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NYC Dems Say Rate Hike Isn’t Environmentally Friendly

Several state legislators have signed a letter asking Gov. Kathy Hochul to oppose National Grid’s rate increase agreement with the Public Service Commission.

The agreement was announced Monday. Under the terms of the agreement, electric rates would increase 2.4% in the first year, 4.5% in the second year and 4.9% in the third year while gas rates would increase 2.9% in the first year, 6.4% in the second year and $6.7% in the third year. Average residential electricity customers who use 600 kWh a month would see a $1.88 monthly bill increase in the first year, $1.88 in year two and $2.23 in year three. Average residential gas bills for customers who use 82 therms a month would increase $1.51 per month in the first year, $2.37 in year two and $2.56 in year three.

“Our three-year agreement reflects the input of a broad range of stakeholders and is an important step forward in advancing New York’s clean energy future. It maintains a focus on managing customer affordability in response to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19, while funding programs that will modernize our energy networks and promote economic growth in the state,” said National Grid’s New York President Rudy Wynter.

LEGISLATIVE DISAPPROVAL

But state lawmakers are asking Hochul to review the decisions not because the rates are too much for ratepayers, but because the rate agreement run afoul of their reading of the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. Several organizations — among them Citizen Action of New York, the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Alliance for a Green Economy, Stop NY Fracked Gas Pipeline, Greenlots and a company that manufactures electric vehicle charging stations — opposed the rate hike throughout negotiations between National Grid officials and Public Service Commission members and commission staff. Some arguments against the rate hike were $1.4 billion in spending on fossil fuel infrastructure and to increase gas sales within National Grid’s territory, all with a useful life span beyond 2050 — which the environmental groups say conflicts with the CLCPA’s declaration that the state achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Ten state Senators and 15 state Assembly members signed a letter Sept. 17 asking Hochul to review the Public Service Commission’s tentative approval of the rate increase. They argue customers will pay for portions of a pipeline in North Brooklyn and new projects in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island that are in opposition to the CLCPA. Senators opposing the increase are Brian Kavanaugh, Julia Salazar, Diane Savino, James Snaders, Andrew Gounardes, Jabari Brisport, Joseph Addabbo, Roxanne Persaud, Liz Krueger and Brad Hoylman. Assembly members opposing the agreement are Charles Barron, Leroy Comrie, Emily Gallagher, Maritza Davila, Alicia Hyndman, Latrice Walker, Robert Carroll, Jo Anne Simon, Marcela Mitaynes, Phara Souffrant Forrest, Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, Linda Rosenthal, Zohran Mamdani, Ron Kim and Judy Griffin.

“In their order, the PSC correctly acknowledged that New York’s groundbreaking climate law, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) applies to rate cases, but then shockingly said that National Grid’s gas sales growth plan and rate hike complies with the CLCPA despite having performed no greenhouse gas emissions accounting. Community organizations introduced significant evidence in the case that shows National Grid’s projects disproportionately harm disadvantaged Black and Brown working class communities and that the company’s overall rate plan goes in the wrong direction on greenhouse gas emissions, yet this evidence was ignored,” the lawmakers’ letter states.

National Grid officials say the rate increase will allow more energy affordability programs and services, investment in energy efficiency and demand programs to help customers manage their energy use and bills, increases in clean energy solutions — including transmission investments to help renewable energy projects, programs to promote heat pump and geothermal solutions and initiatives and investments to support electric vehicle deployment in its service territory. National Grid proposes to spend $3.3 billion on projects company officials say will benefit 1.6 million customers statewide.

“The proposal will allow us to invest in programs necessary to maintain the safety and reliability of our networks and implement new initiatives to accelerate the transition to a cleaner energy future in support of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act goals.” Wynter said.

State legislators are unconvinced. In asking Hochul to intervene, they say evidence submitted by community members, elected officials and non-profit organizations were ignored and that the state Department of Public Service didn’t do an assessment of greenhouse gas emissions or the rate increase’s effect on environmental justice communities.

“Dozens of New Yorkers unnecessarily lost their lives recently because for decades the fossil fuel industry perpetuated climate denial and the industry continues to delay the transition off fossil fuels,” the letter states. “Too many members of our communities have lost their lives due to the health impacts of fossil fuel pollution yet National Grid is still greenwashing fracked gas to this day. The PSC order continues a legacy of environmental racism and climate denial. What further cataclysm needs to take place before our state agencies will ensure the utilities comply with the law? Who will hold our state agencies accountable if not, you, the Governor?”

‘THEY HAVE NO UNDERSTANDING’

State Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, said it is important to maintain existing energy infrastructure and build new infrastructure to get power where it is needed. He also reiterated his call for further investment in the state’s aging electric grid. In August, Borrello co-sponsored legislation calling for the state Public Service Commission and NYSERDA to conduct a full cost-benefit analysis of renewable energy systems and to compare those costs with other ways of producing energy. Companion legislation was introduced in May in the Assembly (A.7524) sponsored by Assemblyman Phil Palmesano with nearly the entire Republican contingent in the Assembly as a co-sponsor, including Assemblymen Andrew Goodell and Joe Giglio.

Specifically, Republicans want to know the impact of CLCPA renewable energy target compliance on electricity wholesale prices, delivery rates and total bills that energy consumers in this state will pay, including indirect energy costs. The analysis would include the impacts of subsidies to site land-based and offshore renewable energy projects, the build-out of the electric infrastructure to receive and transmit renewable power, subsidies of energy storage projects, and the addition of new loads associated with deep electrification efforts in the residential, commercial, industrial and transportation sectors. The GOP legislators also want to know more about the direct and indirect costs associated with the transition to heating and cooling provided by heat pumps powered by renewable energy systems and the current civilian state of the art in nuclear reactor technology and the role nuclear reactors could play in the transition to a cleaner, more reliable, and more resilient energy portfolio in New York.

“They have no understanding of how energy infrastructure really functions and the challenges we face,” Borrello said. “Instead of investing in New York’s aging and failing electric grid, we are wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on boondoggle green energy projects. We can’t deliver that energy from where it’s produced to where it’s needed.”

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