In the wake of searing new evidence of Avangrid’s malpractice wherever they have operated, we turn to The Democracy Collaborative for an alternative: a publicly owned utility. We should never expect corporate responsibility from major corporations. Under capitalism, as practiced for 500 years, this is what corporations do, consume resources and people for profit, even when under cover of a shiny banner or brand. Yes, Avangrid is a huge player in renewables, but look under the hood and you find all too typical corporate greed. Read on!
Once again New Energy Economy has been way out in front on all things energy, gas and oil. They were among the first to raise concerns about Avangrid and Retake took up the charge, as well, researching Avangrid’s corporate behavior in Maine, New York and other states. Click here for a compilation of three Retake reports on Avangrid. Now, New Energy Economy has assembled still more damaging malfeasance that borders on criminal neglect.
Today’s post comes in three parts:
- A very brief update from New Energy Economy with links to still other reports on Avangrid’s corporate behavior in the US, Mexico, South America and Europe;
- A report on how and why NM should pursue forming a public utility based on research from The Democracy Collaborative with added coverage from The New York Times underscoring the urgency of the moment; and
- At the bottom of the post you will find today’s recording of Retake Conversation, Well is Good Part III. In this segment we examine how, without vastly reducing our international energy use, all of the eco-strategies (geo-engineering, transition to 100% renewable, carbon capture, carbon pricing, technology rescue, all of them) will not be enough to forestall environmental collapse. It is a most interesting segment that sets up well the concluding segment that will air next Saturday on how curbing growth is both achievable and is the essential ingredient to holding temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C. In a slow-no growth context, those eco-strategies can get us to 1.5 but with continued growth, we cook. There is no math that supports sustained continuous growth on a planet of finite resources. Read on!
Avangrid, Avarice, &
Why NM Needs a Better Energy Option
We begin with a short piece from New Energy Economy:
At first blush, we (NEE) were excited that Avangrid, the “Exxon of Renewables,” would come to NM and replace PNM’s slow walk on climate change, but then we learned of their terrible electric utility record: worst reliability, worst forced outage rate, among the highest residential rate charges in the country, and violations for “corruption and fraud.”
After Avangrid purchased Central Maine Power it has been at the very bottom of customer satisfaction surveys among all utilities in the U.S. for three years in a row, 2018, 2019, 2020! Yes, we are desperate for renewable energy, but not desperate enough to settle for Avangrid. A more democratic, publicly owned utility model is possible and preferable. [Retake outlines a plan for this below.]
On May 13th Hearing Examiner Ashley Schannauer ordered Avangrid to provide a list of penalties, violations and enforcement actions against the company and its subsidiaries by state and federal regulatory agencies. Avangrid responded with more than 2500 pages of documentation detailing more than 200 violations at eight subsidiaries. Further research uncovered details about ethical and legal violations by parent company Iberdrola SA in Europe, Mexico and South America as well. [This is a shocking must read report that outlines in detail greenwashing, deceit, and a litany of failed operations virtually everywhere Avangrid and its parent company, Iberdrola, operate.] Taken together the evidence points to a significant risk that under Avangrid, the quality of utility service in NM will be severely diminished.
Our [NEE] response to Avangrid’s excuses for omitting their violations from discovery is provided.
The Democracy Collaborative
Offers A Different Utility Path
Today, we examine two reports from The Democracy Collaborative: 1) Energy Democracy: Taking Back Power,” and exhaustive report that examines public and private power operations across the country; and 2) “Public Ownership for Energy Democracy,” a concise examination of why and how we need to democratize our utility industry. We close with citations from two most disheartening New York Times reports underscoring the urgency of the moment. But first, TDC gets to the heart of the matter right away in “Taking Back Power.”
“In 1914 by Mayor Johnson, a politician who believed that utilities like electricity, railroads, and trash removal should be owned by local governments, commented: ‘If you do not own them they in turn will own you,’ he argued. ‘They will rule your politics, corrupt your institutions and finally destroy your liberties’ ”The Democracy Collaborative: “Energy Democracy: Taking Back Power”
The quote could apply equally well to banking, infrastructure, broadband, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and, in this context to utilities. Without strict regulation, corporate malfeasance is the norm and we should never be surprised when a utility chooses the most profitable alternative even if it destroys the local environment; or when a bank invests in fracking instead of local food systems; or when a broadband provider focuses on building out profitable urban markets while ignoring the needs of rural communities. All of this is part of capitalist corporate practice, codified in law dictating that shareholder profit is the sole pursuit, customer satisfaction or planet health are not part of the equation.
Certainly there are models of corporate practice within the capitalist system that foster good corporate citizenship and public benefit, but they are the exception, not the rule. And in most of NM, our utility options are PNM (or Avangrid), El Paso Electric, and Xcel Energy, i.e. not a good actor to be found. But, as The Democracy Collaborative (TDC) outlines, there is an alternative: publicly owned and managed, locally operated utilities.
“Public ownership of utilities can accelerate the renewable energy transition at the scale needed to meet our closing climate deadline for action. It’s simply too late to provide piecemeal incentives and then wait expectantly for a market controlled by fossil fuel interests to voluntarily deploy more renewables. Energy utilities’ control over so much of the energy supply chain make these entities a strategic platform for bringing energy democracy tactics to scale. Harnessing energy utilities for the people could fuel projects from expansive low-income housing efficiency projects (such as PUSH Buffalo), to community solar programs (such as the solar gardens of Cooperative Energy Futures in Minnesota), to stopping gas pipelines (such as the resistance to Dominion Power’s Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia).”
When Roxanne and I went on our 10,000 mile road trip three years ago, we visited 3 dozen progressive organizations working in under-served communities. We spent a day with the folks from PUSH Buffalo and toured low-income communities where PUSH was implementing energy efficiency programs. For our report on our visit, click here. It was truly inspiring. These kinds of efforts could be implemented far more effectively within a public utility system. And we saw in Buffalo, they make a dramatic difference as we walked through block after block watching home energy efficiency initiative being implemented in house after house.
Certainly, PNM implements its own energy efficiency program, but it also operates with the perverse incentive to encourage energy use, not reduce it. Far more aggressive and larger scaled efforts would be possible under public management.
“Overall, publicly-owned energy has been proven to be cheaper than for-profit power across the United States. While a positive trend, however, lower rates don’t always mean less energy poverty. Instead, fair rates should come alongside robust and low-cost opportunities for energy efficiency projects and renewable ownership opportunities to cut the energy burden, disproportionately felt by Black or Latinx residents. A public utility could also cap the percentage of anyone’s income spent on their bills and eliminate energy cutoffs altogether. For example, Ohio, which has the nation’s largest and oldest Percentage Income Payment Plan (PIPP), limits any one person’s bill to 10 percent of their household income. Access to energy is a human right, and nobody should be forced to choose between risking heat stroke or hypothermia or staying hungry.”The Democracy Collaborative: “Public Ownership for Energy Democracy”
TDC goes on to describe one example after another of policies like those above that are practical and relatively easy to implement, but that are routinely ignored by privately held utility operators, as they would not contribute to profit. TDC also describes the battles being waged by other communities as near as Boulder, CO, who are seeking to create their own public utility.
In NM, we have a choice: we can continue to rely upon share holder owned, for-profit corporate energy or we can forge our own path. We can continue to wade through thousands of pages of profiteering information to unearth the truth or we can take back our power, elect a local board of directors with the interests of NM foremost in their priorities. We can say goodbye to profiteering corporations like Avangrid and PNM who seek only profits for shareholders on Wall St who couldn’t care less about Chaco Canyon if there is a transmission line to run through it.
For years, we heard PNM dissemble about how coal-fired energy was cheaper than renewables when in truth, it wasn’t that renewables were more expensive, it was that coal-fired plants were more profitable. In hearing after hearing, New Energy Economy, all too often almost alone, would wade through hundreds of pages of research, data, and reports to unearth the truth behind PNM’s dissembling. But is that how we want to operate? Corporate malpractice is sadly the norm, as reported by TDC:
“Regulators across the country also bend to the powerful influence of the wealthy industry they regulate. For instance, a burst gas pipeline in California in 2010 exposed an all-too snug relationship that allowed lax implementation of safety standards between California for-profit utility, PG&E, and its regulator—with devastating results both for neighborhoods along the spill’s path and for climate generally. In Texas, the Association of Electric Companies of Texas met privately with state regulators to revise pollution permits that nullified the Clean Air Act for their coal plants. Documents later revealed that regulators implemented new environmentally devastating regulation lifted verbatim from trade group proposals. This type of corporate capture has left people feeling unheard and unprotected.”The Democracy Collaborative: “Public Ownership for Energy Democracy”
We can do better. Indeed, we have no choice. The climate clock is inexorably ticking and as we idle, its ticking accelerates. Roxanne just shared with me two New York Times reports. The first report cited a new scientific study indicating that in the next 3-5 years we could exceed the 1.5 degree C.
“This week scientists also concluded that, in the next five years, the average global temperature will at least temporarily spike beyond a dangerous threshold, climbing more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer than in pre-industrial times. Avoiding that threshold is the main objective of the Paris Accord,”The New York Times: “Big Setbacks Propel Oil Giants toward A Tipping Point”
The second NYT’s report, “Biden’s Fossil Fuel Moves Clash With Pledges on Climate Change,” outlines how Biden has quietly taken actions to approve pipelines in Alaska, Wyoming, and Dakota ensuring sustained drilling for decades.
“On Wednesday, the Biden administration defended in federal court the Willow project, a huge oil drilling operation proposed on Alaska’s North Slope that was approved by the Trump administration and is being fought by environmentalists. Weeks earlier, it backed former President Donald J. Trump’s decision to grant oil and gas leases on federal land in Wyoming. Also this month, it declined to act when it had an opportunity to stop crude oil from continuing to flow through the bitterly contested, 2,700-mile Dakota Access pipeline, which lacks a federal permit.”NYT’s report, “Biden’s Fossil Fuel Moves Clash With Pledges on Climate Change,”
Sadly, the NYT’s also reported that it was Interior Secretary Deb Haaland who was charged with calling Republican legislators from Alaska to inform them that Biden’s administration would approve the Willow Project, a project she fiercely opposed as a House Rep.
From all of the above, it is clear that there is a dirth of imagination and will at the federal level and that when left to the whims of the private sector, profit will drive decisions, not public benefit. We have a desperate need for local and state action to implement different models for energy, banking, health, agriculture and other industries. Rethink Our Democracy will be devoting its energy to exploring those alternatives and building a base of engaged, educated and motivated voters to press our legislators to turn well-researched ideas into laws that advance justice on multiple fronts. Find out more about Rethink here.
Less is More Part III: Today, we outline how all the eco-strategies being proposed today, while important, are utterly insufficient as long as we insist on following a path governed by sustained economic growth. Part III sets the table for the concluding segment with a rosier outlook, as it will lay out how we can achieve a “de-growth” future and what it could look like. Cheers.
In solidarity and hope,
Paul & Roxanne