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Grassroots Bulletin

June Newsletter

City Council Approves "Genius School" 


On May 8, with final approval from the New York City Council, Cornell University was given the go-ahead for its New York City Tech campus. Dubbed the”Genius School” for an expected focus on cutting-edge technological and entrepreneurial programs, the council voted 46-2 in favor of the project.

The Bloomberg administration issued a request for proposals in July 2011 for a college campus on Roosevelt Island and received 17 qualifying proposals from universities worldwide.  Cornell was selected as the winner in December 2011. The city is providing free land and up to $100 million in infrastructure improvements.

The project is expected to create 48,000 new jobs and have a $33 billion impact over the next 30 years, according to a press release from Council member Jessica Lappin, who represents the island.

According to Cornell, the school’s curriculum will not be confined to standard disciplines, but will combine fields like electrical engineering, software development and social sciences, and professors will teach across those boundaries.

The campus will also provide access to Cornell facilities for local community organizations, computer training for seniors and mentoring programs for post-high school young adults.

Cornell expects to break ground in early 2014, with the first phase to be completed in 2017.

As part of the construction process, Cornell and the city have made a series of commitments to ensure that the new campus benefits the local residents.

On the construction side, this includes an innovative program to reduce truck trips by reusing demolished materials on-site and barging some of the heaviest construction materials.  Cornell will also monitor air quality throughout the project to determine whether the demolition and excavation creates pollution.  Residents had expressed concerns about how the massive project would affect the island’s infrastructure.

Governor Cuomo Charging Forward on Electric Vehicles  


According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, the number of electric vehicles (EV) registered in New York has tripled in the last twelve months to nearly 4,000, but Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing the state to do even more.

Cuomo announced the “Charge NY” initiative in his 2013 State of the State address, proposing to invest $50 million over the next five years to build EV charging stations across New York and stimulate greater overall demand for electric powered cars.  In May, Cuomo called for a “top to bottom” regulatory review by the Public Service Commission (PSC) to help facilitate the deployment of EV charging stations, including an examination of utility rate incentives and related consumer education efforts.

The initial PSC review will also examine jurisdiction over public charging stations and whether modifications to the electric grid are necessary to support EVs. Similarly, the Legislature recently introduced legislation seeking to establish a state policy that charging stations are not subject to PSC regulation as electric corporations.

According to Cuomo, Charge NY is intended to create a statewide network of up to 3,000 public and workplace charging stations by 2018 and place one million EVs on the road in New York by 2025. Tax credit incentives for the construction of charging stations were included in the 2013-2014 state budget as well as funding from the New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) and the New York Power Authority (NYPA).

In March, NYPA issued a Request for Proposals for the installation of 100 EV charging stations equipped with smart charging capabilities to reduce EV charging demand on the electric grid at periods of peak demand. These charging stations, expected to be in operation by 2014, will be located at 36 locations, primarily in New York City.
NYSERDA recently awarded $3.6 million to 14 recipients for the installation of more than 260 EV charging stations across the state, with ChargePoint and National Grid unveiling the first of those in upstate New York. ChargePoint, based in California, lays claim to the largest network of independent EV charging stations worldwide, operating in more than 14 countries.

Powerful Trade Groups Lobby for Energy Efficiency Bill    

An array of Washington, DC-based trade groups joined forces this month to urge congressional leaders and President Obama to approve an energy-efficiency bill that could be brought to the floor in the Senate in the next few weeks.

The Business Roundtable (BRT), National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), Alliance to Save Energy (Alliance), Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (Chamber) are trying to build momentum for energy efficiency related legislation co-sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

“The Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act,”  as the bill is known, would encourage energy efficiency at industrial, commercial and residential buildings through voluntary building code standards, a state-based private financing program, a utility on-bill financing or repayment program, and other measures.

The bill passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee earlier this month with broad bipartisan support.

“We ask Congress to maintain energy efficiency as a top priority in shaping energy policy for the country. Our organizations, representing all sectors of the economy, recognize energy efficiency is a powerful tool with strong bipartisan support. Efficiency works, so please help clear a path to advance it to help businesses, consumers, and the economy,” the organizations wrote to House and Senate leaders. They sent a separate letter to the president.

The White House letter encourages the Administration to maintain energy efficiency as a top priority in shaping energy policy for the country.

That letter states, "We write to encourage [the Obama] Administration to highlight energy efficiency as an integral component of our overall national energy strategy.  The challenge of doubling the country's energy productivity by 2030, which [the President] issued in the State of the Union address to the nation, is an ambitious but achievable goal, and one best met through deployment of energy efficiency."

Of the five organizations, the Alliance, BPC, BRT and NAM released recommendations earlier this year that speak to the need for greater energy productivity as a means of improving national energy security, the economy and the environment. The Chamber's Energy Institute is set to release new recommendations in June. 


A Discussion with State Senator George Maziarz  

As Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, what are the most pressing energy issues facing New York now?

We are at a pretty critical crossroads when it comes to our overall energy policy and structure.  On the generation side we are seeing older plants struggle or retire, which is causing pain in those communities.  On the transmission side there are hopeful signs that much needed upgrades are finally in the offing.

The Governor’s Energy Highway proposal is very important in that it provides a blueprint for fixing transmission bottlenecks which are plaguing the grid, and allow cheaper power from the central and western New York to flow to customers who need it in the New York City metro area. The NYTRANSCO proposal, which I have been very supportive of, is a comprehensive strategy to solve this problem that will leverage $1.3 billion in investment to create more than 20,000 direct and indirect jobs, while modernizing our grid for the 21st century. This will enhance the viability of upstate generation and reduce consumer utility bills by $170 million. It’s a real win-win scenario.

In order to allow NYTRANSCO to move forward, the legislature will have to authorize the New York Power Authority to participate and I look forward to working with the Governor and the Assembly toward that end.

Another important initiative is extending inexpensive natural gas service to as many customers as possible. We have a major incentive bill pending in the Senate to do just that, and I am hopeful we will make progress on this item, which will save ratepayers money and reduce emissions.

We also need to continue to promote new renewable generation, but also be conscience of the costs to other ratepayers. So I am optimistic that we will pass a new solar incentive bill, I am also pushing for a bill to cap overall spending on the renewable portfolio standard and system benefit charge programs at their 2013 level, in order to protect ratepayers. The cost of energy is high and it is a necessity for all New Yorkers, so we need to keep it as affordable as possible, even as we pursue new technologies and programs.

Hurricanes Sandy and Irene highlighted the need to invest in energy infrastructure and prepare for the next possible superstorm?  What are your thoughts on the subject post Sandy?

First of all, I think it’s important to acknowledge that the Public Service Commission in its disposition of rate cases has been shortsighted in how it has dealt with the need for longer term investments by investor owned utilities. Many of the upgrades being considered now at a very high cost could have been achieved at a much lower cost if approved incrementally over time. Second, it’s important to prioritize projects in terms of what will be most effective in protecting our energy infrastructure and maintaining system reliability. Finally, we need to recognize that every new protection has a cost that needs to be measured against the likelihood of the next major weather event and its potential impact. Ratepayers and shareholders alike need to be more directly engaged in this process so that it is clearly understood that the cost of each upgrade will be borne jointly by both groups, and measuring the potential costs and benefits is therefore very important.

The Governor has issued his legislative proposal to change the structure of LIPA.  What are your views on how to handle LIPA?

This remains a difficult problem, and there really is no pain-free solution. Privatization is likely to lead to higher rates as a result of the need to deal with LIPA’s massive long-term debt, while making LIPA a true municipal utility will lead to higher pension costs, and therefore higher rates. The Governor seems to be leaning toward a hybrid model where PSEG runs the grid and day to day operations under PSC oversight and LIPA remains as a holding company for debt, which they plan to amortize. This is a positive step, in that it essentially brings PSEG under the jurisdiction of the Public Service Commission for rates and service, but once again, it’s hard to see how rates don’t continue to go up. This may be the best solution available however, and much of its perceived success or failure will be based on whether or not service quality improves.

What can the Legislature do to reduce costs for New York’s energy customers?

I was very vocal in the state budget about getting rid of the regressive 18-a assessment on customers, and while it was not fully repealed, it is being reduced over time from its current level of 3 and 1/3 % to 1.5%. This is a positive step, but we need to do more. Capping other utilities surcharges like the system benefit charge and the renewable portfolio standard surcharge is also an important step. Finally, we need to maintain our commitment to competitive energy markets, since those markets produced the lowest wholesale energy commodity prices in history in 2012.

This year the New York State Senate formed a historic bi-partisan power sharing agreement. Has this new model of governance been successful?

Yes it has, and I think it’s been a positive step. The people of the state expect the Senate and in fact all public officials to work together to get things done. They don’t like partisan bickering and they don’t like dysfunction. I think that in general the coalition has run the Senate efficiently and produced positive results.  

Lunch & Learn: Answering Urban Challenges

What are the critical challenges facing urban environments? How can we use big data to find big solutions?

Lunch and Learn
June 11, noon – 1 p.m.
4 Irving Place, auditorium

Representatives from Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) at New York University (NYU) will discuss how they are using New York City as a laboratory to help cities around the world become more productive, livable, equitable, and resilient.
Hear from Dr. Steven Koonin, CUSP director, and former under secretary for Science at the U.S. Department of Energy, and Constantine Kontokosta, CUSP deputy director, and director of NYU Center for the Sustainable Built Environment.

CUSP is a public-private initiative that links New York City government with academic, corporate, and national lab partners to develop new research projects in such areas as energy-efficient buildings and infrastructure resilience. 
Con Edison has a longstanding relationship with NYU-Poly and serves as a corporate partner of CUSP.

Watch Frances A. Resheske, Con Edison, Senior Vice President, Public Affairs, explain the value of broad thinking and collaboration.

RSVP by June 10 to grassroots@conEd.com with Urban Science in the subject line.

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