FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Kim Fraczek, Director, Sane Energy Project
Brooklyn, NY – At the REV Future 2017 Conference today in downtown Brooklyn, a group of energy democracy advocates briefly interrupted Richard Kauffman’s keynote address, with a humorous skit to call attention to the vast majority of New Yorkers who have yet to benefit from the State’s renewable energy transition. Kauffman, Chairman of New York State Energy and Finance is also known as New York’s first “Energy Czar.” The energy democracy advocates are calling on Kauffman and New York’s energy leadership to make good on the state’s unmet promise of affordable and accessible renewable energy options for all New Yorkers.
During the conference speed networking session, the group also took to the event location lobby to drop a 15 foot banner that read: “NY REV Future: For the Wealthy, Connected & Few; Only 200 Low Income Families Have Solar Access with REV; NO Utility Domination; YES Affordable Accessible Renewables”
The two-day REV Future conference, sponsored by GreenTech Media, focused on the state strategy known as “Reforming the Energy Vision” or REV and business models to increase renewable energy in New York. The conference sold tickets at around $1,000 per person and had an agenda that included topics like enabling distributed energy resource integration, results from REV demonstration projects, and long term planning for REV.
The protest at this event highlighted the realities of working class New Yorkers and New Yorkers of color who still face enormous challenges when it comes to accessing clean, renewable energy options in Governor Cuomo’s current REV program.
In July 2015, Governor Cuomo’s appointed Public Service Commissioners’ enactment a landmark shared/community solar policy, meant to open up access to renewable energy for renters and others who could not put solar on their own roofs. In announcing the policy, Gov. Cuomo said: “The Shared Renewables initiative will help people and communities across the state save money on local clean energy projects. This program is about protecting the environment and ensuring that all New Yorkers, regardless of their zip code or income, have the opportunity to access clean and affordable power. Together, we will build a cleaner and greener New York.”
Yet, earlier this year, Mr. Kauffman expressed a less inclusive vision, writing in an article on the REV process: “I want to stress here that the goal of REV, and New York State energy policy in general, is not necessarily to make solar work for every customer right now. The economics are not going to pencil out for every customer in every location in the state. The bigger, more difficult challenge is to drive DER deployment to locations where these resources will have the most value. Over time, this approach will make solar accessible for more and more of our residents across the state, while also creating system-wide cost savings.”
Recent rulings by Governor Cuomo’s appointed Public Service Commissioners in the state’s Value of Distributed Energy Resources (VDER) proceeding have adhered to Kauffman’s vision, creating huge challenges for groups seeking to build locally owned community solar projects for the benefit of low-income households and environmental justice communities. The VDER decisions have exacerbated the inequities of solar access between homeowners and renters, caved to utility pressures about what should be valued and what should not, and kicked the can down the road yet again when it comes to addressing the needs of New York’s most vulnerable communities.
Kim Fraczek, director of Sane Energy Project and one of the protesters who interrupted Mr. Kauffman, stated “Recent decisions by Governor Cuomo’s Public Service Commission jeopardize the value of community solar energy and demonstrate the extent to which REV is on the rocks – in particular for low-income New Yorkers whose need for cheaper, cleaner energy is the most dire.”
The protesters were members of the New York Energy Democracy Alliance (EDA), a coalition of 23 member groups formed in 2014 to create a seat at the table for community based organizations and tens of thousands of residents who face the burdens of high energy bills, high pollution, and lack of access to renewable energy and the economic opportunities that the clean energy transition creates. For three years, they have participated formally in REV proceedings, educated the public about the REV process, and worked to highlight for policy makers the need for an equitable, accountable, and local transition to renewable energy in New York. Yet, the outsized influence of utilities and other monied interests have stymied progress on many of their goals. Members of the alliance chose to do the skit at the REV Future Conference because it is a gathering of some of the most influential participants in New York’s REV process. They wanted to remind those attending that major issues of affordability and equity have yet to be addressed.
About the issues highlighted during the skit, Adam Flint, Southern Tier Solar Works Program Manager said: “Four years into REV and more than two years after Governor Cuomo committed to making solar accessible to ‘all New Yorkers regardless of income or zip code’, there is not one community solar project that fulfills that promise, and only about 200 families have benefited from NYSERDA’s low-income solar program. On the heels of three destructive massive hurricanes in one month, the Governor and Mr. Kauffman must do more if they truly want New York to be a resilient national climate leader. We call on Governor Cuomo to direct the Public Service Commission and NYSERDA to change course, and listen to the counsel of the Energy Democracy movement and the solar industry. Regulations must be changed to make community solar development scaleable statewide, and NYSERDA should fully support the construction of accessible community solar pilot projects across the state.“
Ceci Pineda, Resiliency Training & Policy Coordinator at Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), said: “New Yorkers cannot afford New York State’s patterns of slow governance that collaborate more with private utilities than communities. The Public Service Commission must move with urgency to address the energy and climate crisis that have been and continue to disparately impact low income communities of color. We urge the Public Service Commission to see the work community members are leading on the ground throughout New York and hastily identify how REV can best support realizing their visions. In the Lower East Side of New York, community members have driven extensive research and coordination to bring a community-controlled energy and communications microgrid to the Lower East Side. We have had to harness a wide range of stakeholders and experts to figure out how to navigate policy hurdles, when it is the Public Service Commission’s task to support bringing energy and communications self-reliance to low income communities.”
Linda Reik, a participant in the action today, spoke about Sullivan County and neighboring locations, saying: “Governor Cuomo and DEC Commissioner Seggos have been asked to rescind their permits for new fracked-gas-burning infrastructure in NY counties of Orange, Sullivan and Delaware partly because proven, invisible, toxic emissions would overlay neighborhoods for miles around. Social costs of such air pollution disease and deaths are not paid for by the gas industry. It is irresponsible of Gov. Cuomo to begin decades of fracked-gas pollution for any New Yorkers, especially low-to-moderate income residents, when solar and wind developers are ready to build non-polluting electricity generation for those same communities. Our neighbors in Pennsylvania need not be burdened by an increase of irreparably damaging fracked-gas extraction and New York should not import toxic and radioactive fracked-gas waste. Rapid transition of New York’s energy vision away from gas power to 100% renewables is doable and is required.”
The Energy Democracy Alliance calls on state policy makers to make REV Renewable, Equitable, Accountable, and Local (REAL) by ensuring that all New Yorkers can participate in the decisions that affect their lives and share in the benefits of renewable energy.
Video Link by The Indypendent media
Video Link by Lee Ziesche and Kim Fraczek of Sane Energy Project
Link: EDA Letter to Cuomo