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.
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.
Affordable Housing Partnership Homeownership Center
Alliance for a Green Economy (AGREE)
Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition
Center for Social Inclusion (CSI)
Citizens’ Environmental Coalition
Citizens for Local Power
Citizen Action of New York
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
Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development
Syracuse United Neighbors (SUN)
WE ACT for Environmental Justice