Thursday, October 1, 2015

Special Meeting Held To Enact Flawed Plan

On Tuesday, in a special Town Board meeting, possibly to occlude the public from interfering with their pesky facts, the Town Board unanimously pushed Mr Feiner’s latest publicity stunt forward. They approved a local law enabling the town to procure energy on behalf of residential and small commercial energy customers in the town. They claim that this legislation will enable the town to help residents reduce their utility bills. Claims by Mr Feiner in particular, and others, have been made stating the ability to garner savings of up to $600! However, no statistical proof verifying this claim has ever been presented, nor details of how long it would take to recognize such savings, even following multiple queries. This is strictly an experiment by Sustainable Westchester which will last for three years. At the end of three years, if successful, we could see the not-for-profit company change into a for-profit company and the previous savings evaporate. They have even stated that this will become their model if it is successful and they will look to expand their program nationwide.

Against vehement opposition from members of the public, Civic Associations and others, the Town Board discarded their many questions and automatically signed up every Greenburgh resident for the program-without their consent! Only those already participating in an ESCO would be exempt as well as the Town itself, who gets its power from PASNY (Power Authority State of NY). Those against this plan were concerned that residents were unknowingly being automatically enrolled into the program. The rationale by Mr Feiner and his Board was that anyone can opt OUT if they don’t wish to participate. Residents who spoke questioned the consequences of a program that automatically opts someone into something without their knowledge or consent. It should have been set up to opt IN, not opt OUT.  

The Town Board held 3 public hearings: on June 24, July 8 and August 19th regarding this legislation. ABG believes this was purposely consummated during the summer or vacation months to minimize opposition. It’s interesting to note when Mr Feiner wants something to go forward, such as the illegal lease for his friends at GameOn 365 for example, he pulls out all of the stops and puts up yard signs throughout the Town, holds press conferences, does press releases, email blasts and so on. Similarly, when he wants to avoid controversy the Board holds special meetings, executive sessions and the ever-popular closed door meetings! 

The taxpayer/residents’ problem is that Mr Feiner and his Town Board know that they can hold hearings and regardless of the information presented or the arguments made, can move their agenda forward because the politically lopsided Board usually doesn't have much, if any, voting opposition. When there is disagreement, it’s usually two against and the other two in favor, siding with Mr Feiner as the third vote and tie-breaker. This juggernaut passing the measures in question and ensuring their continued political futures winds up short-changing the public.  

Mr Feiner has said the potential benefits of this ESCO deal are price stability for a fixed contract term, lower prices, more favorable terms and preference for cleaner power sources. What's interesting is that he never provides any tangible definitions or statistical data to back what he says. Simply, the prices will be fixed and only provide lower rates for a while. If energy costs go up, and they always do, your prices may also go up - even though you were entered into this program at a fixed contract term. Amazing how those conducting this experiment don’t get hurt. 

More favorable terms is a misnomer. The terms are the terms and you will now see the delivery charges as a separate billing charge on your ConEd bill. While you will continue to make your payments the same way you always have, if you have trouble paying your bill, you’ll still be dealing with ConEd and not the ESCO. They get paid regardless. Any preference for cleaner power sources is a lie. Whatever ConEd does for energy is what you will be using - period. So, while you may prefer solar or something else, it will be up to ConEd as to how they purchase and resell power to you. The ESCO will be charging you for the transmission of the energy and the “moving” of it to you. 

This deal is fraught with many more questions than answers. Ken Stahn of the Sprain Road Civic Association repeatedly met with Sustainable Westchester and the Town Board seeking answers. As of the last meeting of the Council of Greenburgh Civic Associations, he still had unanswered questions and was not satisfied with the minimal and generic answers that were provided. Mr Feiner claims that other Towns and Villages have adopted the plan. While the plan they adopted had numerous typos, some of which were significant, Town Councilman Francis Sheehan stated they had reworked the boilerplate contract the others had signed to be a bit better for Greenburgh. There is still no timeline when “Opt-OUT” postcards will be mailed to residents. There is also no confirmation if there will be a fee to opt-out after the postcard program is over. ABG research shows there has been a fee in other places where this was tried. 

Regardless of how much lipstick gets smeared on this, it’s ugly and still not a deal we can have confidence in. Greenburgh residents will be on the hook for any “hits” this program takes. That’s right. If the opted OUT residents don’t participate and something goes wrong for the opted IN residents, the Town has no direct liability, per se. But, as we’ve seen before with the Fortress Bible Church guilty decision, the Unincorporated residents will have to bankroll whatever financial problems the program experiences. It shouldn’t be this way. If this was a well-vetted program, we might endorse it. It’s not. We should not be the guinea pigs for this energy experiment unless we wanted to opt IN! But again, that’s not the case. Until it is, this idea should have been tabled. Only then will we see A Better Greenburgh.

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