Privatizing Clean Energy Development Is Putting Lipstick on a Pig

With news that global carbon dioxide emissions have reached record levels, the need to switch to a low-carbon economy is more urgent than ever. However, the urgency of this crisis does not absolve us of the responsibility to move forward in a just, sustainable way. How we transition to a low-carbon economy is just as important as when we transition. Privatizing clean energy development and replacing oil barrens with clean energy barrens repeats the mistakes of the past and concentrates wealth and resources into the hands of just a few. Increased concentration of wealth is poisoning our economy and our communities and a sustainable future cannot be built on this model.

If Governor Cuomo has his way, New York State will be the prime example of what not to do. Through a series of proposals, the Governor is looking to reform the state's energy industry and regulatory processes--in and of itself, not a bad idea. New York needs to significantly increase renewable energy production in the state. In 2013, less than a quarter of the state's electricity generated came from renewables and the energy grid is outdated, as is the case across the country. The problem, however, is how the Governor proposes to make these changes: eliminating successful programs and replacing them with programs that use public money to subsidize private development. Sound familiar? It's the same broken formula that has resulted in increasing inequality across the state and across the nation.

The Governor's proposed Clean Energy Fund would eliminate the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and the Energy Efficiency Portfolio Standard and replace them with a fund that invests in four areas: market development, technology and business innovation, New York Green Bank, and New York Sun. The mission of the Green Bank is to encourage private participation in clean energy development. New York Sun aims to increase solar production by "stimulating the marketplace." The overwhelming emphasis on market-based and market-driven programs is the wrong way forward. We should not be developing renewable energy at any and all costs. We only have to look at the fossil fuel industry to know what happens with market-based and market-driven energy policy.

Eliminating the RPS would be disastrous. The RPS has successfully increased renewable energy development all across the country and is the, "single most important policy driver of renewable energy deployment in the nation." New York's current RPS has a target of 30 percent of electricity demand being met by renewables by 2015. Instead of eliminating the RPS, we should be following the lead of states like California and increase the production target. The level of renewable energy production needed can only come from a mandate. We cannot rely only on voluntary programs that incentive private development with public money.

A strong renewable energy mandate creates consistent and stable demand that can be filled by local renewable energy production. Community-owned renewable production is better for the environment and better for local economies. Instead of throwing public money at private corporations, New York should embrace the opportunity to build a new energy economy that makes renewable energy a public resource.