Governor Signs Legislation To Help Clear Path For Energy Choices

New York state Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr.

Legislation signed on December 21 by New York State Governor Kathy Hochul, and co-sponsored by New York State Assemblyman Fred Thiele, will help pave the way for East End residents to access more renewable and sustainable — and perhaps even more affordable — forms of energy.

The legislation was intended to clear a path for bringing Community Choice Aggregation programs to Long Island. CCA programs essentially create a free market for local municipalities to purchase energy on behalf of its residents, thus allowing for the possibility of both more affordable rates and access to renewable energy sources. Decreasing reliance on fossil fuels and reducing carbon emissions has increasingly become a goal not only for many private consumers over the past several years, but for towns and municipalities as well. Southampton Town Councilman John Bouvier has been at the forefront of the effort to bring CCA to the area, as part of the town’s climate action plan.

CCA programs exist throughout the rest of New York, but bringing them to Long Island has been a particular challenge because of the unique public/private framework under which the Long Island Power Authority operates, effectively giving it a monopoly over energy distribution in the area.

“What CCA says is that you don’t have to buy your energy from LIPA,” Thiele explained. “If towns or villages can find a better alternative than buying from LIPA, you can use this program to do it.”

A better alternative includes not only potentially lower rates, but also 100 percent renewable sources, like wind or solar, which are currently not an option when purchasing energy through LIPA.

Thiele said on Monday that he co-sponsored the legislation, along with State Senator Todd Kaminsky, because he wanted Suffolk County residents to have the same opportunities as the rest of the state when it comes to energy sources.

Efforts to bring CCA to the area have been ongoing for years. A state order was issued by the Public Service Commission in 2016, but it did not do enough to address the complexities of LIPA’s service territory and rate structures, and implementation of CCA remained difficult.

The new legislation was set to go into effect 90 days after the signing. While it is complicated, it essentially will exert more pressure on LIPA to comply with CCA. LIPA officials have said they are committed to being in compliance with directives from the Public Service Commission and efforts to bring CCA to the area, but that dedication has been questioned by several local officials, who bring up the fact that LIPA is in charge of regulating itself, and thus has a vested interest in keeping competition out of the area.

“LIPA has publicly said that they embrace the program, but their actions have contradicted that,” Bouvier said.

Earlier this week, Bouvier said he sees the new legislation as an important step forward in achieving what has been a big priority for the Town of Southampton, and other municipalities in Suffolk County as well. He said the support of Thiele and Kaminsky was crucial, and also pointed out that more than 500 Southampton Town residents submitted letters of support to the governor’s office, encouraging her to sign the bill.

“It’s very important that we got the support of the governor,” he said. “We’re trying to do what the state hasn’t mandated but has set as its goal, and it’s a lofty and important goal,” he added, referring to efforts to reduce or even eliminate reliance on fossil fuels. “To me, this was a big hurdle, and I’m really excited that we got the attention, finally. Now it’s up to LIPA to see what they do.”