March 3, 2014

In My Opinion: Communal energy conservation urged

Recently, several articles appeared in the Press-Republican about the City of Plattsburgh’s electric rates and energy policies.

As a professor of environmental policy and sustainability, I think it’s wonderful that energy is receiving significant space in Plattsburgh’s public dialogue.

Indeed, creating awareness about the importance of energy planning is the first step in creating a more secure energy future in the Lake City.

I’ve spent the past year exploring rural New York’s energy landscape and hope I can further clarify the objectives, myths and complexities of Plattsburgh’s energy system.

Plattsburgh’s electric rates, and those of 50 other communities in New York, are among the least expensive in the country.

The city’s typical residential rate is approximately 2 cents per kilowatt hour (kwh). The national average is around 12 cents per kwh, and New York state’s average is about 18 cents per kwh.

Plattsburgh’s low rates stem from federal and state policies — called preference power policies— written in the 1950s to enable the construction of hydroelectric dams on the Niagara River.

The Niagara policy allocates 40 percent of the power generated at Niagara dams to rural communities in New York at the cost of production.

To receive preference power, communities must operate municipally owned electric utilities, like Plattsburgh Municipal Lighting Department. Each participating community receives a specified allowance of power at the inexpensive rates.

Plattsburgh receives approximately 103 megawatts. If at any point, the city consumes more than 103 mw of power, we must purchase supplemental power on the “day-ahead” market.

The cost of supplemental power is indicated on your electric bill by the Purchase Power Adjustment Charge. Plattsburgh is lucky because we purchase supplemental power only during the coldest months of winter — thus the rate increases that Mayor Calnon and MLD Manager Bill Treacy warn of are temporary.

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