utility suggested the move had unspecified economic rewards. "Gov. Pataki should be commended for pushing renewables, especially at a time when oil prices are at record highs," chairman Richard Kessel said in a LIPA statement.

"With the ever-increasing price of fossil fuels being reported daily, we need to foster the development and growth of 'green power,' or electricity produced from renewable resources, as a viable, environmental and economic alternative."

In response to Newsday questions last week, Kessel said customers who wonder why they are still being hit with the surcharge "make a good point." "Those customers using renewables are not putting as much a burden on the use of fuel, he said. "I don't disagree with the concept."

The problem, Kessel said, is the "very small" number of customers who've signed up for the program don't begin to dent LIPA's huge fuel bill, heightened by soaring oil prices.

But that's not enough for Patchogue resident Carmine Vasile, a former Grumman engineer with a PhD in electrophysics, who said he considered signing up for Green Choice last month after he received his January LIPA bill. When a LIPA representative told him he'd still have to pay the surcharge, Vasile noted, "I said, 'What is this insanity?'" He opted not to sign up.

Vasile, an inventor who has tangled with LIPA over a hot-water-saving device, said he was interested in Green Choice because he has all-electric heat in his home. Fuel-surcharge increases have sent his monthly bill spiking to $585 a month since LIPA decided to freeze the rate at its high January level (his August bill was $237.93). Vasile said he suspects other LIPA customers will face the same shock this summer, when Long Island's electric usage increases 30 to 40 percent.

"Everybody that uses electric is going to get banged with the same rate," he said.

Reality soon to set in

The belief that Green Choice would reduce the amount of oil and other fuels LIPA must purchase for energy -- and thereby reduce costs the more it's used -- appears to be widespread. The reality is somewhat different.

At the bottom of a list of frequently asked questions about Green Choice on LIPA's Web site, the utility, in explaining why it does not waive the surcharge, says customers who sign up are not buying green energy directly to their homes.

The green energy LIPA buys according to customers' specifications simply gets added to the power grid, which is available to all LIPA customers.

What those who buy green power actually are getting are "environmental attributes," which represent "the emissions avoided from renewable generation." In other words, using green energy reduces the amount of energy that needs to be produced by pollution-emitting power plants.

LIPA has a total of 2,131 Green Choice customers: 1,999 residential customers and 132 commercial accounts, according to spokesman Bert Cunningham.

Kessel said there are built-in limitations with Green Choice.

"Because of the cost of oil and fossil fuels, if we have too many people signing up for Green Choice, it'll impact the rest of the ratepayers," he said. "You couldn't do it anyway because there's not enough green energy available to our customers."

For 2005, a total of 244 megawatts of renewable power "attributes" were available statewide, of which LIPA Green Choice customers have signed up for 7.3 megawatts, Cunningham said.

Vasile suggested that LIPA could greatly increase that amount by offering a Green Choice credit. "Everybody would sign up for it," he said. "And if they did that, it would create a huge demand that would grow green energy on its own."

As for the limitations, Vasile pointed to a LIPA advertisement that encourages more customers to get on the stick. "If just 10 percent of New York households chose green power for their electricity supply, we could save about 3.7 million barrels of oil a year," the ad says.

Cunningham called the 10 percent figure "kind of an idealistic target" that will always be limited by the green-energy resources available to LIPA.

Meanwhile, the utility is mining additional sources. Last month it announced a program to purchase hydroelectric energy from a facility in Rowe, Mass.

Source: http://www.newsday.com/busi...

FEB 2 2006
http://www.windaction.org/posts/1157-for-lipa-it-s-not-cheaper-going-green-despite-new-energy-models-in-lipa-s-pipeline-so-far-it-s-not-cheaper-being-green
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