Citizens for Local Power (CLP) was formed in late 2012, to fight the takeover of Central Hudson by Fortis, Inc., a Canadian corporation that paid $1.5 billion for the acquisition. CLP’s mission—to create a locally-based, clean energy economy—and our name emerged from the crucible of that initial fight. Several of our members (all female) were also then starting a transition town in Rosendale. We applied the ideas of resiliency and self-reliance to build a new local movement, recognizing that our strength in responding to the dangers posed by climate change would lie in the creation of active and informed communities. Several of the original CLP members had created the Rosendale Peace Parade against the Iraq war. Two of us (Manna Jo Greene and Jen Metzger) were then and are still elected officials. We came from different fields, from international education and arts to energy research and activism. We all sought a way to act urgently and constructively in the face of climate change. For six years, as volunteers, we met weekly in one of our member’s kitchen, as the Kitchen Cabinet.

The story of our activities has several chapters:

  • The fight against Fortis

  • Learning about the energy system—Danskammer and the REV

  • Opposing the New Capacity Zone

  • Supporting local grassroots groups (Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson and the shutoff investigation)

  • Understanding and educating about our energy system (the REV, solar contracts, and more)

  • Helping bring CCA to New York

  • Opposing and preventing new fossil-fuel infrastructure

  • Helping municipalities switch to LED streetlights

  • Keeping rates down

  • Building Community Energy in Kingston and beyond.

The Fight against Fortis.

We found out that Fortis had a terrible history in Belize, where it developed a dam on an earthquake fault and imposed such unfair rate hikes that it was actually expropriated by the Belize government. In British Columbia, it built a new transmission line that increased rates and lowered property values, but over which no additional power was transmitted. In the fight against Fortis, CLP almost won. We formed a broad coalition including municipalities, labor, and grassroots organizations, and got a rare “recommended decision” against the takeover by the Administrative Law Judges. At that point, Central Hudson launched an expensive advertising campaign, called in all its favors, pressured employees, and turned the union around. The PSC approved the takeover, although with somewhat better terms thanks to our campaign. NB: NY’s utilities are not locally controlled—the very opposite of the local control we believe is needed. They are owned by corporations in Canada (Fortis) Spain (Iberdrola—now Avangrid, owns NYSEG ), and England (National Grid). Fortis, having entered the US market for the first time with its acquisition of Central Hudson, went on to acquire utilities in Arizona and the Midwest for $2.5 billion and $11.5 billion, respectively.

Learning about the energy system. Danskammer and the REV

We became increasingly motivated by everything we were learning about the unstable, environmentally destructive, and financially-driven character of energy policy and ownership. An example: Danskammer (in Newburgh), constructed in the 1950s, was about 1/3 coal-fired and heavily polluting, having been grandfathered in under 1970s pollution control laws. It also had a “once-through” cooling system using Hudson River water that was extremely damaging for fish and other aquatic life. Danskammer had been bought by Dynegy in 2001 for $903 million under “lightened” regulatory conditions. In 2008, Dynegy sued the Newburgh school system, saying they had overpaid! Danskammer suffered extensive damage by Sandy in 2012, and Dynegy filed for bankruptcy. It ultimately sold the plant for $3.5 million “scrap value,” to Helios Power and Mercuria, a shadowy global financial firm that is now trying to vastly expand the plant’s production using gas-fired combined heat and power, with oil as backup. In 2014, New York State launched the REV (Reforming the Energy Vision), a policy initiative under the PSC that seeks to transform the State’s aging, centralized energy structure into a distributed system that can accommodate more clean energy. CLP supports this goal. We have intervened as a Party in quite a few REV proceedings and formed strong alliances with like-minded groups around NY State, pressuring the PSC to move forward more quickly on energy transition and to better serve low- and middle-income residents. We learned that the PSC and the utilities work hand in glove, although some changes and improvements are possible.

Opposing the New Capacity Zone.

CLP also fought against the so-called “New Capacity Zone,” imposed in May 2014 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC—a development that the PSC and even Central Hudson opposed. The change joined the mid-Hudson region to Westchester, making us pay more for “capacity,” which is the ability of the electrical generating system to meet the need for electricity at the moment when it is greatest—usually a few hours on a hot summer day and overall less than 7 days a year. (This 2% of actual electricity need accounts for 15% or more of the price we pay for electricity.) The rest of the time all this “capacity” remains idle. Adding mid-Hudson to Westchester raised our region’s prices by an estimated 6% for residential customers and 10% for businesses. Also—and the timing is interesting—it made Danskammer once again profitable to operate. And it attracted new companies like GlidePath (see below).

Supporting local grassroots groups (Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson and the shutoff investigation)

In our work with grassroots groups, we were particularly impressed by Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, which in its work around foreclosures had uncovered many unfair practices by Central Hudson. CLP arranged a meeting with PSC members and Nobody Leaves organized testimony by their members, including reports of shutoffs based on lies and shutoffs of families with infants dependent on electrical equipment. The result was a rare formal investigation of unfair shutoff procedures. This kind of work is becoming more central to CLP’s mission.

Understanding and educating about our energy system (the REV, solar contracts, and more)

Over the six years of our existence, CLP has sponsored dozens of public forums, symposiums, and actions, which have been covered quite frequently by the press. In addition to the issues mentioned here, we addressed other urgent local issues. Examples include a meeting to spread the word about unfair contracts being foisted on land-owners by a big solar company (attended by 50 people on a snowy night), a state-wide convening on Community Choice Aggregation (CCA, see below), and many, many other events.

Helping Bring Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) to New York

Early on, we made the acquaintance of Paul Fenn, who invented CCA in Massachusetts in 1995, as a form of municipally-driven aggregation that includes all the municipalities’ rate-payers who do not opt-out. CCA’s typically procure cheaper electricity and offer greener options than utilities, and have the potential—largely unrealized as yet, except in California—to foster greater community control and ownership (“CCA 2.0”). CLP advocated for CCA in New York and brought Paul Fenn to meet with the DPS. We formed a working group of municipal representatives in Ulster County, but have pulled back from participating actively until better conditions are available here. Current developments make this more likely than it has been in the past and we are re-engaging with this issue.

Opposing and preventing new fossil-fuel infrastructure

CLP launched the campaign against the 200-mile project of Pilgrim Pipelines Holdings, LLC, a company founded by Koch Industries alumni. The pipelines would carry highly flammable Bakken formation crude oil from Albany, NY, to Linden, NJ, and refined products northward. We played a significant role in preventing a more recent project by GlidePath, which proposed to build a fracked gas-fired generator with diesel backup, combined with battery storage, in the Town of Ulster. Powerful local resistance, with expert help from CLP and the outspoken opposition of the county executive, led Glidepath to withdraw its proposal; the project will consist of battery storage only. It was a big and important victory. Battery storage will be crucial to our success in transforming and modernizing the grid to incorporate more variable clean energy and lower peak rates.

Helping municipalities switch to LED streetlights.

CLP partnered with Abundant Efficiency, LightSmart Energy Consulting, and Courtney-Strong Inc. (the project lead) in the Mid-Hudson Street Light Consortium (MHSC)—a NYSERDA-funded project to create a more affordable pathway to LED street light conversion for municipalities in Central Hudson, Orange & Rockland, and NYSEG territories. Converting to LEDs can deliver energy savings to municipalities of at least 65%, and can result in substantially lower street lighting bills—especially if municipalities take ownership of their lights and eliminate rental costs.

Keeping rates down.

CLP has participated as a Party in Central Hudson rate cases in 2015 and 2018. In the most recent rate case, our advocacy led to the first reduction ever in the company’s fixed charge—the amount per meter a customer pays irrespective of whether any energy is used. The fixed charge will decline from $24/month to $19.50 in 2021. Working with allies, we also helped keep the rate increase way below the original proposal (not 11.60% but 1.04% in 2018–2019, 2.99% in 2019–2020, and 4.41% in 2020–2021); reduce the guaranteed corporate profit from 9% to 8.8 %; prevent an increase in funding for gas expansion; and got more investments for renewables. Importantly, too, we called for more aggressive energy efficiency targets and programs to support “beneficial electrification,” including a shift from fossil fuel-based heating in buildings to heat pumps, and support for wider adoption of electric vehicles. Provisions for these are included in the approved rate plan. CLP actively participated in settlement negotiations but ultimately chose not to sign on to the Joint Proposal out of concern that the rate increase was still too high, particularly in the third year, when the average residential customer would see a bill increase of $5.04 per month.

Building Community Energy in Kingston and beyond.

CLP is currently engaged in a series of consultations with organizations and activists in the city of Kingston, which we hope to help unite in a broad, community-based initiative that involves residents directly in making their communities cleaner, greener, more powerful and prosperous. We believe a cooperative approach is the best way to transform our communities in response to climate change and to create a better life for all. Working with the city of Kingston and its new Land Bank, CLP will consult widely with interested groups and individuals, share our technical expertise and experience in educational materials and events, help raise funds in cooperation with the city and other groups, and intervene as needed with state and local authorities, with the overall goal of enabling local communities and their residents to take informed, collective leadership in managing their energy transformation. Programs under discussion include job training, support for energy efficiency as a prime consideration in building renovation, options for green electricity and heating. We stress the importance of local education and participation, and of local job creation, including training and jobs for young people, women and girls, and low-income and formerly incarcerated residents.