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December 25, 2014
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There’s a better way


The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has devised an innovative way to address high electricity rates paid by residents of Long Island. Unfortunately, it’s at the expense of the ratepayers of Orange, Dutchess and Ulster counties. Claiming to address capacity issues for delivery of power to New York City, FERC has created a New Capacity Zone(NCZ) that lumps these Mid-Hudson counties in with those downstate, effectively increasing upstate customers’ electricity rates by 4% this year. Critics ranging from the Public Service Commission (PSC) to Congressman Chris Gibson (19th District) have pointed out that the NCZ is unnecessary and economically harmful. New York is already addressing capacity issues through the state’s Energy Highway Blueprint, and the PSC is reviewing four competing proposals to upgrade transmission lines and add at least 1,000 MW of carrying capacity to relieve transmission bottlenecks. Despite ongoing objections, the permanent $280 million rate hike took effect May 1.

Fortunately, there’s a better way to lower electricity costs without resorting to this kind of trickery. Seventy people gathered at the Homestead School in Glen Spey last Saturday to hear about the variety of options available and to tour the Homestead School’s ground-mounted solar array, which produces all of the electricity needed to power the school and a nearby residential installation at the home of John Burrow. The presenters included Stephen Stuart of Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development, which co-hosted the event, and three solar installers: Todd Okeson of East Coast Alternative Energy, the company that designed and installed the Homestead School’s project; John Hartley of NRG Home Solar, whose company installed Burrow’s system; and Rick Contrata of Atlantech Solar, who is installing a system on a commercial project in Livingston Manor. The audience included homeowners, business owners, school officials and representatives from town boards and their energy committees.

For homeowners and business owners, the options are to purchase solar electric systems or to lease. Purchase yields the most savings in the long run, and generous incentives available through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), combined with state and federal tax breaks (which depend on your income bracket and tax liability), can reduce the purchase cost by as much as two thirds. Lease arrangements for residential installations involve no money up front and can reduce the homeowner’s electricity bill by 15% to 30%, depending on which utility provides your service. At the end of the lease period, the property owner can purchase the system, renegotiate the lease, or have the installer remove the system.

Municipalities and schools have similar options, and are eligible for NYSERDA incentives. The main difference is that, since these entities cannot take advantage of state and federal tax credits, they may work through Power Purchase Agreements with system developers who assemble investors who can benefit from the tax reductions.These are real ways to reduce electricity costs and do something for the environment at the same time.

For information on NYSERDA incentives and certified installers, visit www.nyserda.ny.gov/Energy-Efficiency-and-Renewable-Programs.aspx and www.nyserda.ny.gov/Contractors/Find-a-Contractor/Photovoltaic-Installers....