By the Ecosocialist Working Group
As the window of opportunity to radically transform the global energy system rapidly dwindles and the 12-year deadline to prevent catastrophic climate change amplifies the urgency of action, disaster capitalists are seeking to simultaneously slow and own the transition to renewables. But as this month’s historic youth climate strikes demonstrate, people are taking to the streets to combat the climate crisis and reclaim control of the public sphere.
Seizing public control over energy generation and distribution is a way to fight back against utility and fossil fuel corporations, who recklessly prioritize profit over both our and the planet’s survival.
New York’s private energy market has a vested interest in maintaining the fossil-fueled status quo, which is why our state has managed to source only 5% of our energy from wind and solar. We know that we need 100% renewable energy and that public ownership is the just way to get there. That is why the Ecosocialist Working Group voted to prioritize a campaign for energy democracy this year.
We’re kicking off our campaign with a fight against our notorious energy landlord, Con Edison, who recently filed a new rate hike to make us pay even more for their still-dirty energy.
In 2018, Con Edison delivered over 2.5 million gas and electricity shut-off notices, holding hard-working New Yorkers hostage with threats to cut off the lights and heat. Worse yet, between 2010 and 2018, Con Edison terminated service for over 650,000 customers, denying thousands of households their right to energy and exposing them to burdensome and dangerous living conditions.
With their 2019 rate case filing, Con Edison is requesting $695 million dollars in additional revenues, which will increase electricity rates by 4.9% and gas rates by 9.1% for their 3.4 million customers, many of whom already struggle to afford unreasonably high utility rates.
A rate increase will make paying for utility bills even harder for low-income customers, which will undoubtedly exacerbate the existing crisis of energy shut-offs and subject more people to the dangers of extreme temperatures. To add insult to injury, millions of the dollars requested in revenue increases would go towards supporting and expanding natural gas infrastructure, including their liquified natural gas plant in Astoria.
If the rate hike is approved, Con Edison will force the public to foot the costs of their profiteering from the acceleration of climate change. It will also force us to pay for the further poisoning of our communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color who have been disproportionately violated by both fossil fuel energy companies and complicit government actors.
Not only will we pay for more fossil fuel infrastructure, Con Edison also will make us fund repairs for their neglected grid. We have one of the worst energy grids in the developed world because utilities can cut costs by neglecting infrastructure. When something breaks, they rarely bear any fiscal responsibility, since they can pass the costs off onto the rate payers. Utilities also pass off their trade association dues to customers. These trade associations work to deregulate our energy market, consolidate power for the utility companies, and quell meaningful climate action.
Con Edison has a monopoly over much of the energy landscape in NYC. Historically, its lone regulatory check has been the corporate-friendly Public Service Commission (PSC), a bureaucratic and undemocratically appointed body that ostensibly represents the interests of the public. Typically, when Con Edison, National Grid, or any other utility company files a rate case, the public is left in the dark and rate hikes are approved and passed on to us before we even know what’s coming.
Although there are public hearings during which people can voice their opposition to increased rates and the utility’s proposed projects, these are often scheduled at inaccessible locations and during weekday afternoons, precluding the participation of the majority of the working class.
To democratize the process of rate cases, we’re requesting that the Department of Public Service schedules accessible public hearings with a focus on neighborhoods that have been disproportionately burdened by high energy costs. In tandem, we will canvass in communities to raise awareness about the rate hike and to mobilize residents to the hearings. We hope to get people to participate in the hearings with the goal of centering the voices of affected individuals and putting a human face on the damage these rate hikes cause.
As an official participant in the rate case, the Ecosocialist Working Group is conducting research and collecting testimonies from our canvassing efforts to submit as evidence to the PSC to argue for a lower rate hike, along with variety of demands that we hope will mitigate the damage inflicted by private utilities. By contesting the power of utility companies and increasing scrutiny of the PSC, we hope to lay the groundwork for a socialist transformation of the energy grid.
Fighting Con Edison and raising awareness about the exploitation inherent to the private energy market are only the first steps in our larger effort to challenge the consolidated, undemocratic power of energy monopolies and to build support for community-owned renewable energy in New York.
Across the country, private utility companies have clung to an outdated, exploitative model of energy distribution. They have routinely slowed the transition to renewable energy through lobbying efforts that promote fossil fuel infrastructure and erect bureaucratic barriers to decentralized, community-owned renewables.
To help inform our organizing, we can look to the existing efforts throughout the United States to make energy a public good. Some states already have publicly-owned energy utility options; conservative stronghold Nebraska, has a statewide, publicly-owned and regulated electricity market.
We know securing publicly-owned energy is possible. Now we need to work together to overcome the destructive force of utility corporations and forge a future in which energy sourced from 100% renewables is a right guaranteed to all.
Help us fight the energy landlords and build an ecosocialist future! Join our campaign by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org.