Renewed NYS Utility Commission Good News for Clean Energy

The confirmation by the New York State Senate last week of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s nominees to the New York Public Service Commission is good news for the state’s clean energy and climate leadership.  With a new chair in place and all five commission positions now filled, New York can move forward at full speed to implement the governor’s ambitious clean energy and climate vision. 

And faced with President Trump’s unprecedented assault on bedrock climate and clean energy policies and his shocking withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement, we need New York State’s leadership more than ever.

The five-person Public Service Commission is the state body that regulates New York’s utilities and plays a key role in establishing New York’s clean energy and climate policies. In recent years, the Commission has taken on increasingly high profile and pioneering clean energy initiatives such as the Reforming Energy Vision (REV) initiative, which aims to reform the utility business model to align utility business interests with clean energy, the “50% by 2030” renewables initiative and more.  The governor nominates commissioners, who then must be confirmed by the State Senate.   Commissioners typically serve six-year terms and commission membership must be bipartisan, reflecting both political parties. After the departure of Chair Audrey Zibelman and two other commissioners this spring, the Commission was briefly reduced to just two members, making it harder for them to lead.

Thankfully, that is no longer the case. On June 20th, the Senate confirmed Governor Cuomo’s nominee for chairman, John B. Rhodes, formerly head of NYSERDA, New York’s clean energy research and development authority. Rhodes is a savvy, experienced and committed energy professional.  As CEO of NYSERDA, Rhodes was a vital thought leader and partner on all of the state’s clean energy initiatives, including implementing Governor Cuomo’s commitment to bring 2400 megawatts of offshore wind power to New York by 2030, enough to power 1.2 million homes.  In addition, Rhodes brings to his new position 30 years of international business experience in finance and energy. His career also included a brief stint at NRDC as head of our Center for Market Innovation in 2012-13. In his new role as Commission chair, Rhodes will play a key role in implementing Governor Cuomo’s climate and clean energy vision.

Realizing that vision is now more crucial than ever as the Trump administration seeks to turn back the clock on climate and clean energy leadership.  Governor Cuomo, working with Governor Jerry Brown of California and Governor Jay Inslee of Washington, immediately established the U.S. Climate Alliance after Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from Paris.  This organization of states working to promote clean energy and reduce climate pollution already has at least thirteen members, representing nearly one-third of the U.S. population.

The Senate also confirmed Philip Wilcox, a Western New York labor leader with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union, and former State Senator James Alesi, a Republican, as new members of the Commission. Finally, the Senate reconfirmed Commissioner Diane Burman, also a Republican, for another six-year term. With Commissioner Gregg Sayre already in place, these confirmations mean that the Commission not only has a new Chair but also has all five of its positions filled with experienced and qualified individuals. 

NRDC looks forward to working with Chairman Rhodes and all the commissioners to keep building New York’s clean energy momentum, building on the promise of successful programs like NY-Sun, which has brought about a stunning nearly 800% increase in New York solar power in just five years. New York must be a transformative leader on the whole range of climate solutions, from regaining its place as a top leadership state on energy efficiency, to implementing the governor’s bold renewable energy goals, to building a smarter, stronger electricity grid and quickly scaling up the use of electric vehicles. New York’s consumers, workers, communities, economy, public health and environment will all benefit.  New York can show the world that the states can and will move forward successfully on clean energy even if President Trump and Congress try to stand in the way.  Onward!