Friday, January 9, 2009

What If LIPA Had Spent $6 billion on Conservation?

Showing once again the critical importance of having a functioning, professional news organization, Newsday revealed today that the Long Island Power Authority has spent $6 billion to feed our supposedly insatiable appetite for power.

LIPA, under one-time consumer advocate Richie Kessel, put all that money in on its bet that the residents of Long Island would never kick the power habit. So we'll be paying $1.49 billion for the privilege of buying power (fuel costs are separate and will be added) for the next 20 years generated by the new Caithness plant in Yaphank. Contracts giving us access to out-of-state power via new the new Neptune cable will cost us $2.7 billion. And so on.

Of course, the way consumer rates for electricty are set, LIPA had every incentive to go along with the never-ending growth scenario. Falling usage means falling revenue the way the game is rigged, and shrinking an organization on purpose--well, in your dreams.

But just think how much power, money and air pollution could have been saved if LIPA had invested even $1 billion in conservation and alternative power. Gordian Raacke, founder of Renewable Energy Long Island, lamented in an email to me that "we are investing these billions in technologies of the past rather than those of the future. What we need are investments in 21st Century state-of-the-art energy technologies like energy efficiency and renewable power like solar and wind."

Indeed, but the wind project was supposedly too expensive. Now we must ask, compared to what?

Raacke went on to write that LIPA plans to spend only about $32 million on its energy efficiency program and $14 million this year on its solar program. That's less than 1 % of its $3.845 billion operating budget.

In a different scenario, in which LIPA's leaders were really serious about conservation, they could have shoved some of that $6 billion into a program to give every Long Islander a half-dozen compact fluorescent bulbs. Just watch your bills drop with those! They could have lowered our school and town taxes by giving away bulbs to school districts and municipalities, enough of them to trade out every old-technology incandescent bulb.

LIPA could could have financed completely or heavily subsidized the installation of a huge number of solar panels on homes, as has occured in other countries like Germany. The solar incentive program LIPA has been running for several years puts the pay-off for the investment out at 10 years, too long for most people. A bigger subsidy could have brought that down to 5 years, or even 3, and then it would have been a no-brainer for most people. Solar panels would have sprouted almost as fast as crab grass, and on those scorching days of summer, all those panels could have been sending excess power back into the grid--at a cost so much less than Caithness, etc., it makes me want to cry $6 billion tears.

LIPA could have enlarged its program of rebates for purchases of the most efficient appliances on the market, giving people a good reason to ditch their old refrigerators and power-glutton air conditioners.

It could have funded extensive public education programs to teach people about the importance of conservation.

Instead, we'll all suffer for the next 20 years for decisions made in secret by this so-called "public" authority. this quasi-governmental creation that was designed and is used to hide their operations from the public. (Just think about other "Authorities" like the MTA, and you get the idea.)

Let's not forget that we have Newsday to thank for this revelation. Newsday, whose excellent reporters and editors have been bought out and laid off in droves, gutted by a succession of owners who saw it only as a money machine to pay off the huge debt they took on to build a media empire.

It's time, folks, to rise up, to lead our elected officials by the nose so that they get the idea: we really want conservation. We really want lower taxes and know there are ways to lower them. We really want to preserve our planet. We really get it.

For cost-effective ideas on how to conserve energy (the most cost effective is improving insulation) go to the website for Renewable Energy Long Island. And weep some $6 billion tears.

1 comment:

Gordian Raacke said...

If there is anyone out there who is ready to get off this fossil-fuel habit, check out if solar panels would work for you.

Our SunshineIsFree.org site has a quiz ("Are you a good candidate for solar?"), a solar calculator (to calculate how large a solar system you will need based on your current LIPA bill), and a listing of pre-screened solar contractors that you can request free bids from.

LIPA offers some pretty attractive rebates and there are good federal and state income tax credits, which together pay for about 2/3 of the cost of your roof-mounted carbon-free power generator.

Gordian Raacke
Executive Director
Renewable Energy Long Island (RELI)