State Energy Goals and Plans Open for Public Comment

Contacts:  Jen Metzger, 845-489-0830
Susan H. Gillespie, 845-658-9820

This week local residents have a rare opportunity to express their views on how New York State’s energy system should work, and what kinds of changes they would like to see. On Wednesday, February 4, the Public Service Commission (PSC) will hold a special Information Session and Public Statement Hearing in Kingston (Council Chambers, City Hall, 420 Broadway). From 6:00 – 7:00 p.m., representatives of the PSC will explain the current proceeding to “Reform the Energy Future” (“REV”). Members of the public are invited to respond beginning at 7:00 p.m.

The hearing is one of eight that have been scheduled throughout the State in response to calls by a coalition of grassroots organizations, who argue that major changes to the way energy is generated and distributed should not be made without broad public outreach and discussion. Groups behind the campaign for greater openness and transparency include the Alliance for a Green Energy Economy (AGREE) and Rosendale-based Citizens for Local Power (CLP).

The PSC is the state agency that regulates the utility companies in New York. The REV proceeding was launched to respond to technological, environmental, and economic changes that threaten the current centralized utility model. These changes include the increased availability and affordability of renewable generation, the aging of transmission and distribution systems, the volatility and unpredictability of fossil fuel prices, and the vulnerability of the centralized system to disruption by storms or very hot or cold weather. The REV seeks to “reform New York State’s energy industry and regulatory practices … to promote more efficient use of energy, deeper penetration of renewable energy resources such as wind and solar, [and] wider deployment of ‘distributed’ energy resources, such as micro grids, on-site power supplies, and storage.”

The REV process is not without controversy. Many organizations that are parties to the proceeding do not agree that investor-owned utilities should be entrusted with responsibility for implementing a new, decentralized energy system. AGREE stated that, “the PSC should not hand control over new energy markets to large investor-owned utilities … that have little or no public accountability. Instead, energy markets should be overseen by an independent statewide institution, democratically governed by representatives from a variety of public interest sectors and stakeholders.” Citizens for Local Power, along with other parties that include many businesses, do not agree that utilities should be allowed to own generation assets like renewable facilities and microgrids—something that is being considered by the PSC, possibly on a limited scale. "As regulated monopolies, utilities have unfair advantages that will stifle competition, increase the cost of clean power for customers, and slow renewable expansion," said Jen Metzger, spokesperson for Citizens for Local Power. "Their core business is, and should remain, transmission and distribution."

Metzger also noted that some of the most important policy questions in the REV process have been slated for "Track 2" of the REV proceeding, and discussion of these questions is only just beginning. Among these are how utility tariffs and performance mechanisms will be redesigned to encourage utilities to become more efficient and reduce the amount of electricity coursing through their wires. "This is exactly the opposite of the utility business model, which requires growth in electricity consumption," said Metzger. "If the PSC succeeds in turning this model on its head, New York will be light years ahead of other states in energy reform."

Some promising initiatives are already coming out of the REV, said Metzger, including the State's plan to enable Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) in New York, which CLP has long supported. "CCA is about local control of energy decision-making, allowing municipalities to procure energy for their communities rather than relying on the utility to procure it for them," said Metzger. "Recently, CCAs in other parts of the country have started using their control to stimulate local and regional investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency. This creates thousands of good jobs while also reducing stress on the grid, and stabilizing and reducing energy costs to consumers. CLP wants to see the communities of Ulster County reap these same benefits through CCA." CLP urges residents, business owners, and municipal officials to attend the REV hearing in Kingston, hear about the energy reforms being considered, and make their voices heard about their energy priorities and concerns.