The Dutchess County executive has joined the legal fight to dismantle a new capacity zone. He says county residents cannot afford to pay the price of higher electric bills resulting from the new zone and is calling on a federal agency to halt the zone’s implementation.
Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro Monday filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
“We are seeking a rescinding of the decision and asking for the court to restore the region to the rate structure that existed prior to FERC’s decision, and ultimately to ensure that residents aren’t shouldering what has already been a substantial increase in energy rates as a result of this federal commission’s decision last summer.”
The court last week ordered FERC to respond by May 27 to a May 12 lawsuit filed by Poughkeepsie-based Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corporation and the New York State Public Service Commission to halt further actions under a new capacity zone that was implemented May 1, and to act on earlier petitions concerning canceling the implementation of or phasing in the new zone. The Court panel will hear the motions and petitions June 3. The new capacity zone groups the lower Hudson Valley with New York City, and is intended to address energy shortfalls by raising electricity prices to attract new electric generators to downstate New York. Paul Steidler is spokesman for New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, which supports the new capacity zone.
“The opposition by politicians to the new capacity zone is shortsighted and unfortunate,” says Steidler.
“The bottom line is the capacity zone will strengthen the economic infrastructure of the region,” says Steidler. “It will lead to significant new investments in plants and equipment, a number of permanent jobs and also strengthen the underlying economy as well as make sure that the electricity needs of the region will be addressed particularly as there’s a growth in demand.”
He says claims of higher electricity costs are misguided, as any rate increases likely would be eliminated over time with more supply. But Molinaro points out there is no guarantee.
“Without the guaranteed outcome, you can no sooner guarantee reduced rates than you can increased energy production,” says Molinaro. “And without those protections for the consumer, the only thing we can guarantee in the short term is energy costs. And I remind any one of the proponents -- families, seniors, businesses, they don’t necessarily function in the long term. We’re all concerned about trying to meet ends now, and we have too many people who cannot afford this today,” says Molinaro.
The Republican Molinaro is among a bipartisan group of lawmakers, from Congress to the local level, calling on FERC to abandon the new capacity zone. Since April 9, he has submitted five letters of concern to FERC before filing the friend-of-the-court brief. He even had a phone call recently with FERC’s acting chairman.
“In 20 years of public service, I have never interacted with a less Democratic, more frustrating government agency than FERC,” says Molinaro.
“FERC does not understand the economic burden,” Molinaro says. “I don’t think they realize that this part of the country, this part of the state, is still in a recessionary condition, and they’re making a decision absent, really, true involvement and engaged conversation with the people that are most impacted. And that is just not the way Democratic government is supposed to function. And, again, Congress ought to take action statutory authority that’s provided FERC.”
Earlier this year, Hudson Valley Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney sponsored legislation that would prohibit FERC from approving a new capacity zone that would raise rates for consumers. Republican Congressman Chris Gibson is a co-sponsor. Molinaro supports their efforts and hopes the continued pressure on FERC and highlighting of this case brings about greater change in how the commission operates. A FERC spokeswoman declined to comment on both the lawsuit and criticism of FERC’s authority.