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Rallying for Clean Energy

Wed, 09/18/2019 - 13:16

Thousands of young people are expected to rally around the world tomorrow in a students’ day of action to call attention more aggressively to the need to combat the looming crisis of human-caused global warming. New York City leaders are taking climate change seriously, to the point that they are allowing the 1.1-million public school students to leave classrooms and take part in the protests without penalty. Closer to home, some students are expected to walk out on their own; others are likely to be among those headed to the city on rented buses.

East Hampton Town continues to be a leader in some aspects. It is among those municipalities looking for ways to switch to renewable, nonpolluting energy sources, such as water, solar, and wind.

Under consideration is a program that could bypass the Long Island Power Authority, allowing the town to pay the producers of “green” energy for some — or all — the electricity used here. The program could also provide incentives for battery storage and electric vehicles.

The benefit in terms of climate change is that community-level energy purchases could shift the percentage of electricity in the grid away from more-polluting sources and toward clean power. This would mean less electricity coming from coal, diesel, and natural gas, and more from wind, the sun, and hydroelectric plants.

This is not a new idea; some 5 million customers in seven states already participate in programs like this, clumsily called community choice aggregation, or C.C.A. More than 110,000 customers in Westchester County are involved, paying lower rates than previously, according to the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.

That local government need not act alone is also helpful. New York allows towns and villages to band together to spread costs and seek the best power deals. Those residential and small commercial customers deeply set against alternative energy in general, or a particular kind of generation, would be able to opt out; those who wanted in would automatically be enrolled. Homeowners’ solar deals with the utility would not be changed. A single bill, at present from PSEG-Long Island, would reflect the redirected charges.

The underlying concept is that if municipalities band together they can collectively negotiate for better prices from utilities. At the same time, providing a ready market for green power could help spur investment in new and even better results.

Giving consumers a choice about the source of the electricity that powers their houses and small businesses while promoting alternatives is well worth pursuing.