The Long Island Power Authority will hold public hearings this coming Monday, Nov. 29, on what is being called a “solar tax” by solar power advocates.
LIPA is following up on a plan by the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) to require solar energy customers to pay what the PSC has named a “Customer Benefit Contribution.” LIPA says in a “Customer Benefit Contribution Fact Sheet” it has posted online that “LIPA’s staff supports the PSC’s approach and has proposed to adopt the new Customer Benefit Contribution in our service territory.”
LIPA adds: “Customers with pre-existing onsite [solar] generation will be unaffected by the new charge.”
But those who install solar panels after the start of the new year would face a new monthly charge estimated at between $5 and $10 a month depending on the size of their solar installations.
A governmental leader in challenging the proposed “solar tax” is State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) whose district includes Shelter Island. “We have goals that we need to meet under the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. We should be promoting under it every form of renewable energy whether it be solar or wind power,” says Mr. Thiele. “LIPA putting a tax on new solar customers flies in the face of every effort we are making to encourage the use of renewable energy.”
The “solar tax” would be “bad policy” and “not in long-term interest of Long Island combating climate change,” he says, and is another reason why “we need greater accountability and transparency of LIPA.” It is a move “to raise a little money without regard to the long-term consequences.”
The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act was passed into law in 2019 and, as New York State government says on its website, “is among the most ambitious climate laws in the world and requires New York to reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions 40% by 2030 and no less than 85% by 2050 from 1990 levels.” It says “these targets … place New York on a path toward carbon neutrality.”
On its website, LIPA says the two hearings on Nov. 29 will be held in the form of Zoom meetings because of COVID-19. The first hearing is to begin at 10 a.m. and the second at 6 p.m.
LIPA said it “is taking steps to minimize the risk of exposure for the public and our employees … Members of the public are encouraged to observe the live stream of the meetings. The meetings will also be recorded and posted to LIPA’s website for later viewing. Members of the public should register … to comment virtually.”
To register to observe or to speak at the LIPA hearings, folks can go to a LIPA webpage at lipower.org/about-us/board-of-trustees/meetings. Through the webpage, people can go to links to register or to speak at either meeting.
Mr. Thiele says, “I think LIPA will run into heavy seas if it proceeds” with the solar surcharge. Already, he says, there’s movement in the State Legislature — led in the State Senate by Senator James Gaughran (D-Northport) — to “rescind the tax” if it is implemented.
The “Customer Benefit Contribution” tax would not only be required from new users of solar power on Long Island but also, ostensibly, from customers of several utilities upstate.
However, Newsday reporter Mark Harrington has just disclosed: “New York State is offering special funding to help solar-power customers offset a new fee on home rooftop installations come Jan. 1, but Long Islanders need not apply. That’s because the special ‘transition’ program will be available only to upstate solar customers, according to a recent letter from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which administers state green-energy funding.”
LIPA was established under the Long Island Power Act of 1985. As state’s “Legislative Findings” for the act say: LIPA “shall utilize to the fullest extent practicable all economical means of conservation and technologies that rely on renewable energy resources …” Yet, years ago, LIPA eliminated its rebate program for rooftop solar.
In a statement to LIPA and the PSC, solar advocates on Long Island and upstate have declared that the “solar tax” would “impede growth of the New York solar industry, reduce local clean-energy job opportunities, and make it even more difficult for the state to achieve its” climate goals.