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.”

EDA to PSC: It’s past time to reveal your plans for opening shared renewable power to all

New York State Energy Democracy Alliance issues call to action to make clean energy more accessible to low- and moderate-income New Yorkers

The New York State Energy Democracy Alliance is calling on the Public Service Commission (PSC) to release its long-awaited report on making shared solar energy accessible to all New Yorkers. The report, which is eight months late and has been delayed twice so far, is now supposed to be released Aug. 15.

The Alliance hopes the PSC will – as Gov. Andrew Cuomo put it when he announced the Shared Renewables initiative – ensure that “all New Yorkers, regardless of their zip code or income, have the opportunity to access clean and affordable power.”

New York’s pioneering Shared Renewables initiative was enacted by the PSC in July 2015 to allow communities to join together to build collective renewable energy projects – and to enjoy the health and economic benefits that flow from clean power.

“Traditionally, rooftop solar hasn’t been an option if you don’t own your own roof,” said Claude Copeland of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition. “Shared solar lets renters, churches, schools, businesses and others band together to create renewable energy projects in their own communities. We are eager to see the PSC’s plans for encouraging access to clean, affordable, healthy energy generation – and the local jobs renewable energy creates – in all kinds of neighborhoods, all over the state.”

The Shared Renewables initiative presents a great opportunity for all New Yorkers to benefit from affordable, renewable power, but in the year since the PSC approved community renewables, the program has failed to match the strong community demand for solar.

Renewable energy should not be reserved only for homeowners or big business. Everyone should benefit, especially low- and moderate-income people and communities of color. People who often bear the brunt of energy insecurity, environmental injustice, and are working hard to make ends meet, can share in the benefits of renewable power – if the initiative doesn’t lock them out. The PSC’s report is supposed to outline plans for removing barriers blocking households and communities who want solar, but lack the capital or property ownership to participate.

“ROCSPOT hopes the PSC empowers our energy ecosystem to ensure community-owned renewable energy generators go from rare to commonplace,” said Dr. Susan Spencer, CEO of ROCSPOT; an organization focused on renewable energy in Rochester and the surrounding Finger Lakes Region. “There are critical regulatory rule changes which could make meaningful differences for many New York State residents. Engaging people in every part of the state, of every socioeconomic status, is the only way the governor’s call for 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 can become reality.”

The New York State Energy Democracy Alliance – made up of community-based organizations, grassroots groups, and others working to advance a just and participatory transition to a resilient, localized, and democratically controlled clean energy economy in the state – hopes the PSC will:

  • Replace the former, but temporary, requirement that every community renewable project have 20 percent low-income participation with a commitment that across the state, at least 20 percent of those who participate in shared solar will be low income. This will create greater flexibility for projects of all kinds, and create a goal for the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to reach with low-income solar incentives.
  • Provide clarity for New York’s “net-metering” policy so that those investing in solar and committing to building or buying into projects have certainty as to what the value of the solar electricity generated by their panels will be. The state’s “net-metering” policy is currently in a state of flux that is discouraging new projects.
  • Create incentives specifically to help low-income people and communities participate in shared renewable energy projects. These incentives should be designed to ensure the state meets a goal of 20 percent participation of low-income people in shared solar statewide, and should also ensure that participation will be spread evenly across the state so that people in all regions benefit.
  • Provide technical assistance and grants for community groups and local governments that wish to develop not-for-profit, cooperative, or publicly owned shared renewable energy projects serving low- and moderate-income New Yorkers.

About the New York State Energy Democracy Alliance

The New York State 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, accountable 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 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
Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES)
Hudson River Sloop Clearwater
Long Island Progressive Coalition
New York Sustainable Business Council
Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson
Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition
People United for Sustainable Housing (PUSH) Buffalo
Sane Energy Project
Syracuse United Neighbors (SUN)

New York’s Low-Income People Win Major Improvements in Landmark Energy Affordability Policy

Community Organizations Say Much More Will Be Needed

Albany—On Thursday, May 19, the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) announced its decision in an 18-month-old proceeding. The PSC initiated the proceeding to address the energy affordability and shut off crises in New York State. As of April 2015, low-income people in New York owed $799 million to utilities and suffered almost 300,000 shutoffs in the preceding 12 months. The Order, implemented by a 3-1 vote, created the first uniform program for energy affordability for low-income consumers in New York State.

The proposal adopted was a much-improved version of an initial proposal from June 2015. The initial proposal process was greeted by criticism from low-income community organizations and advocates in the Energy Democracy Alliance, who demanded greater participation in the process. The Energy Democracy Alliance is made up of community-based organizations and grassroots groups who work to advance a just and participatory transition to a resilient, localized, and democratically controlled clean energy economy in New York State. The Energy Democracy Alliance worked with 34 organizations and elected officials across New York, including environmental, social justice, and low-income advocates, to pressure the PSC to improve the process and the ultimate outcome.

After speaking out and securing a round of public hearings, these groups mobilized hundreds of low-income consumers and community representatives to testify in favor of expanded funding and eligibility to address the shutoff and debt crises, the inclusion of energy efficiency, and a more participatory process to engage stakeholders. The vast majority of the public comments filed online, and the dozens of comments made at hearings, were in favor of greater affordability programs to meet people’s needs.

As a result of this grassroots response, the proposal was modified to immediately increase benefits by $69 million, for a total of $248 million. Eligibility was expanded by 550,000 people, to include a total of 1.65 million households. The Commission further agreed with comments submitted by Energy Democracy Alliance organizations that energy efficiency and access to low-cost renewable energy were key to improving long-term energy affordability for low-income people:

“Greater access and support for low income and underserved communities to [distributed energy resources] is the best way to narrow the affordability gap that needs to be filled with direct financial assistance for customers with low incomes,” wrote the Commission. “Greater access to advanced energy management products to increase efficiency for low income customers will empower those for whom these savings may have the greatest value, as well as allowing the most disadvantaged customers more choice in how they manage and consume energy.”

The Commission ordered the formation of a joint interagency task force designed to further increase enrollment in utility discount programs to all 2.3 million low-income households in New York. The task force will also consider how to integrate energy efficiency and renewable energy programs with energy affordability efforts.

At the Thursday meeting announcing the decision staff from the PSC’s Consumer Advocate’s office described the “enormous amount of input” from low-income people that led them to rewrite the initial proposal.

The Energy Democracy Alliance considers these changes an important step toward addressing the suffering and excruciating choices that high energy bills cause in low-income communities across New York. The Alliance praises the Commission for making major improvements to the low-income discount program based on the response from low-income people and looks forward to even bolder action by the Governor and Public Service Commission that will still be needed to end the affordability crisis.

The Energy Democracy Alliance points to the ongoing investigation of Central Hudson Gas & Electric for violating customers’ rights, shutting people off illegally, and racially discriminating against people of color as an example of why it needs to stay vigilant and how much work is still to be done.

Claude Copeland, a board member with Energy Democracy Alliance member group Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, emphasized that the end of the affordability crisis will be reached only when the low-income people actually experiencing it and the organizations that represent them say so. “The Governor and Public Service Commission have the authority to make the decisions, but we are an authority on the needs and experiences of our communities and the local models for energy democracy that serve them.”

Gwen Chaffin, Community Organizer with Syracuse United Neighbors, a member organization of the Energy Democracy Alliance said: “The Governor and PSC have framed this as ‘bold action,’ and this proposal opens up opportunities for addressing the crisis facing working-class communities and communities of color. The Energy Democracy Alliance will be watching closely to make sure that every one of New York’s 2.3 million low-income households is given a real opportunity to enroll for discounts and that the discounts are large enough to achieve affordability. We will continue to participate and to hold policy-makers’ feet to the fire on these life-and-death decisions.”

Spencer Resnick, an organizer for Energy Democracy Alliance member group Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, said: “This is a victory for the people who took time out of their lives to fight for a program that they need. But it hasn’t solved the crisis, and the voices and input of working-class communities will need to be central to any solution. This is the first in a string of decisions that impact our members, and we expect the Commission to continue to engage them.”

Clarke Gocker, Director of Policy and Strategy at PUSH Buffalo, said: “This decision is a step in the right direction. In the midst of historic transformations to our energy system, low-income New Yorkers cannot be marginalized by a top-down reform agenda and must be meaningfully included in decision-making processes that directly impact the economic stability and environmental health of their homes and communities. A better outcome was reached in this proceeding because low-income New Yorkers and the Energy Democracy Alliance showed up and demanded a seat at the table. We look forward to working with the new low-income energy task force and the PSC to find equitable solutions that address the root causes of the affordability crisis, including access to energy efficiency and renewable energy and freedom from racially discriminatory shut-off practices by utility companies.”

For a full summary of the Energy Democracy Alliances activities in this case, click here.

To read the May 19 Order from the Public Service Commission, click here.

Energy Democracy Alliance member organizations:

Affordable Housing Partnership
Alliance for a Green Economy
Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition
Catskill Mountainkeeper
Center for Social Inclusion
Citizen Action
Citizens’ Environmental Coalition
Citizens for Local Power
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 & Clergy Coalition
PUSH Buffalo
Sane Energy Project
Syracuse United Neighbors

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Agnes McCray testimony

Agnes McCray of ARISE testifies at the Syracuse Public hearing.

nobody-leaves-testimony

Members of Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson pack the room to testify during the Poughkeepsie Public Hearing.

press_conference_image

Syracuse United Neighbors, Spanish Action League, ARISE, Greater Syracuse Tenants Network, and Alliance for a Green Economy hold a press conference announcing the Syracuse Public Hearing.

buffalo_demonstration

Member of PUSH Buffalo are joined by local elected officials in a demonstration outside the Buffalo Public Hearing.