The Divide: Communities can take charge of their carbon footprint

The Divide: Communities can take charge of their carbon footprint

Most sane people believe the threat of climate change is real, and unless we do something about it, our planet’s future is in grave danger. However, the Trump administration is in denial, and is hell-bent on reversing the actions and regulations put in place to combat climate change. The Trump mantra of see no evil is solely based on helping greedy mega-corporations reap even larger profits than they are already enjoying, at the expense of our world’s future existence. Thus, the need to address the causes and effects of climate change, and to close the divide between the inaction by the federal government and the actions of the global community, has fallen to the states and local governments.

Last week, more than 75 countries sent delegates to Edmonton, Canada for the Cities and Climate Change Science Conference. The conference had a goal of developing a global research agenda to gain the knowledge necessary “to ensure low-carbon, climate-resilient development pathways in the world’s cities.” The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stressed that cities must be at the forefront in leading the way to effectively address climate change. Urban areas account for 70 percent of global energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, so cities must plan their development to both mitigate current pollution-related threats, and to adopt strategies to cut future greenhouse gas emissions. In an op-ed piece in Next City on the importance of this conference, Roberts, et al, wrote that “The threat has never been greater, but neither has the potential for lasting, transformative change. Let’s get to work.”

Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) is one strategy cities and other local municipalities can implement to decrease their carbon footprint. CCA is a policy that authorizes cities, towns, and villages in New York State to source clean energy for their residents and businesses. As a component of the Clean Energy Communities program under the auspices of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), it is one of the ten “High Impact Action Items” that a municipality can undertake in order to be designated a Clean Energy Community. A municipality must meet at least four of the 10 items to win the designation. NYSERDA defines CCA as “an energy procurement model that replaces the utility as the default supplier of electricity for virtually all homes and small businesses… CCA puts control of choosing energy supply in local hands. By pooling demand, communities build the clout necessary to negotiate lower rates with private suppliers, and are able to choose cleaner energy.”

The process to become a CCA community is a bit involved and many steps must be taken. Initially, someone or some group(s) set out to both inform the public of what CCA is and to build interest in the project. An example of this was the recent informational session held at the Washington Avenue Branch of the Albany Public Library. The forum was sponsored by Green Education and Legal Fund, Sierra Club Hudson-Mohawk Group, PAUSE/350.org Capital Region, and Stop NY Fracked Gas Pipeline. Representatives from NYSERDA, the NYS Department of Public Service, and Rochester People’s Climate Coalition were the panelists for this forum. CCA administrators were also on hand to answer questions. (An administrator is the entity, either governmental, local development corporation, nonprofit organization, or private firm that will oversee the program.)

Following the initial step of raising community interest, the local government is required to hold a public hearing and the local legislative body has to adopt a local law authorizing its municipality to participate in the program. An administrator has to be chosen and a program plan submitted to the Public Service Commission for approval. CCA’s are usually opt-out programs. This means that everyone is included in the program, unless they decide to opt-out. (For a much more detailed explanation of CCA, please visit the NYSERDA web site: www.nyserda.ny.gov/All-Programs/Programs/Clean-Energy-Communities/Action-Items )  

While CCA is a new concept for New York, many other states have CCA or similar programs. Massachusetts calls its program “Community Choice Energy.” This program started in 1997 and it allows individual cities and towns to designate an energy supplier that residents and businesses may purchase power from. The radio station WAMC recently reported that three western Massachusetts municipalities are exploring banding together to pick an electricity supplier. The idea is being pushed by climate activists as a way to cut down on the carbon footprint. The option of allowing local governments to join together to form one Community Choice entity is also available under the NYSERDA program guidelines. By joining forces, local municipalities will create a larger pool of consumers, thus building more market clout to help negotiate the best deal for electric power. To create a joint, or multi-government pool, each participating local government would need to enter into an inter-municipal agreement with the municipal administrator. If the administrator is a third party and not a government, a Memorandum of Agreement (MOU) would need to be executed with that administrator.  

Community Choice Aggregation, as a tool for combating climate change, will only work if the local government’s program requires that 100 percent of the electric power come from renewable energy sources. Currently, New York’s guidelines for a CCA do not require energy sourced from 100 percent renewable sources. Westchester County has had a CCA since May 2016. More than 110,000 households and small businesses receive their electricity supply through Westchester Power, a CCA consisting of 20 municipalities. Only 14 of the 20 participating municipalities have set the 100 percent renewable energy supply option as their default option. NYSERDA leaves the choice of where a CCA’s energy comes from up to the local community.

New York’s CCA program, as with other energy-related projects in the state, waffles between being totally “green” and climate-friendly, and fossil-fueled. As I have written before, New York cannot have it both ways – either we are going to be a state that leads on combating climate change or not. Governor Cuomo, it’s time to stop sitting on the fence and jump head-long into addressing the causes and effects of climate change. It’s time to direct that all energy-related projects and programs that receive state funding or grants, be fossil fuel-free and 100 percent renewable energy product. To quote from the IPCC op-ed, “Achieving…low-carbon, climate-resilient development pathways in the world’s cities is today more important than ever.” Make CCA a truly transformative smart energy program.

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