It is an exciting time for clean energy issues in New York. New York’s ongoing Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceeding, its goal of 50% renewable energy by 2030, and its continued participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative provide key elements for the future of the state’s energy system. Acadia Center’s recently completed report, EnergyVision 2030, shows that New York can reduce emissions 45% and be on a path to a clean energy system by the year 2030 if the state acts now to further strengthen its commitment to clean energy technologies. To facilitate the action necessary to achieve this vision for all New Yorkers, Acadia Center has taken the next step, strengthening its staffing capacity in New York and hiring a full-time staff director of its New York program.
Acadia Center has been active on selected issues in the state for several years, participating with colleague organizations in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and other energy and climate issues. New York’s REV process—one of the most comprehensive reassessments of energy policy occurring in the country—has offered opportunities for Acadia Center’s experience in energy policy, energy efficiency and climate mitigation to be applied in New York forums. Fully active in the many REV proceedings, Acadia Center has focused on energy efficiency, power grid modernization, and climate policy. In 2015, by invitation of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Acadia Center hosted a multiday meeting at the Pocantico Conference Center focusing on utility reform and grid modernization issues. Beginning in 2015, the organization helped to protect the integrity of New York’s new Clean Energy Standard by successfully arguing against counting large hydropower as a renewable resource eligible for ratepayer support. In addition, it participated in the settlement phases of Con Edison’s most recent rate case and successfully advocated for the utility to increase its investments in energy efficiency.
This past July, this work ramped up when Acadia Center hired me as Senior Attorney as its inaugural New York Director, joining Acadia Center’s New York project team of lawyers and energy policy experts. I’ve joined the team at an exciting moment for the organization and the state. I came to Acadia Center from the New York City Council, where I had been a legislative counsel and was responsible for drafting and negotiating a wide variety of legislation focused on energy efficiency, clean energy, and sustainability. Before that I was an environmental law specialist at Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer’s New York City office, where I focused on federal and state environmental issues involving climate change, energy efficiency, and green buildings. My work at Acadia Center largely focuses on policies that I’ve been working on throughout my career—policies that move us toward a future fueled by clean energy and energy efficiency.
One of my first tasks has been representing Acadia Center in a rate case brought by National Grid. The utility is seeking to increase customer rates by $331 million beginning next year. Acadia Center has focused on National Grid’s high fixed customer charges, which are charges all customers pay regardless of the amount of electricity they use. In most states, fixed charges range between $5 and $10 a month for residential customers, but in some states, including New York, these charges are much higher.
Since I started in the role of director, Acadia Center has released a paper explaining the problems with high utility fixed charges, which detrimentally impact consumer incentives to invest in energy efficiency and solar power, and the organization has filed testimony in the rate case stating that a reasonable range for customer charges would be between $5.57 and $8.30. We have also focused outreach efforts on educating consumers about the issue of high fixed charges and about opportunities to make their voices heard. This work will continue as Acadia Center expands its reach in New York, advocating for sustainable solutions across the energy system.
Cullen Howe is Senior Attorney and New York Office Director. He works on energy efficiency, demand management, local energy resources, grid modernization, and climate change issues, with a focus on New York state policy.