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BPRA: A Win in the Fight for a Green New Deal

How to Win a Green New Deal in Your State

By Ashley Dawson - The Nation, May 11, 2023

New York passed a publicly funded renewable energy program. This is how DSA did it—and how you can too.

New York just became the first US state to pass a major Green New Deal policy. After four years of organizing, the Build Public Renewables Act (BPRA) is now in the New York state budget. Passage of the act is a massive challenge to fossil fuel hegemony and a major victory for public power.

The BPRA authorizes and directs the state’s public power provider—the New York Power Authority (NYPA)—to plan, build, and operate renewable energy projects across the state to meet the ambitious timetable to decarbonize the grid mandated by the Climate Act of 2019. The NYPA, the largest public utility in the country, provides the most affordable energy in the state, but until now, it has been prohibited from building and owning new utility-scale renewable generation projects because of lobbying by profit-seeking private energy companies.

How did we win passage of this plan to start a publicly funded renewable energy program?

The Public Power NY movement began in late 2019 with a campaign organized by the eco-socialist working group of the NYC Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) against a rate hike request from the private utility ConEd. According to a 2018 report from the US Energy Information Administration, ConEd was already charging the second-highest residential rates of any major utility in the country (nearly double the national average), and now they wanted to raise electricity rates an additional 6 percent and gas rates by 11 percent.

To thwart this request, the Public Power campaign did intensive research into the for-profit utility’s recent history and found that though ConEd was making a billion dollars per year in profits, it had threatened to shut off power for 2 million low-income New Yorkers in 2018. Moreover, ConEd had failed to carry out grid upgrades that it had received $350 million to perform, a failure that left the power grid in an increasingly unstable state.

Why we need a reform of the EU electricity market and how we can make it more socially just

A Public, Renewable Power Future: Moving Beyond Monopoly, Fossil-Fueled Utilities

State Building and Construction Trades Council of California opposition to AB 538

By Andrew Meredith - State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, March 16, 2023

Dear Chair Garcia and Members of the Committee:

On behalf of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, I write in strong opposition to AB 538 (Holden). While this bill has been pitched as an effort to simply increase regional cooperation among western states, in reality, AB 538 will destroy construction jobs in California while ceding significant control and oversight of our electrical grid to groups and agencies outside of our state. California has made significant commitments and investments as it relates to renewable power and should remain in control of its own destiny.

Proponents of AB 538 have argued that a regionalized organization is better prepared to deliver benefits to participating states. For nearly a decade, these proponents have failed to provide demonstrative evidence that any benefits would outweigh the significant drawbacks associated with the regionalization of our electrical grid. Even worse, they are now asking the legislature to abandon oversight of the California Independent System Operator (CA ISO), leaving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in complete and exclusive control; this is wrong on many levels.

For the most part, CA ISO has functioned well in maintaining reliability on one of the largest power grids in the world. The success of CA ISO is rooted, though, in the direction and oversight provided by the legislature. We are confident this legislature will continue to drive progress on reliability and the deployment of renewable technologies. Allowing other states, many of whom do not share the same goals, priorities, or values, to play a role in shaping our energy future is dangerous and entirely unCalifornian.

Rooftop Solar Justice

By Howard Crystal, Roger Lin, and Jean Su - Center for Biolgical Diversity, March 2023

A war over the nation’s energy future is raging across the United States. On one side are everyday people who can benefit from clean, renewable energy through distributed-solar projects like rooftop and community solar. On the other side are for-profit electric utilities threatened by distributed solar’s impact on their lucrative, guaranteed profits. These companies are using their influence with regulators and legislators in a coordinated effort to undermine the expansion of distributed solar. They recently succeeded in California. This report addresses the environmental and economic justice of net energy metering, or NEM, and the utility industry’s false and self-serving claims against distributed-solar growth.

To combat the climate emergency and pervasive energy inequity, we need to maximize distributed solar development. NEM already exists in many states and is a key policy driver to expand distributed solar. Customers pay only for the net electricity they use each month, considering both the power going to the grid when rooftop-solar systems generate excess electricity and the power coming in from the grid (particularly at night). Net metering substantially reduces electricity bills, allowing people to recoup their distributed-solar investments.

For-profit utilities are fighting NEM on multiple fronts and in many states. In California, for example, they recently convinced regulators to gut net metering for new customers. In Florida a utility-backed bill to gut net metering passed the legislature. Utility companies fight NEM because it undermines their business model, which assumes that centralized utilities are the only legitimate makers and sellers of electricity.

As this report shows, anti-net-metering talking points are based on an outdated version of the grid, where for-profit utilities control everything. Utilities want to gut net metering to maintain control and use the proceeds to pay for rising utility costs, including the growing costs of addressing climate-fueled catastrophes and stranded assets in fossil fuel infrastructure.

Read the entire statement (PDF).

Reimagining Energy For Our Communities

By Crystal Huang, Jessica Tovar, Nora Elmarzouky, Ruth Santiago, and Al Weinrub - The Energy Democracy Project, February 2023

The energy systems in place today, in which energy development, control, ownership, and decision-making resides within Wall Street and corporate electric utilities, negatively impact the health and safety of communities, and fail to provide the energy needed to live, especially in the face of climate disaster.

A product of deep collaboration between grassroots organizations, the REFOCUS zine is a graphic tool meant to be shared with community, teams, and anyone interested in understanding the path towards energy justice.

Download the zine to learn how Energy Democracy work is connected from Alaska to Puerto Rico, and build a movement for energy democracy with your community! 

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

The Dirty Truth About Utility Climate Pledges (Version 2)

By Cara Bottorff, Noah Ver Beek, and Leah Stokes - Sierra Club, October 2022

Rapidly cleaning up the electric sector is key to achieving our climate goals. We need electric utilities to retire coal plants, cancel plans to build new gas plants, and accelerate clean energy deployment to achieve 80 percent clean electricity by 2030 and 100 percent clean electricity by 2035. This is in line with the United States’ climate commitments and scientific consensus of what is needed for a livable planet.

Many utilities have pledged to clean up their electricity production, but our research shows these promises often amount to little more than greenwashing. In our 2021 report, released a year and a half ago, we analyzed the plans of 77 utilities owned by the 50 parent companies most invested in fossil fuel generation. We found that despite pledges to reduce emissions from many of these companies, most utilities did not have plans that would actually achieve the necessary emissions reductions by 2030.1, 2 This updated report investigates what progress, if any, these utilities made over the last year and a half to turn their pledges into real action. We want to know: have utilities stepped up to meet the challenge and make the changes needed to save lives, reduce costs, and address climate change by transforming our power system?

Download a copy of this publication here (PDF).

Towards a Public Pathway Approach to Energy Transition

By various - Alternative Information Development Center, August 15, 2022

On Wednesday, July 27th, 2022, representatives of unions and social movements met in Johannesburg to discuss the country’s energy crisis. The representatives agreed to form a united front to resist privatisation of the power sector and to propose alternative ways to address both the immediate crisis and the longer-term challenges posed by the decarbonisation of South Africa’s energy system. What follows is a work-in-progress statement that captures the discussion and conclusions reached at the end of the meeting:

Statement of the United Front to Address Loadshedding:

We acknowledge the multiple economic and social problems associated with load-shedding (particularly for the working class and poor communities in both rural and urban areas). We agree with President Ramaphosa when he says government must take bold measures to address load-shedding as expeditiously and efficiently as possible. We agree that load-shedding is a national crisis that requires decisive action on the part of the government.

However, we believe that the proposals aimed at addressing load-shedding that have been put forward by government ministries, the private sector, consultancies and think tanks are unrealistic and are extremely unlikely to succeed. These proposals reflect the interests of the Independent Power Producer (IPPs) and their desire to secure subsidies as a means of securing guaranteed returns on investments and to grow their businesses at the expense of Eskom. Their needs also reflect the privatisation designs of the World Bank, the IMF, and the European Commission.

Equally important, the actions proposed by the government will impede South Africa’s transition to a low-carbon energy system and expose the country to a state of energy dependency. South Africa has no wind industry and its solar industry is negligible. There is currently no means to produce lithium-ion batteries. South Africa will surrender energy decision-making to multinational companies that produce these technologies.

We believe that it is foolish to entertain the idea that the private sector and market liberalisation can provide a workable alternative to load-shedding. The solution to load shedding and the achievement of a just energy transition in the coming decades depends on a well-resourced national public utility.

It’s Time for Public Power. New York State Could Lead the Way

By Ashley Dawson - Truthout, July 20, 2022

The Supreme Court’s recent ruling in West Virginia v. EPA dismantles one of the last regulatory tools remaining to cut carbon emissions on a federal scale in the U.S. With the failure of the Democrats to pass significant legislation and the specter of looming defeats in midterm elections, it’s now up to progressive cities and states to take the lead in fighting the climate crisis.

We got close to breaking ground on such an alternative state-level strategy this year in New York. In May, the State Senate passed the Build Public Renewables Act. The bill mandates the state’s New Deal-era public power provider — the New York Power Authority (NYPA) — to generate all of its electricity from clean energy by 2030. It also sets up a process that would allow the New York Power Authority to build and own renewables while shutting down polluting infrastructure. Although it is the largest publicly owned utility in the country, with a track record of providing the most affordable energy in the state, the New York Power Authority cannot legally own or build new utility-scale renewable generation projects at present because the state limits the public power utility to owning only six large utility-scale projects of 25 megawatts or more. This is because renewable energy developers wanted to limit competition from the New York Power Authority. The Build Public Renewables Act would remove this restriction and unleash the New York Power Authority’s game-changing power.

The Build Public Renewables Act had enough votes to pass in the Assembly and move to the governor’s desk to be signed, but Speaker Carl Heastie refused to bring the bill to a vote. Stung by criticism of this undemocratic move and over the tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations he has taken from fossil fuel interests, Speaker Heastie has called a special hearing on the Build Public Renewables Act for late July. The Public Power NY campaign is calling for Heastie and Gov. Kathy Hochul to call a special session so that the Build Public Renewables Act can be passed.

Three years ago, when the Public Power NY campaign began work, things looked a lot more hopeful on the federal level. Presidential hopefuls like Jay Inslee centered his plan for a clean energy economy on community-owned and community-led renewables while Bernie Sanders’s climate plan called for 100 percent public power. Sanders wanted to reach this goal quickly and efficiently by using public funding and infrastructure rather than leaving the transition up to corporate investors, who have failed the public miserably.

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