[To learn about this campaign and get involved, sign our petition to take over and replace RG&E with a public utility! Then, either our Organizing Director (Mohini Sharma) or our Organizer and Policy Specialist (Michelle Wenderlich), will follow up with you! You can also visit our upcoming events page to RSVP to an upcoming Organizing Meeting; we meet biweekly on Wednesdays from 6 - 7:30 PM.]
Rochester for Energy Democracy (RED) is Metro Justice’s campaign to take over RG&E and turn it into a public utility. An equitable, local, and community-controlled utility will reduce bills, avoid shut-offs, and invest RG&E’s $108 Million in yearly profits back to the region, while creating local union jobs and a renewable energy transition for all. Rochester for Energy Democracy: energy by and for our community.
Why do we need public power? The climate crisis and expensive utilities bills.
RG&E hasn’t been adequately serving our communities for a long time, and of late it’s become clear the situation is untenable. They’re under investigation for widespread patterns of outlandish mistakes on people’s bills, poor outage management, and have often absent and dismissive customer service so that it is impossible for ratepayers to resolve issues. These issues aren't new. For decades, RG&E has exploited residents of Rochester with rate hikes, winter shut-offs, a disastrously maintained grid, and poor service. In addition to being unresponsive to the needs of city residents, RG&E has all but ignored the impending climate crisis. Nearly 91% of Upstate New York’s electricity generation has zero emissions. Yet, at a moment when we must act urgently to mitigate climate change -- a crisis that will disproportionately affect people of color and working people -- RG&E is still using the rates we all pay to maintain gas infrastructure that uses a dangerous CO2-emitting energy source, the primary driver of climate change.
RG&E's shareholders profit off of keeping our community in these states of crisis, just like other investor-owned, for profit, private utilities across NYS and the country. RG&E is owned by a multinational corporation that has to guarantee profits for its shareholders. That’s why they charge us expensive rates, cut costs in maintenance and customer service, and drain money out of our region. In 2021 alone, we collectively paid RG&E over $900 million, and RG&E's shareholders pocketed $108 million in profit.
Heat and electricity are human needs and should be provided as a public good, not exploited for corporate profit. We, and our families, also deserve a healthy and habitable planet for generations to come. A company like RG&E that has to prioritize profit for shareholders over serving customers has not, will not, and cannot provide for the needs of our community. The solution is a public utility that is affordable, accountable and responsive to ratepayers, invests in our local economy, and is renewable.
Our solution: public power & energy democracy. RG&E has got to go!
We need to build an energy system that meets the needs of communities instead of the greed of distant investors and CEOs. We need a shift to energy that is 100% clean and renewable.
This future is possible if we create an energy economy both owned and operated by the community itself. In other words, we need public power and energy democracy, that gives us a say in what kind of energy we use, whom we get it from, and how the money we pay is used to benefit our community. Everyone could only pay what is necessary to develop and maintain energy infrastructure, taking millions in profits for investors and CEOs out of the picture, and preserving our future on this one earth.
We must rise and fight for a public and locally owned utility based on five principles of Energy Democracy:
- Affordability. Public utilities are not for profit, so energy can be affordable for all. Rates can be lowered, and the utility will have a mandate to avoid shut offs.
- Accountable, democratic governance. While run by a value-aligned general management and its current employees, our utility will be democratically governed by an elected Board of Directors that represents a wide array of community interests and technical expertise. This can include community representatives, representatives of organized labor, and climate experts, with additional mechanisms for input from rate-payers.
- Local economic benefit. Our utility will invest ratepayer dollars back into our community to fund energy efficiency and other initiatives that improve quality of life for our people.
- Green energy. Our utility will commit to an equitable and immediate transition to clean energy sources, and aim to be 100% carbon free by 2030. This includes a complete transition off of gas infrastructure, and prioritizing locally, publicly or cooperatively owned electric generation whenever possible to replace natural gas.
- Workers rights and a just transition for energy workers. Our utility will commit to a just transition for energy workers, retention of current RG&E employees, local workforce development, and restoring good-paying jobs with benefits that have been lost to RG&E outsourcing. Policies regarding the workforce will be guided by recommendations from organized labor.
Public utilties are common, benefit cities of all sizes, and are more affordable and reliable.
Of the nation's 3,200 electricity providers, just over 2,000 are publicly owned utilities, serving 14.5 percent of all electricity consumers. If you include co-ops, 28% of the US is served by a consumer-owned utility. Five of the nation’s 20 largest cities own their electric utilities, including Los Angeles and Seattle. Overall, public uilities are between 13-63% cheaper than investor owned utilities (IOUs), while being twice as reliable. Many areas, including Long Island, San Francisco, San Diego, and the state of Maine, are currently considering public power because of the need to have control and influence over how a renewable transition happens while keeping costs down and building long-term local investment and financial stability. The City of Rochester is actually neighbored by 3 successful public utilities in Fairport, Spencerport, and Churchville, all of which are cheaper and more reliable than RG&E. Why shouldn’t Rochester and the rest of Monroe County have a public utility too?
Public utilties are better at transitioning to green energy and invest more in their local economies.
Public utilities across the country have a proven track record of transitioning faster than their private counterparts - and investing 33% more into their communities. They reduced their emissions by a third between 2005 and 2017, far outpacing private sector averages. Of the 7 utilities that are 100% renewable, all are public. Some standouts: in 2005, Seattle City Light became the first electric utility in the United States to fully offset all its carbon emissions and has remained carbon neutral every year since.
How do we take over RG&E and turn it into a public utility?
- The first step is to commission an implementation study to assess the technical, financial, and logistical implementation of replacing RG&E. The study will provide a plan of service including governance and management, evaluate a fair price for the grid, create an affordable rate structure, and provide a cost-effective plan for grid resiliency and a green transition. The study essentially gives us the blueprint for how to form and run a utility that meets our goals. We specifically urge the City and County leadership to jointly commission and fund an implementation study with Metro Justice's input.
- Then, we must win a referendum (popular vote) in which residents vote for the formation of a public utility based on our principles. We can then initiate the formal process of replacing RG&E in our area with our publicly owned utility.
- According to NYS State Law, a positive referendum mandates RG&E to sell its assets to the public in the area that the referendum took place. The buy-out is financed through low-interest public bonds paid back over time collectively by our rates - not by taxes - which allows us to save money and have an energy system that serves our community.
- Educate our neighbors on our fight and the benefits of public power, and recruit them to get involved, so that we have the capacity to succeed and can be informed participants in the governance of our utility.
Meet our coalition partners:
Accomplishing our goal will take a unified community, so we are proud to say that our coalition partners continue to grow. Currently, RED is a coalition of 14 organizations. The campaign is anchored by Metro Justice, a member-driven organization fighting for social, economic, and racial justice in Rochester since 1965. Our coalition includes:
- 1199 SEIU (United Healthcare Workers East- largest healthcare union)
- Federation of Social Workers
- Workers United
- Democratic Socialists of America - Rochester Chapter
- Rochester City Roots Community Land Trust
- Citywide Tenants Union of Rochester
- Connected Communities
- United Christian Leadership Ministry
- First Unitarian Church of Rochester
- Rochester Mutual Aid Network
- Color Brighton Green
- Third Act Rochester
- Clean Air Coalition of Western New York
- Energy Democracy Alliance
If you are part of an organization that is interested in endorsing the campaign and becoming a coalition partner, we would love to talk with you! Please reach out to our Organizing Director, Mohini Sharma, via email at [email protected] or call her 585-397-3534. You can view our endorsement letter here.
When we fight, we can win! Let’s get to work together for a future that serves us, not the top. Sign up below to get involved!