Twenty five years ago next month, then Governor Mario Cuomo signed into law the legislation that ultimately killed the Shoreham nuclear power plant and created the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA).  This act was in response to massive public outcry over not just Shoreham, but also bruisingly high electric rates and the inability of the Long Island Lighting Company (LILCO) to even keep the lights on.

A quarter of a century later, we find ourselves with another Cuomo leading the state and the Island once again at a crossroads over how best to manage our electricity demands.  While LIPA has kept the lights on, our rates are still among the highest in the country and, even more worrisome consumption rates continue to climb. 

It’s easy to blame LIPA for our high rates, but there may not a whole lot we’re going to be able to do about them.  Nearly 60% of our LIPA bills go directly to purchasing power, 13% to local property taxes, another 5% is still paying off the Shoreham debacle.

What we do have control over, however, is the amount of electricity we consume.  In the past decade, despite a population growth of less than 3% on Long Island, residential electricity use increased 27%.  If we want to lower LIPA bills, it’s going to mean some serious behavior changes on our part.  Swapping out lightbulbs, sealing windows, increasing insulation, upgrading appliances and boilers to more efficient models, turning down the air conditioner.  All of these add up to very real savings.

But is this how LIPA is thinking?  Municipalities and countries around the globe are crafting and implementing plans to dramatically reduce energy consumption and emissions.    California wants to reduce residential energy consumption 40% by 2020.  Massachusetts aims to reduce state-wide consumption 2.4% annually.  The European Union plans to reduce consumption 20% by 2020.  And what about LIPA?  How do they stack up?  LIPA is busy crafting plans to meet the Island’s seemingly insatiable appetite for electricity.  They hope to help us reduce our consumption from a projected 2.5% annual growth to a projected growth of 1.5%.  Really, LIPA?  Is that the best we can do?

Countless studies and initiatives have proven that investments in energy efficiency are the cheapest way to address our energy demands.  Why isn’t LIPA thinking bigger and more along those lines?  And where is the leadership that will guide Long Island into the future?

The important job of appointing the next LIPA President and CEO is on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s to do list.  The position demands someone exceptional: a leader with deep expertise and wide vision. It will be this person, along with our own collective actions that will determine if Long Island remains a laggard or rises to the challenge of smartly managing its energy future.  Which will it be?