Columns

Suffolk Closeup: State ‘solar tax’ denounced

The move referred to repeatedly as a “solar tax” was lambasted by speakers at Long Island Power Authority public hearings last week.

The New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) earlier this year began been seeking a new charge for those who install solar panels after Jan. 1, 2022. They would have to pay a monthly charge of between $5 and $10 a month depending on the size of their solar installations.

The PSC has termed the charge a “Customer Benefit Contribution (CBC).”

LIPA in a “Customer Benefit Fact Sheet” it posted online says, “LIPA’s staff supports the PSC’s approach and has proposed to adopt the new CBC in our service territory.” The LIPA board of trustees could vote on applying the solar surcharge on Long Island at the board’s next meeting on Dec.15.

LIPA arranged for the public hearings to be held by Zoom because of COVID-19. At the public hearing Monday evening that I viewed, speaker after speaker blasted the “solar tax.”

Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming (D- Sag Harbor) whose district includes Shelter Island, called the surcharge “misguided” and contradictory to “long-term climate change goals.” Ms. Fleming, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for the U.S. House of Representatives in the lst Congressional District, spoke of “federal tax incentives” being “reduced.”  She said: “Please support our efforts to support clean energy incentives.”

Francesca Rheannon, a member of the East Hampton Energy and Sustainability Committee, testified at the Monday evening hearing that the surcharge sets “a very bad precedent.” She said “we should encourage people to go solar.” This would be a tax “on residential homeowners trying to do the right thing by putting solar on their roofs … This is absolutely going in the opposite direction from where we need to go … I ask LIPA: get out of the way.”

Reid Garton, president and CEO of New York State Solar, a company in Hicksville, and a member of the board of the New York State Solar Industries Association, said the “solar tax” would be “creating a charge that will likely be increased through the years.” It would result in “wiping out the incentive to go solar.”

George Povall, director of All Our Energy, based in Point Lookout, ripped into the PSC’s description of the “solar tax” as a “Customer Benefit Contribution” as an “Orwellian title.” He said it “punishes rather than encourages” the use of solar energy. He said “we need to move to more solar.”

Ryan Madden, sustainability organizer for the Long Island Progressive Coalition, described the “solar tax” as “punishment” for “adopters of renewable energy.”

Before the public was given an opportunity to speak at the public hearing Monday evening, there were 40 minutes of comments and PowerPoint slides presented by LIPA staff members, largely boosting the “Customer Benefit Contribution” and asserting a dedication by LIPA to solar power.

Justin Bell, LIPA’s vice president of public policy and regulatory affairs, said the surcharge was a “fairness issue.” He said the new charge would help provide for new solar customers “contributing to the cost of essential programs” of LIPA. One PowerPoint slide that was shown stated: “83% of solar adopters have higher mean incomes than the local median income.”

New York State government has set nation-leading climate goals under its Climate Leadership and Community Act of 2019. These include a 100 percent zero-emission policy for greenhouse gases in electric generation by 2040 and the production of 6,000 megawatts of electricity with solar energy by 2025 — which as of the new year will be just three years away.

How is the State to do that? 

Solar energy, and notably solar rooftop, is a key. We have 38 solar panels on the roof of our house. They went up 14 years ago so we would not be subject to the “solar tax.” It’s been amazing seeing our LIPA electric meter going backwards with those panels producing more electricity than we need and feeding it into the grid.

Will LIPA with a “solar tax” collaborate with the PSC in undermining the state’s green energy and climate goals?