When it comes to energy, many families are primarily concerned about reliability and cost: They want to know that their light will come on when they hit the switch, and that their utility bills won’t sink the family budget. But there is little reliability in the existing grid, which is increasingly vulnerable due in part to more frequent weather-related incidents. Power outages are more than an inconvenience; they disrupt our day-to-day lives and damage our communities. And in the aftermath of storms, low-wealth communities or communities of color are often ignored by utilities, whose failure to promptly restore service affects stability, safety, and survival.
Despite the billions of dollars consumers pay utilities for their power, there is virtually no public involvement in determining how residents’ energy supply and delivery system work, or what communities’ long-term objectives and benefits should be.
To ensure that the public, especially the communities about which we care most, is informing the discussion about the cost of energy, how it is generated and used, and where and how it is purchased, Surdna is supporting a movement to democratize these decisions. Adding even greater urgency to the energy democracy movement is the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to cut carbon pollution under a proposed federal clean power rule, which would require states to draft plans to reduce greenhouse gasses, potentially shuttering hundreds of coal-fired plants.
To this end, Surdna is supporting PUSH Buffalo to ensure that the decision-making process to transform New York State’s utility industry and regulatory practices, now underway and closely watched as a potential model for other states, is built not just on improvements for the utilities themselves, but on decisions driven by communities based on their energy needs. By working with environmental, social justice, policy, and front line groups statewide, PUSH is mobilizing people and communities so that they can have a voice in determining their energy futures—including owning renewable energy projects, controlling how energy is distributed, and using their collective power as consumers to make decisions about how energy investments are made in their communities.
One New York resident, organized by PUSH Buffalo, filed a comment with the New York Public Service Commission, saying, “… [T]he public needs to know more about this. We cannot let these important decisions be made by a select few when they impact a much broader base.”