Energy Aggregation Program Proposed To Give Town Leverage

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Southampton Town Hall

The Southampton Town Board on Tuesday agreed to seek public comment on a proposal to establish a “community choice aggregation energy” or CCA program, which would allow the town to “determine the default supplier of electricity and natural gas on behalf of eligible consumers,” according the proposed amendment to the town code that would allow for it.

The board voted unanimously to set a hearing on the proposal, which it has been discussing off and on for months at work sessions with planning and other staff, for 6 p.m. on November 27 in Town Hall. Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and Christine Scalera both said they did not necessarily favor setting up a CCA program here but wanted to start the hearing process to obtain public comment.

“This is a complicated thing,” agreed Councilman John Bouvier, one of the three sponsors of the legislation with Tommy John Schiavoni and Julie Lofstad. He noted that agreeing to start the hearing process did not mean the board had agreed to create a CCA program.

The board also voted unanimously on Tuesday to set a hearing on its long-discussed and repeatedly tweaked proposal to increase the supply of affordable rental units in the less densely populated parts of town. It would allow accessory apartments to be built in single-family houses on lots as small as half an acre; the current code requires a minimum lot of size of three-quarters of an acre. That hearing was set for 11 a.m. on December 20 in Town Hall.

Also at the Tuesday meeting, Councilwoman Julie Lofstad tabled her proposal to update the rules of operation for the board’s citizens advisory committees after Marlene Haresign, a veteran of the Water Mill CAC, questioned its purpose and complained that no CAC representatives were invited to participate in the revision process. She said it appeared to her the revisions were intended to suppress the CACs, which Ms. Lofstad said was never the intention. “We didn’t mean to suppress any voices,” she said, but only to clarify the existing rules.

Ms. Haresign particularly questioned language requiring CACs to deal only with issues that are pertinent to the Town Board itself. Her CAC, she said, often deals with planning issues and has made many recommendations to the town planning board over the years ass it considered development applications.

That news seemed to come as a surprise to Supervisor Schneiderman, who said the town board legally had no authority to involve itself in planning board decision-making and, as the Town Board’s appointed representative, neither did the CACs. He said that ethical issue needed to be explored. He also took issue with the Water Mill CAC operating its own website, independently from the town’s website, which Ms. Haresign said has been the case for years

CCA Proposal

Urged by Deputy Town Supervisor Frank Zappone and energy consultant Lynn Arthur of the town’s Sustainable Southampton Green Advisory Committee, the CCA proposal is based on similar power-buying arrangements now operating in 27 cities, towns and village in New York State, according to the preamble of the legislation. They also have been authorized in 36 more municipalities but aren’t yet functioning, according to the legislation, a proposed local law that would add a new chapter to the Town Code.

Although the CCA concept has been discussed at work sessions, the Town Board has hosted no presentation to introduce the concept of a “Community Choice Aggregation Energy Program” or explain how it would work here.

According to the preamble of the legislation, the purpose of a CCA program “is to allow participating local governments to procure energy supply service for Eligible Consumers, who will have the opportunity to opt-out of the procurement, while maintaining transmission and distribution service from the existing Distribution Utility.”

The program, it continues, “will allow Southampton Town, which may include other local governments, to work together where appropriate through a shared purchasing model to request bids based upon the total amount of natural gas and/or electricity being purchased by Eligible Consumers within the jurisdictional boundaries of participating municipalities, in order to identify more competitive pricing and source generation. Eligible consumers will have the opportunity to: (i) have more control and thus, lower their overall energy costs, (ii) spur clean energy innovation and investment, (iii) improve customer choice and value, and (iv) protect the environment, thereby, fulfilling the purposes of this Chapter and fulfilling an important public purpose.”

At the Town Board’s September 13, 2018 work session, the CCA concept was discussed as a given, with Mr. Zappone and Ms. Arthur both arguing it would allow the town to encourage the development of alternative energy sources, reduce costs for consumers and give the town leverage against the local utility and standing with the state’s Public Service Commission.

Supervisor Schneiderman expressed reservations, noting the town didn’t need to create a CCA program to encourage alternative energy projects. He also argued that the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA), which owns the electrical distribution system, already functions as an aggregator for Long Island consumers, seeking the best prices for power — a notion Ms. Arthur challenged.

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Peter Boody is news editor of The Sag Harbor Express. Previously he was the editor of the Southampton Press for many years and also edited several other papers, including the Shelter Island Reporter and the East Hampton Press, of which he was founding editor. He was a regular correspondent for the New York Times Long Island section and wrote the novel “Thomas Jefferson, Rachel & Me.”