Renewable-Energy Funding Questioned, Assembly Committee
Studies Who Benefits From $750m Outlay
By Greg Clary, The Journal News (12/8/05)

ALBANY - State lawmakers want more details about a new surcharge on 6 million utility bills across the state that will raise nearly $750 million in 10 years for renewable-energy projects such as wind farms.

"It's a massive program, with a lot of money at stake," said Assemblyman Ryan Karben, D-Monsey, whose newly formed legislative subcommittee on renewable energy held its first hearing on the program yesterday. "There are a lot of questions that need to be asked and raised about where the dollars are coming in and where they're going out. Unfortunately, we've seen a lot of creative and well-motivated programs turned into nothing more than piggy banks for the politically connected."

Karben's panel, which is part of the Assembly's Energy Committee, called on top officials from the Public Service Commission, which authorized the program, and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which operates it, to go over details of everything from finances to how providers are chosen.

The program's purpose is to increase renewable energy to 24 percent of the 180 million megawatts used annually in the state, an increase of about a third from the 19 percent that currently comes from those sources. The authority would act as a central agency in the process, buying renewable energy for the region's power grid at a premium by using the money collected from ratepayers.

The renewable-energy surcharge, which can be as much as 2 percent and began appearing on utility bills in October, affects all but a few commercial, industrial and municipal power customers across New York, state officials said.

For an average Lower Hudson Valley residential bill, on a three-bedroom house with a November bill of $349, the surcharge amounted to $1.79. Consolidated Edison lists the charge separately and notes the renewable-energy program as the reason.

The first seven projects chosen - from a list of 22 applicants - are three small hydroelectric operations and four wind farms. None of the projects are in the downstate area, but power customers throughout the region would benefit from reductions in power prices, fossil-fuel dependence and pollution.

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