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Solar Power in LIPA’s Clean Solar Initiative

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LIPA is positioning itself as a leader in solar power implementation

With its recent announcement of a plan to expand solar energy production capacity by 100 megawatts, which is enough electricity to supply 13,000 homes (or roughly 1.2 percent of its 1.1 million customers) the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) kicked off the second phase of its Clean Solar Initiative (CSI).

This is part of the long-term Comprehensive Energy Initiative that began in 2000. At that time Solar Pioneer and Entrepreneur programs provided rebates and tax incentives designed to eased the sticker shock of converting to solar by slashing purchase costs to the customer by as much as 75%. Around 6,500 homeowners and businesses out of a projected goal of 10,000 took advantage of the solar enticement. The current project, designated CSI-II, will produce a solar power plant on Long Island that LIPA says will triple solar energy production while creating hundreds of local clean energy jobs.

Through these efforts, LIPA is positioning itself as a leader in solar power implementation. This is an admirable and arguably achievable goal, given that Long Island receives the nation’s fourth highest average hours of sunshine per year. By their own calculations, CSI-II will put Long Island in range to meet an initiative known as 45×15, a statewide goal to derive 45 percent of electricity consumption through a combination of decreased usage and increased reliance on renewables by the year 2015. It will also help keep New York state in compliance with the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, which tasks electric utilities to generate 20 percent of their production from renewable technologies by 2020 in order to reduce CO2 emissions by 83 percent by 2050.

Whether these optimistic initiatives, projects, plans and projections are accomplishing their stated goals of greenhouse gas reduction and decreased reliance on fossil fuels is a matter of ongoing debate. According to the Department of Energy, by 2020, increasing energy demands of an ever-burgeoning U.S. population are expected to place an additional burden of up to 400,000 megawatts, or 60 to 90 power plants’ worth of energy per year on power companies already straining to keep up with current usage rates while scrambling to devise and implement sustainable strategies. And, the fact remains that throughout North America, fossil fuels still account for 71 percent of electrical energy production, while a mere 2 percent is coming from renewable energy sources.

Globally, super-storms, an anything-goes corporate philosophy, and epic system failures underscore the scale and urgency of the world-wide energy crisis. The reliably unreliable factors of weather conditions and economic climate set the scene for mass outages such as the one that occurred in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when LIPA’s centralized grid was rendered powerless, stranding thousands of homes and businesses for weeks.

In California, around the same time that LIPA rolled out its solar incentive program in 2000, politics, corporate market manipulation and drought combined to create massive, 800- percent rate hikes and business-paralyzing rolling blackouts that went on for the better part of two years.

In India, hurtling growth is outstripping the country’s ability to supply itself with coal, its main energy source and one that is controlled by a monopolistic, government-owned company. Last summer, a massive power system collapse involving three regional stations left 620 million people without electricity. On a brighter note, partly as a result of the record-breaking power outage, the almost non-existent solar industry in India has received a long-overdue shot-in-the-arm, with plans for solar production aimed at 33.4 gigawatts, a 40 percent increase over the government’s previous target; 42 percent of which is to be installed and operational by 2018.

Last modified: March 1, 2014

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