EDA Dismayed by Cuomo’s PSC Nominations

The New York Energy Democracy Alliance (EDA) is deeply disappointed by the lack of integrity and transparency in Governor’s Cuomo’s process for making appointments to the Public Service Commission (PSC), and last-minute confirmations in the final two days of the Senate’s session. The Senate Energy Committee heard testimony last Tuesday from PSC nominee Phil Wilcox and from current Commissioner Diane Burman, who the Governor nominated for another 6-year term at the last moment without a public announcement. Another 11th-hour appointee, James Alesi, was absent from last Tuesday’s hearing. The EDA is dismayed by the State Senate’s rushed confirmation of these nominees without a thorough and transparent vetting process.   

The Governor’s slate of nominees has created a PSC that is all-white and 80% male, with no consumer or environmental justice advocate among them. These new Commissioners risk derailing efforts towards Governor Cuomo’s stated goals for a renewable and sustainable energy future through the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV). This slate of commissioners does not meet the needs of everyday New Yorkers – the 1 million families in NY who struggle to pay their energy bills, the neighborhood groups that works hard to put a solar panel on a community center roof but are stalled by unwieldy regulation; the residents living in neighborhoods overburdened by air pollution due to environmental racism; the local renewable energy installers that want to bring more jobs to our state; or the generations to come that will suffer the ravages of climate change.

Instead of prioritizing advocates of forward-looking community-owned renewable power, the Governor chose IBEW local 97 representative Phil Wilcox, whose strong labor background cannot eclipse his enthusiasm for fossil fuels and nuclear power. Former Republican Senator Jim Alesi lacks any deep experience in energy policy, technical knowledge, and experience for this role. We are also troubled by the renomination of Diane Burman, who in her time on the PSC has supported gas expansion and voted for consumer subsidies for nuclear plants. John Rhodes, newly-confirmed PSC Chair, has a strong background and expertise in renewable energy and efficiency, but shares an orientation toward market solutions that has thwarted progress toward clean energy in New York in his tenure leading NYSERDA.

As the body that makes many critical and lasting decisions about the cost of energy and opportunities for energy efficiency and renewables in our state, the PSC has a responsibility to put New Yorkers first and to protect consumers and the environment from predation and pollution by Wall Street, or utilities, and dirty energy interests.  The Energy Democracy Alliance has been advocating for the appointment of People’s Commissioners who would serve the interests of the people and environment of New York State, and will continue to fight for a just and participatory transition to a renewable, equitable, affordable, and local energy system for all New Yorkers.

About the Energy Democracy Alliance

The New York Energy Democracy Alliance (EDA) is a statewide alliance of community-based organizations, grassroots groups, and policy experts working together to advance a just and participatory transition to a resilient, localized, and democratically controlled clean energy economy in New York State. The EDA formed in response to New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceeding – a state overhaul of energy policy and renewable energy funding. The REV is a historic process that will shape our energy future for generations to come. The EDA holds regulators, political leaders, and energy companies accountable, and works to ensure that the benefits of our energy system flow to all New Yorkers, especially poor, working class people, and communities of color. All New Yorkers, regardless of their background, should have access to the benefits of renewable energy and a sustainable and equitable energy future.

EDA Members:

Affordable Housing Partnership Homeownership Center
Alliance for a Green Economy (AGREE)
Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition
Catskill Mountainkeeper
Center for Social Inclusion (CSI)
Citizens’ Environmental Coalition
Citizens for Local Power
Citizen Action of New York
Co-op Power
Fossil Free Tompkins
Good Old Lower East Side
Hudson River Sloop Clearwater
Long Island Progressive Coalition
New York State Sustainable Business Council
Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson
Northwest Bronx Community Clergy Coalition
People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH Buffalo)
Sane Energy Project
Solstice
Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development
Syracuse United Neighbors (SUN)
WE ACT for Environmental Justice

Energy Democracy Alliance Renews Call for a People’s Commissioner on Powerful State Agency

The Senate Energy Committee held a confirmation hearing on June 6 of John Rhodes, one of Governor Cuomo’s appointees to serve on the New York Public Service Commission (PSC), a powerful agency that oversees utility regulations and rates, as well as funding for most of the state’s clean energy programs. Rhodes is currently a member of Cuomo’s administration as the head of the state’s clean energy agency, NYSERDA.  

Last week, news broke that Cuomo will nominate Phil Wilcox – a Cuomo ally and the Business Representative for labor union IBEW Local 97 – to fill the second of three PSC vacancies. In response to these nominations, the New York Energy Democracy Alliance (EDA) urges State Senators to ask Rhodes and Wilcox tough questions about how, if confirmed, they will approach utility regulations, the state’s transition to a renewable energy system, and energy affordability for all New Yorkers.

The EDA harbors reservations about both nominees. Rhodes has demonstrated a commitment to renewable energy and energy efficiency, and has extensive experience in energy issues. His agency, though, has embraced an ideology of markets over public programs and rebates that has slowed the state’s renewable energy growth. Wilcox is a strong labor advocate, and the EDA fully supports just transitions for workers displaced from good union jobs and communities threatened by the loss of tax revenue that supports vital public sector institutions like local school districts. However, we stand opposed to ratepayer bailouts of large nuclear and fossil fuel generators that serve to enrich corporate CEOs and private shareholders. Wilcox has advocated for consumer subsidies for nuclear and coal plants in upstate New York, as well as for increased state support for large transmission infrastructure. Adding these candidates to the existing Commissioners will not result in the representative and dynamic Public Service Commission the state needs.

“After three years of talking with the state’s energy leaders, we’ve yet to see action that makes clean energy access, ownership or control for low- and moderate-income New Yorkers a reality,” said Adam Flint, Southern TIer Solar Works Program Manager at the Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition. “In the wake of Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris accord, it’s past time for Governor Cuomo to show that his stated commitment to climate policy with equity is more than words. His  first two picks for the Commission do not inspire confidence. The appointment of a ‘People’s Commissioner’ is critical in giving energy democracy advocates evidence of the sincerity of his leadership in delivering on his promise of access to renewables regardless of income or zip code. “

To support a robust examination of PSC nominees’ experience, positions, and ties, the EDA has produced a Confirmation Hearing Worksheet for senators to use during the process. This week, the Alliance circulated this worksheet to the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee members and will distribute the Worksheet to other senators in the coming days.

The vacancies on the PSC present an opportunity to broaden the vision and capacities of this important body. The EDA continues to call on Governor Cuomo to appoint – and for the Senate to confirm – “People’s Commissioners” to the PSC committed to working for the benefit of all New Yorkers and to build a green, sustainable New York. These consumer-centric regulators would hold utilities accountable to their obligation of providing reliable service at just and reasonable rates, and would rein in the outsize influence of big utilities and dirty fossil fuels interests. People’s Commissioners would work to grow New York’s renewable energy economy so the state can lead nationally. A People’s Commissioner would also prioritize green jobs and local, community renewable power generation in neighborhoods across New York– so that everyone, not just the wealthy or big utility companies, can benefit.  People’s Commissioners would reflect the diversity of the people of our state, bringing strength and balance of perspective and experience to the PSC. Given the ongoing and inevitable transition to a renewable energy based economy, the state needs People’s Commissioners who understand how to guide that transition toward local and democratically controlled clean energy solutions so that that all communities can have a say in and benefit from this transition.

Neither Rhodes nor Wilcox meet the criteria for People’s Commissioners. In light of these nominations, the EDA renews its call on the Governor to appoint a strong consumer, environmental justice, and community advocate to the Commission – someone to be the voice of the millions of New Yorkers who suffer unaffordable energy rates, the harms of pollution,  and lack of access to clean, renewable energy benefits. New York State needs Commissioners that represent and reflect all it’s people, especially those from communities most impacted by energy decisions.

 

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About the Energy Democracy Alliance

The New York Energy Democracy Alliance (EDA) is a statewide alliance of community-based organizations, grassroots groups, and policy experts working together to advance a just and participatory transition to a resilient, localized, and democratically controlled clean energy economy in New York State. The EDA formed in response to New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceeding – a state overhaul of energy policy and renewable energy funding. The REV is a historic process that will shape our energy future for generations to come. The EDA holds regulators, political leaders, and energy companies accountable, and works to ensure that the benefits of our energy system flow to all New Yorkers, especially poor, working class people, and communities of color. All New Yorkers, regardless of their background, should have access to the benefits of renewable energy and a sustainable and equitable energy future.

EDA Members:

Affordable Housing Partnership Homeownership Center

Alliance for a Green Economy (AGREE)

Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition

Catskill Mountainkeeper

Center for Social Inclusion (CSI)

Citizens’ Environmental Coalition

Citizens for Local Power

Citizen Action of New York

Co-op Power

Fossil Free Tompkins

Good Old Lower East Side

Hudson River Sloop Clearwater

Long Island Progressive Coalition

New York State Sustainable Business Council

Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson

Northwest Bronx Community Clergy Coalition

People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH Buffalo)

Sane Energy Project

Solstice

Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development

Syracuse United Neighbors (SUN)

WE ACT for Environmental Justice

 

EDA Statement on the Paris Climate Accord

In response to the announcement that President Donald Trump will withdraw the United States from the historic Paris Climate Accord, the NY Energy Democracy Alliance affirms our commitment to advance a just and participatory transition to a resilient, localized, and democratically controlled clean energy system through local- and state-level action.Given President Trump’s action, now is the time for organized communities, and municipal and state governments – including New York’s as led by Governor Cuomo – to take bold steps to build new energy systems that serve and protect the people and planet, and foster environmental justice and energy democracy.

The EDA commits to address climate and inequality in New York State as part of a national effort to keep our commitment to the Paris Agreement. The US is historically responsible for much of the planet’s carbon emissions, pollution, and growing inequality. We recognize the Paris Agreement was only a starting point, and that it is our responsibility to fight to protect global communities that bear the brunt of climate change. To do this, we must change the our local policies to ensure they protect our environment and position us as stewards of a more resilient planet.

Governor Cuomo has set ambitious goals for moving New York State to adopt renewable energy, and in the wake of Trump’s decision he announced the US Climate Alliance and Clean Careers initiatives. At the same time he is overseeing a reform process in New York State that protects utilities and energy companies at the expense of the interests of the people and environment. Communities impacted by climate change must play an active role in the decisions and processes of state agencies like New York State’s Public Service Commission (PSC) to ensure they make informed choices and generate relevant, innovative solutions that serve all New Yorkers. We call on Governor Cuomo to heed community calls for local ownership of renewable energy, and the development of a participatory and equitable renewable energy economy.  

The NY Energy Democracy Alliance will continue to fight for a renewable, equitable, accountable, and local (REAL) energy system that lifts marginalized communities here in New York, and communities that most suffer the effects of pollution across the globe. As our governor recommits to ambitious climate goals on an international stage, we will continue to monitor his efforts and push him to ensure effective implementation.  Poor and working class communities, communities of color, and others hit hard by climate change must be able to  participate in and benefit from the transition to a greener, more sustainable future. We invite others to join our work as we pursue an energy democracy platform in New York that includes:

  • A rapid and equitable transition to a 100% clean, renewable, fossil-free, nuclear-free energy in order to address climate change, build resilient communities and create economic opportunities.
  • An energy future built on energy efficiency, conservation, climate resilience, and public or local community-owned renewable energy assets.
  • The democratization of our powerful state energy regulatory bodies, starting with the immediate appointment of  People’s Commissioners to fill vacant seats on the Public Service Commission.  
  • The equitable distribution of state clean energy funds so that all New Yorkers can participate in and benefit from the clean energy economy, starting with immediate funding for community-owned shared solar projects in low-income communities and communities of color.

For more information visit our website, or contact us at nyenergydemocracy@gmail.com.

Community Groups React to Governor Cuomo’s Reported Plans to Nominate NYSERDA Director John Rhodes to the Public Service Commission

Also renew their call for the governor
to appoint “People’s Commissioners” to the PSC

In response to news reports that Governor Cuomo will nominate NYSERDA Director John Rhodes to serve on the Public Service Commission (PSC), the New York Energy Democracy Alliance — a statewide coalition of community-based organizations, grassroots groups, and policy experts working to advance a just and participatory transition to a clean energy economy — issues the following statement:

“If the reports are true, we congratulate John Rhodes on his nomination to the New York Public Service Commission, and we call on the Governor to move with haste to nominate consumer advocates and other public interest-minded candidates for the remaining two seats on the Commission. While Rhodes possesses an impressive background in renewable energy and energy efficiency advocacy, he is too out of touch with the issues that low- and moderate- income New Yorkers in particular grapple with on a daily basis, such as utility shut offs and ongoing exposure to dangerous air pollution that puts their health and safety at risk.

“Through a letter, a petition, and other efforts, the Alliance has called on the Governor to reshape the Commission to reflect a variety of perspectives and experiences by nominating ‘People’s Commissioners’ committed to serving the interests of the people and the environment of New York. More than 1,200 people across the state have signed the petition. Rhodes meets some of the criteria we have advanced for “People’s Commissioners,” but with his nomination, there are still important perspectives and experience missing.

“As the director of the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority, Rhodes possesses in-depth knowledge of the energy landscape and experience working with key stakeholders who regularly weigh in on energy policy decisions. This background would serve him well on the PSC.

“Members of the Alliance have worked with John Rhodes for years. We appreciate his track record of supporting renewable energy, giving different viewpoints strong consideration, and implementing programs intended to expand clean energy access to low- and moderate-income communities. However, many of these programs have failed to deliver the promise of energy efficiency and renewables at scale, and have excluded marginalized communities. NYSERDA, under Rhodes, has not adequately heeded the expert advice of energy practitioners working on the ground in low-income communities and communities of color. And, NYSERDA, under Rhodes, has bought into a dangerous ideology that elevates theoretical ‘market solutions’ above practical and time-tested incentives, binding mandates, and other government support for renewable energy and efficiency.

“Should Rhodes be confirmed to the Public Service Commission, we hope he will place an even greater priority on protecting the environment and putting the people of New York first. We call on him to support renewable energy over natural gas, coal, oil, and nuclear energy in all cases, and work with community experts on the ground to ensure that poor and working-class communities and communities of color can access and take part in projects that generate clean, affordable energy going forward, including community solar.

“Corporate utilities and big business have the greatest influence on the PSC, and deeply shape its policies. We need People’s Commissioners who will change that. The governor must not miss the opportunity to bring balance and transparency to the Commission. People’s Commissioners are needed to promote energy democracy, to shift the PSC’s approach to accelerate locally owned renewable energy, and to meet the needs of New Yorkers who have long suffered the greatest burdens of the dirty energy economy, and are demanding to be meaningfully included in the renewable and sustainable energy economy. ”

EDA Statement: New York Energy Regulators Replace Net Metering with Risky and Complex Plan with Some Concessions to Support Community Solar and Low-Income Solar Access

The Public Service Commission has adopted a Value of Distributed Energy Resources (VDER) policy to set the value of local renewable energy resources such as solar and wind across the state. After reviewing the decision, the New York Energy Democracy Alliance (EDA) has issued the following statement:

“The Commission is moving to rapidly phase out net energy metering – the current simple compensation mechanism for solar energy – despite deep concerns raised by community solar developers, community groups, and thousands of customers. This ruling is part of the Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) process launched by Governor Cuomo to create a clean, resilient, and more affordable energy system in New York State. The EDA is concerned that the rapid pace of net metering phase-out and the complexity of the new policy jeopardize the REV goals and sets up roadblocks to community renewable energy innovation in New York State. We are disappointed that the adopted policy risks such a rapid transition; fails to set a simple and predictable value for distributed energy resources; and disregards many values that should be included in any policy that purports to accurately reflect the benefits of distributed renewable energy.

“A major concern raised by the New York Energy Democracy Alliance throughout this process is that the proposed VDER policy will perpetuate inequities for low-income customers, people of color, and other New Yorkers who want to generate and use renewable energy, but face disproportionately higher barriers to renewable energy adoption. We are also concerned that the policy puts local solar installers and community organizations at a disadvantage, even when these local groups are poised to deliver community solar projects that maximize local economic development and other community benefits of renewable energy. The PSC’s newly adopted policy is so complex that it may only work for large firms big enough to devote substantial resources to sophisticated financial and energy market modeling.

“To its credit, the Commission acknowledged some of these issues and proposed potential remedies. These include a directive to New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to provide $28 million in funding for community renewable energy with targeted funding to support low-income access. Additionally, the Commission opened the door for immediate consideration of increased compensation for projects that serve low-income customers. There were also some incremental improvements to the core of the policy itself that may smooth out the transition and allow more projects to become viable.

“We applaud the continued involvement and pressure brought by community groups, community solar developers, environmental organizations, local elected officials, small businesses and customers themselves who spoke up in the thousands by submitting comments and meeting with decision makers. We are proud of the improvements and additional funding won through these efforts, but we also remain concerned that the fundamental policy here is flawed and may be unworkable for many New Yorkers who are waiting with anticipation for the day they can fully participate in New York’s clean, renewable energy revolution.

“The Commission must stop kicking the can down the road when it comes to real opportunities for low-income people and people of color to be included in the transition to a renewable energy economy. Therefore, we intend to sustain our work to hold the Commission and the governor accountable for the real impact their policies have on the lives of New Yorkers most burdened by our dirty and expensive energy system. We commit to working with the Commission and NYSERDA to move concrete remedies forward to uphold the governor’s commitment that ‘all New Yorkers, regardless of their zip code or income, have the opportunity to access clean and affordable power.’”

The full text of the Commission’s VDER Order can be found here: http://documents.dps.ny.gov/public/Common/ViewDoc.aspx?DocRefId=%7b5B69628E-2928-44A9-B83E-65CEA7326428%7d

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About the New York Energy Democracy Alliance  

The New York Energy Democracy Alliance is a collaboration of community-based organizations, grassroots groups, and policy experts working together to move our state toward a renewable, equitable, affordable and local energy system. Our current focus is on building public participation in the historic overhaul of state energy policy that Gov. Cuomo, the PSC, and NYSERDA are pursuing, in order to ensure that all New Yorkers—including low-and moderate-income communities and communities of color— can be part of the process, and benefit from it.

Current members include:

 

  • Affordable Housing Partnership Homeownership Center
  • Alliance for a Green Economy (AGREE)
  • Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition
  • Catskill Mountainkeeper
  • Center for Social Inclusion
  • Citizen Action of New York
  • Citizens’ Environmental Coalition
  • Citizens for Local Power
  • Co-op Power
  • Fossil Free Tompkins
  • Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES)
  • Hudson River Sloop Clearwater
  • Long Island Progressive Coalition
  • New York State Sustainable Business Council
  • Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson
  • Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition
  • People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) Buffalo
  • Sane Energy Project
  • Solstice
  • Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development
  • Syracuse United Neighbors (SUN)
  • WE ACT for Environmental Justice

 

 

 

 

 

Op-ed: Chance for Public Service Commission to expand vision

By Ceci Pineda and Jonathan Bix
Published in the Albany Times Union

Soon, three of the five seats on New York’s powerful Public Service Commission will be empty. Gov. Andrew Cuomo should seize this opportunity to appoint “People’s Commissioners” committed to serving the interests of the people and environment of New York.

It is critical that the PSC — which helps guide the state’s energy future — is well positioned to address the needs and concerns of all New Yorkers, including poor, working class people and people of color struggling with major challenges related to energy affordability, energy access and pollution.

Read the full commentary here…

 

Energy Democracy Alliance Calls on Governor Cuomo to Appoint “People’s Commissioners” to the Public Service Commission

 

In response to the impending departures of Chairwoman Zibelman and Commissioner Acampora from the Public Service Commission, the New York Energy Democracy Alliance has issued the following statement:

“The impending departures of Chairwoman Zibelman and Commissioner Acampora from the Public Service Commission come at a critical moment in New York State’s transition to a clean, renewable energy economy. While progress has been made by the PSC in recent years to advance Governor Cuomo’s signature clean energy initiative, Reforming the Energy Vision, serious work remains to ensure that this transition is equitable and just.

“All New Yorkers, but especially low-income communities and communities of color vulnerable to climate disruption and victimized by economic disinvestment and environmental burdens, should have meaningful opportunities to participate in the clean, renewable energy economy of the future. Moreover, they should have meaningful opportunities to reap the benefits of this new economy; living wage green jobs, reduced energy burdens, improved health outcomes, community control of distributed energy resources, and environmental justice.

“The PSC can play a critical role in ensuring these benefits are accessible to communities most impacted by climate change and energy burdens, and should be held accountable in the event targeted reinvestment goals are not met. We call on the Governor and the NYS Legislature to seize on this moment of uncertainty to appoint a ‘people’s commissioner’ at the PSC who can not only serve the mission of the commission but also represent the needs and uplift the fortunes of low-income New Yorkers and New Yorkers of color.  To this end, a people’s commissioner should have direct experience and a proven track record of advocating for the needs of people in environmental justice communities, low-income households, and people of color. The New York Energy Democracy Alliance stands ready to work with the Governor to support the appointment of such a commissioner.”

About the New York Energy Democracy Alliance 

The New York Energy Democracy Alliance (EDA) is a statewide alliance of community-based organizations, grassroots groups, and policy experts working together to advance a just and participatory transition to a resilient, localized, and democratically controlled clean energy economy in New York State. The EDA formed in response to New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceeding – a state overhaul of energy policy and renewable energy funding. The REV is a historic process that will shape our energy future for generations to come. The EDA holds regulators, political leaders, and energy companies accountable, and works to ensure that the benefits of our energy system flow to all New Yorkers, especially poor, working class people, and communities of color. All New Yorkers, regardless of their background, should have access to the benefits of renewable energy and a sustainable and equitable energy future.

Future of community solar in NY is at stake: Communities across state urge PSC to fix deeply flawed plans to replace net metering

In Jan. 18 press call, dozens of community groups to call on PSC and Cuomo Administration to ensure all New Yorkers can benefit from renewable energy 

The Public Service Commission is considering radical rule changes on how much New Yorkers get paid for contributing renewable energy to the electrical grid, and community groups across the state are raising serious concerns about what this means for the future of solar energy in the state. The rule change will initially devalue community solar, which is the only avenue available to renters and others who cannot put solar on their own property. In the future, it may apply to rooftop solar as well.

The Energy Democracy Alliance held a telephone press conference on Wednesday, Jan. 18, at 11 am EST to brief reporters on this issue. Community groups from around the state explained how nascent solar projects across the state could be torpedoed if the PSC doesn’t get the new rules right. Listen to a recording of the call here.

“We understand the PSC’s desire to abandon the existing system – net metering – in favor of more flexible ways of putting a price on renewable energy,” said Kelly Roache, business development manager at Solstice. “But the devil is in the details. And barring substantial amendments, the PSC’s proposal as it’s now written will torpedo the fledgling community solar- and wind-energy markets.

To illuminate this issue, the New York Energy Democracy Alliance, which represents groups from all over New York, prepared technical comments on the proposed rule changes that attracted the signatures of 98 organizations, elected officials and businesses from all across the state. The groups called on the PSC to make major improvements to the proposal and to slow the transition so as not to disrupt the very nascent community solar market. The PSC could make a final decision on how to value renewable generation as early as January 24.

“There are several actions the PSC could take to fix this flawed proposal so that the full value of community renewable energy development is recognized,” said Clarke Gocker, policy director at PUSH Buffalo. “But if the PSC is unreceptive to our concerns, we’d rather see no change – just keep consistent with the existing net metering program – rather than an abrupt policy shift that would set back progress toward equitable access to the benefits of renewable energy by years.”

“Net metering should serve as a bottom threshold price,” said Chris Burger, chair, Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition. “We need pricing that spurs investment in renewables and the growing number of jobs that sector is generating.”

The Alliance strongly supports Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s goal of “ensuring that all New Yorkers, regardless of their zip code or income, have the opportunity to access clean and affordable power.” Community solar and wind projects are essential to that goal, because they open up renewable energy to New Yorkers who live in multi-family housing, or who don’t have land or rooftops appropriate for renewable development, or who otherwise cannot – or cannot afford to – install renewable generating capacity on their own.

“With this policy, the PSC would privilege rooftop solar, which is the domain of homeowners who can make the investment, over community and shared renewables, which can be accessible to everyone,” said Pastor Edwin Pierce of Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition. “Surely we can all agree that we need policies that expand renewable energy access and benefits for all, not just those lucky enough to own property. Why should the energy produced by someone’s rooftop system by seen as more valuable than energy produced from a community array?”

Many businesses also cannot put solar on their own property because they are either tenants or do not have a suitable space.

“Not every business is situated for onsite solar. Much like residential customers, many of our small businesses need the offsite option that community solar offers,” said Bob Rossi, director, New York State Sustainable Business Council.

Renewable energy projects save money over time but have upfront financing costs that usually need to be financed. These financing costs can be reduced if there is market certainty. The proposed rule would rapidly change potential revenue streams and add in volatility, making securing financing more difficult and projects more expensive. This could be a huge problem, especially for smaller solar and wind developers. It could also put projects out of reach of low-income people by making them too expensive.

Adam Flint, Community Owned Shared Renewables Working Group co-coordinator said, “Energy Democracy Alliance members are in the process of developing a half a dozen shared solar projects across the state to serve low- and moderate-income New Yorkers in a wide variety of situations. We have documented this, and told the PSC precisely and repeatedly what needs to be changed in current policy and programs to enable us to save our members money and create jobs. We trust that they will listen this time, so we can do as the Governor promised.”

Community renewable energy projects are seen as a key tool for bringing the benefits of renewable energy to a wider range of groups, including low-income communities, multi-family dwellings, and communities of color, where clean and affordable energy is needed the most.

“There is tremendous interest in developing solar projects in environmental justice communities in New York, but in our work to support these efforts we have seen the significant challenges communities face in getting projects off the ground,” said Shiva Prakash of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest. “The current Value of Distributed Energy Resources proposal has the potential to further burden these projects with a complex, unpredictable, and unequal valuation of generated energy. We urge the PSC to consider common sense changes to ensure its policy does not leave behind our most disadvantaged communities in New York’s transition to clean energy.”

“We must make every effort to expand access to renewable energy for all New Yorkers, especially those that are currently barred from easy access,” said Ryan Madden, sustainability organizer for the Long Island Progressive Coalition. “The rule changes proposed by the PSC move us in the wrong direction. Even here on Long Island, where 30,000 homes now have rooftop solar, we’re in a situation where 80% of electricity customers can’t readily access solar. We need policies that support the growth of community solar to bring those people into the renewable energy mix.”

The PSC’s proposed rules focus on maximizing the value of renewable energy to utilities and capping impacts on utility revenues, rather than promoting renewable energy development that maximizes value to society as a whole. The Energy Democracy Alliance has proposed several factors that should be taken into account when determining the value of a shared renewable energy project, such as improved energy affordability for low-income people; reduction in air and water pollution, especially in environmental justice communities; local economic development; increases in storm resiliency; and others.

These projects include:

  • Two additional community solar projects totaling two MWs each to be developed on a capped landfill in the Mid-Hudson Valley on top of two projects in process. A portion of the profit generated from the sale of the electricity from the projects will be used to pay medical bills and provide support for 9/11 first responders and victims still suffering.
  • Ten 20kW solar arrays that would be built as part of an affordable solar partnership for low- and moderate-income co-ops in NYC
  • An 80 – 100kW solar array on the roof of a decommissioned school in Buffalo that is being redeveloped for mixed uses, including affordable housing
  • A 624 kW subscription-based community shared solar project that is being developed to serve residents of Bainbridge, a small rural town located in the Southern Tier
  • 1.7 MW community solar array on municipal land in the Hudson Valley that would be owned initially by Hudson Solar (Pre-Flip) with a community buyout in year six once the tax attributes are used

“From Buffalo to Binghamton to the Hudson Valley, there are community solar projects that will sink or swim depending on the PSC’s upcoming ruling,” said Jessica Azulay, program director with Alliance for a Green Economy. “These projects will bring real benefits to host communities, including reduced energy costs, health benefits, pollution reduction, and local job growth – and all of that could become out of reach if the PSC goes ahead as planned.”

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About the Energy Democracy Alliance

The New York Energy Democracy Alliance (EDA) is a statewide alliance of community-based organizations, grassroots groups, and policy experts working together to advance a just and participatory transition to a resilient, localized, and democratically controlled clean energy economy in New York State. The EDA formed in response to New York’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceeding – a state overhaul of energy policy and renewable energy funding. The REV is a historic process that will shape our energy future for generations to come. The EDA holds regulators, political leaders, and energy companies accountable, and works to ensure that the benefits of our energy system flow to all New Yorkers, especially poor, working class people, and communities of color. All New Yorkers, regardless of their background, should have access to the benefits of renewable energy and a sustainable and equitable energy future.

EDA Response to the Release of the Report on Low-Income Participation in Shared Solar

On Monday, the New York State Department of Public Service Staff released a long-awaited report on how the state should facilitate participation of low-income people in the opportunity of shared renewable energy.  The report was expected to make recommendations on a path forward to ensure that low-income people would benefit from the state’s shared renewable energy policy.  The proceedings were developed in order to create opportunities for renters, other households, and businesses who cannot afford or access solar to participate in the solar economy. Instead, the report provided yesterday summarily dismissed the collaborative work and recommendations of dozens of organizations and businesses who the Staff had convened.

When the community shared renewables policy was enacted in July 2015, Governor Cuomo said it would ensure that “all New Yorkers, regardless of their zip code or income, have the opportunity to access clean and affordable power.”

But major barriers continue to exist for low-income people who want to take advantage of shared solar and who could benefit from lower bills, job opportunities, and a cleaner environment offered by shared solar development. These barriers include lack of access to capital for upfront costs, difficulty getting credit, predatory practices by energy companies, and low levels of state investment from funds that are set aside to help residents and businesses take advantage of renewable energy.

The Public Service Commission recognized many of these barriers when it approved the shared renewables policy, which led to the creation of a collaborative effort for stakeholders to share ideas and recommendations for overcoming them.

Members of the Collaborative worked throughout the fall 2015 to create a lengthy document packed with recommendations and innovative approaches to enable low-income participation in shared solar projects, including ideas to help low-income people become actual member/owners of solar projects.

Some ideas included in the document are:

  • The creation of state incentives specifically to encourage low-income participation in shared solar, paid for from clean energy funds that all consumers contribute to but that low-income households to date have had difficulty accessing.
  • The use of cooperative ownership models that are working to provide low-income shared solar access in other states.
  • New York Green Bank credit support for low-income participation in order to reduce risk and lower financing costs for projects serving low-income households.
  • Technical assistance and grants to community organizations and non-profits to support innovative shared solar project models.
  • Strong consumer projections to provide confidence in the shared solar product among low-income communities that have traditionally been the victims of energy schemes in the past.

Despite the wealth of ideas provided by the participants in the Collaborative, the Staff submitted a report to the Commission stating: “Although the Collaborative spent a great deal of time and effort investigating the barriers to low-income customer participation in CDG projects, workable solutions have not arisen that would overcome those barriers.”

No explanation was provided for why the ideas provided by the Collaborative were not workable. The Staff went on to recommend that the Collaborative be “suspended” and that instead utility ownership of shared renewable energy projects be explored as a solution going forward.

In response to the disrespect shown to the participants of the Collaborative by the Department of Public Service Staff, the New York State Energy Democracy Alliance (EDA) released the following statement:

“Many EDA members participated in this collaborative in good faith, spending countless hours in meetings to hash out ideas, provide research, and elevate the needs of low-income households in this process. Though we know there was more work to do to fine-tune the recommendations, provide additional research, and develop consensus for ways forward, we are shocked by the filing from the Department of Public Service Staff, which essentially dismisses all of the progress that was made and disbands the effort with no real explanation to those who participated.

“We are deeply concerned about the meaning of this action. We were expecting a plan to get New York on a path of equitable access and participation in shared solar energy for all New Yorkers. Instead we got months of delay and inaction culminating in a rejection of the variety of options and ways forward identified by the participating community-based organizations, consumer advocates, utilities, clean energy companies and finance experts participating in this process. The result of this will be that low-income New Yorkers will continue to be shut out of shared solar opportunities for the foreseeable future.

“Many of the recommendations provided by stakeholders in this process would have begun to reverse inequities inherent in our current energy system and energy policy by providing low-income New Yorkers a share of their own funds that have been contributed for state clean energy programs, and by providing pathways to more affordable energy and even ownership of renewable energy assets. We are beyond disappointed that these ideas were so summarily disregarded.

“New York will not meet its energy goals without addressing the systemic inequities in our current economic and energy systems. With at least 40% of the population in the state being low or moderate income, it is essential that energy policy in New York be designed with the needs of those households as central, not as an afterthought. Strong action and interventions by New York’s energy regulators, NYSERDA, and the Governor are necessary at this time to break down the barriers to renewable energy access and to ensure that low-income people who want to participate in solar are provided the same opportunities as everyone else to build wealth and ownership in New York’s clean energy economy.”