Interesting Reading

2016-2017 Budget Summary Labor

The Senate and Assembly agreed upon and approved a final spending plan for the 2016-2017 Budget. Below is a link to a summary that includes issues that were of interest to the Trades.

Click here:  Enacted Budget Summary Labor


Nuclear plants safe, New York ISO CEO Brad Jones readies for a low-carbon grid

New transmission and grid practices will be needed for a deeply decarbonized grid, Jones told Utility Dive

Rochester

Barely a week old, New York’s Clean Energy Standard is already stirring up the power sector.

On Aug 1., the state’s Public Service Commission unanimously approved a 50%-by-2030 renewable energy mandate and income supports for three upstate nuclear plants.

While the PSC had solid support from state stakeholders for the hike in the renewable portfolio standard, the nuclear supports have proved more controversial. Anti-nuclear groups panned the plan as a bailout for aging, uneconomic generation and natural gas interests argued it stepped into the federal government’s jurisdiction over wholesale power markets.

While those debates are sure to stretch into the next year, legal analysts told Utility Dive it is likely some version of the CES will pass muster with the courts. Under the mandate, much of the responsibility for transitioning the state reliably to a lower carbon grid will fall to the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), the nonprofit entity that oversees the bulk power system in the state.

NYISO CEO Brad Jones says they are prepared for the challenge. In an interview last month with Utility Dive, he expressed support for the Clean Energy Standard, which at that point was just a draft proposal.

“One of the elements of the CES is the potential to create lifelines or short-term products that will help nuclear units through this transition, so that’s one of the ways to ensure we have the appropriate amount of baseload generation in the near future,” Jones said.

But keeping existing low-carbon generation on the grid is only one moving part in the effort to decarbonize New York’s power system, Jones said. Enhanced investments, particularly in transmission, and new grid practices, such as distributed resource coordination, will be needed to help the state meet its long-term goal of cutting greenhouse gases 80% by 2050.

Nukes and decarbonziation

When Utility Dive first spoke to Jones, the Clean Energy Standard was still a proposal estimated to funnel about $7 billion to the three nuclear plants over 12 years. In the final order, regulators altered the payment formula, decreasing it to $965 million over two years before it must be reevaluated.

Despite the changes, Jones told Utility Dive after the final order that he and the NYISO staff are satisfied.

“The NYISO supports the state’s 50 x 30 goal and the policy decision to value the carbon-free attributes of the state’s nuclear generation resources,” he wrote to Utility Dive. “Retaining the nuclear fleet is important not only to achieving the Clean Energy Standard, but also to maintaining fuel diversity. I am confident our markets are poised to provide an effective platform for meeting these objectives while maintaining system reliability, facilitating investment in essential infrastructure and efficiently balancing resources.”

The income supports for struggling nuclear units are necessary to achieve Gov. Cuomo’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 40% from 1990 levels by 2030, he said — a point echoed by the PSC in its order, which said replacing the three plants with efficiency and renewables would be unfeasible.

“We got about roughly 30% [of our power] from nuclear, 25% from hydro, and 5% from other renewables” in NYISO last year, Jones said. “As you can imagine it would be much more difficult to achieve our low carbon goals without the nuclear fleet we have.”

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Most of NYISO’s fossil generation is dual fuel, Jones noted, helping protect against potential natural gas supply interruptions.

Credit: NYISO Power Trends 2016

While Jones supports the CES as a transitional measure, the NYISO CEO reiterated a call from many grid operators and state regulators to transition to a more direct price on carbon in the near future.

“I continue to believe the failing of our markets at this point is that we don’t appropriately value carbon, and we have to change that in the future,” Jones said. “We’re very thankful that the commission has been looking at ways to create a bridge for nuclear into this future environment, but long-term we should appropriately value carbon in our markets.”

New York, along with a group of New England states, currently participates in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a cap-and-trade system meant to cut carbon through the trading of carbon emission allowances. Critics say the market sets the cap for emissions too high, resulting in a carbon price that’s too low to drive investment decisions.

Overall, RGGI is “a great program,” Jones said. “Unfortunately, RGGI is not as ambitious as our governor’s overall goals.”

The carbon market could work to deliver on Cuomo’s climate goals, Jones said, but that would mean convincing the other states to align their GHG reductions with New York.

“If that were possible to do in a quick way, I think it would be wonderful to pursue RGGI changes to make that a possibility,” Jones said. “In the meantime though, I think our governor wants to move quicker, and 2030 is just a short 14 years away, so we need to begin that process.”

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The New York ISO power mix since 2000. State regulators approved a 50% renewable energy mandate Aug. 1.

Credit: NYISO Power Trends 2016

Strengthening the ‘backbone’

While renewable energy has been growing in the New York ISO, it still represented less than a quarter of power generation in the state in 2015.

That mean utilities in the state have a lot more work to do in the next 14 years to integrate new renewables. To facilitate that transition, both Jones and NYISO’s Power Trends report make clear that building out new transmission should be the top priority for the grid.

“Transmission is the backbone that supports innovation and our changes to the grid,” Jones said. “It’s going to be very important to have the transmission capabilities to move power from our most distant areas to our load centers and move that green power along those pathways.”

Most of New York’s population is concentrated in the south around New York City, but most of the renewable energy comes from wind farms in the north, or is imported from out-of-state, such as hydro from Canada.

“Those resources are likely to be quite distant from our load centers,” Jones said. “We have to be make sure we have the pathways that enable us to move that green power down to our load centers in New York. That’s the key about driving new transmission.”

The focus on building new power lines isn’t new for NYISO. The region has added 2,765 MW of transmission capacity since 2000, according to the Power Trends report

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New York will need to strengthen transmission ties with Canada and neighboring states to meet renewable energy goals, Jones said.

Credit: NYISO Power Trends 2016

Jones said he expects all resources to play a role in transitioning toward the 50% clean energy standard, but wind and imported Canadian hydro will be especially important. He praised the recent “Tres Amigos” pact signed between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, which aims to increase international power trading and hit a 50% renewables and nuclear goal across North America by 2025.

“We see great opportunities to bring additional renewable green resources into New York State and the fact that the federal government is also looking along the same lines can only be helpful,” Jones said.

Jones also praised FERC Order 1000, which requires that transmission projects within an ISO region be constructed if they meet certain criteria. Some grid operators, like SPP CEO Nick Brown, have critiqued the order recently, saying it does not do enough to facilitate transmission projects between regions.

“In fact, I believe that FERC Order 1000 is going to be very beneficial to New York for the capability of building this transmission,” Jones said. “In particular, I believe that Canadian hydro resources will be a significant part of our resource mix and a significant part of achieving the 50% by 2030 goal. With those hydro resources, we are likely to have to build transmission to enable us to access that additional green resource.”

Balancing demand and DERs

While the state’s Clean Energy Standard and new transmission address the supply side of the energy equation, New York is hard at work in managing its energy demand as well.

Through energy efficiency improvements, distributed resources and demand-side management, the state has managed to level off energy consumption in recent years, with forecasts projecting a decline in overall power consumption over the coming decade.

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After leveling off after 2009, NYISO expects energy consumption to decline in the coming decade.

Credit: NYISO Power Trends 2016

As with total energy usage, the impact of efficiency and DERs on peak demand in NYISO is significant. Like many other U.S. regions, New York’s average electricity demand has been growing at a slower rate than its peak demand. The growing gap between average demand and peak demand has created a utility system that’s designed to meet “superpeaks,” which occur for only a few hours every year.

Over the next decade, the grid operator only expects its peak usage to grow 0.21%.

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Deployment of DERs and expanded demand response are expected to help combat growth in peak power demand.

Credit: NYISO Power Trends 2016

Jones said the ISO is working on a number of programs to integrate more demand response and allow distributed resources to play in wholesale electricity markets. But up to this point, he credited old-fashioned energy efficiency policies for moderating NYISO’s demand.

“I have to give most of the credit to code changes, local government and technology changes,” Jones said. “Just the simple changing to CFLs and now many people changing to other lighting technologies that are even more efficient have had a significant impact. Refrigerators and air conditioners are more efficient. That is driving change in the market more than anything we do.”

But on the “really hot, tight days,” NYISO has “a number of attractive programs for load to participate in the wholesale markets … and to do so in a way that means we don’t have to build additional generation,” Jones added.

Opening up new opportunities for consumer load and customer-sited resources to participate in wholesale markets is one of the goals of the Reforming the Energy Vision initiative, the New York PSC docket that aims to remake utility ratemaking and distribution system practices.

Jones said NYISO is assisting regulators as they reform the distribution system by exploring ways to allow DERs to participate in the bulk power grid.

“We just recently launched what we call a distributed energy resource roadmap, and the goal is to move DERs into a program that would allow them to participate directly in our energy markets,” Jones said.

Those resources will come “most likely through aggregators that will aggregate up several resources up and offer them in,” he added, “but do so in a way that would help us to moderate our high priced energy again in very scarce times.”

Meeting public policy goals

Looking ahead, Jones sees NYISO’s role in REV as “assisting that wholesale-to-distribution level interface,” and ensuring there are market opportunities for DERs and renewables. But a few things need to happen before DERs can become fully-fledged grid resources in New York, he said, including the “ability to price these individual resources, to dispatch them and performance monitor them.

“Then again,” he said, “when we think of renewables, we need to make sure we have the transmission in place to move the power around the system and the ancillary services to support it. So … this market is changing and dynamic and it is changing as much or more than I’ve seen in the last 20 years.”

Whether it’s preserving baseload generation, ensuring reliability during peak hours or integrating more renewables, Jones said all the facets of being a grid operator come back to one theme — meeting public policy goals.

“What [other ISO leaders and I] have talked about quite a bit is a concern with meeting the challenges of our public policy goals,” Jones said. “Each state has a unique set of public policy goals, and in multi-state jurisdictions they have even more difficulty because they are trying to meet several different requirements.”

Going forward, Jones said the role of the grid operator in the modern energy system is “making sure those public policy goals can be achieved in the markets in ways that provide the most efficiency and most reliability for our customers overall.”

“That has been the challenge — accommodating those public policy goals in a way that can be effective, efficient and reliable.”

Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that nuclear energy was included in a 50% clean energy standard draft proposal from the PSC. That was incorrect. A regulatory white paper had earlier proposed opening a new tier in the state’s Clean Energy Standard for nuclear energy, but the facilities were not included in the 50%-by-2030 goal laid out by regulators. 


Misconduct Under Unemployment Insurance Law

This communication is meant to educate you as to what happens under unemployment insurance law when an individual is terminated/fired by an employer for “misconduct”.

Misconduct under unemployment insurance law has a broad meaning but generally means the employee has “allegedly” violated an established policy of the employer or state law. The most common misconduct charges are: insubordination, failure to follow company policy, theft of time or materials, failing a drug or alcohol screen, workplace violence or verbal abuse and time or attendance violations.

Under the law, an initial investigation of the separation of employment will be performed by the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) soon after an unemployment claim is opened. If the NYSDOL rules that the employer had just cause to terminate/fire the employee, then all unemployment insurance benefits will be suspended to the claimant immediately.

Furthermore, all wages earned with that employer will be removed from the computation of a currently opened or future claim for benefits. This is critical given the fact that unemployment insurance weekly benefit rates are computed based on total gross wages by calendar quarter and if the terminating employer is your only employer, then you would be deniedbenefits.

If you have multiple employers, as many construction workers do, then only the wages with the terminating employer are removed from computing the claim. You would still not be entitled to benefits until you went back to work and earned five times your weekly benefit rate with a new employer and get laid off due to lack of work. Your eligibility for benefits would still be questionable depending on your weeks of employment with said employer.

One rumor floating around is that if you get terminated/fired due to misconduct, then you only have to wait seven (7) weeks to collect benefits. This is absolutely FALSE!

If you have been denied benefits and have what you think is a valid case, then you could request a hearing before an administrative law judge. These hearings take two months to get scheduled and are at best, a crap shoot. It is best to avoid having to go to one.

The best way to avoid being terminated/fired is to be mindful of the most basic rules of employment. They are: obey all directives from you employer unless the order is a direct threat to you or someone else’s safety and health. Always grieve the matter later. Come to work alcohol and drug free, on time, ready, and willing and able to give eight hours of work for eight hours of pay. Most importantly, never, ever snitch on a fellow union member, be an asset to your employer and stay off the termination radar screen!


From the President: Trade Agreements have put the U.S. on a Fast Track to Economic Ruin

(as seen in the Rochester Business Journal 1/24/14)

President Barack Obama continues to break a campaign promise on trade agreements. While campaigning for the Democratic nomination in 2008, both Obama and Hillary Clinton promised to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. Afterward, that promise was quickly tossed in the trash, and the neo-liberal trade model continues to destroy opportunity, wages and our middle class.

The talking points of the giant corporations are no longer enough to sell this trade model to the American people. A number of polls show that liberals and the tea party agree on one thing, that these so-called free trade agreements hurt America and Americans. Free trade agreements from NAFTA on have destroyed wage, environmental and safety standards the world over. They have created a race to the bottom, and they even compromise national sovereignty in favor of corporate interests.

They do not promote competition. In fact, they are written by special interests to get favored treatment and to reduce or eliminate competition. They are made to exploit poor people the world over while assaulting middle-class standards of living. This is a more technologically advanced new colonialism, without the overtly racist slogans of the old colonialism.

The model depends on cheap labor and allows workers little dignity and justice, often keeping them in line with brutal repression, as we have seen recently during strikes in Thailand, Vietnam, Bangladesh and parts of Africa. Brutal repression is used to deny justice in China for those working in what were once American and European factories.

Again we are seeing a bipartisan effort to fast-track a trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. It has become almost routine for Congress to abdicate its responsibility to debate, amend and vote on international trade agreements. Read the full article here…..


The Gap Between the Rich and Poor: Accidentally Explained by the Governor of Virginia

The scandal shows inequality is not just a slip of some invisible hand of the market…… 

(BY Leo Gerard, United Steelworkers President as seen in “In These Times” January 28, 2014)

Just about everything Americans need to know about the surge of income inequality is contained in the 43- page indictment last week of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell.

The Republican governor and his wife are accused of a sleazy exchange—taking pricey gifts like a silver Rolex watch and gold Oscar de la Renta dresses from a CEO for awarding special state treatment to his business which, by the way, peddles tobacco-laced dietary supplements.

It’s a simple and base transaction. For a bit of personal wealth, a politician sells out the people who elected him, the people who trusted him to serve their interests. Some of the nation’s millionaires and billionaires use politicians’ avarice to buy exclusive deals, policies and laws. This could be big tax breaks for the rich. This could be bailing out Wall Street. This could be refusing to regulate industrial chemicals that poison drinking water when leaked.

These arrangements enrich some politicians and CEOs while impoverishing everyone else. The resulting rising income inequality is deliberate, not an accidental slip of some clumsy invisible hand of the market. More than 230 years ago, Americans rejected a system of governance in which a mass of peasants served a royal few. They chose self-governance for the benefit of the many. America’s 1 percent are short-circuiting that system with Rolex watches and unlimited campaign cash, ensuring the rich get richer and everyone else gets poorer. In other words, engineering income inequality.

So oppressive are income and opportunity inequality now that the likes of the President and the Pope speak of righting these wrongs.

In a statement read last week to the billionaires and world leaders who purchased 1,500 bottles of champagne and 1,350 chocolate-covered strawberries for their five day stay at the Swiss ski resort in Davos that hosted the 44th World Economic Forum, Pope Francis said, “I ask you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it.”

President Obama has said income inequality is the “defining challenge of our time,” and during his State of the Union address this week, he will offer plans to reduce it.

Here’s what the President and the Pope are talking about: Over the past quarter century, a smaller number of Rolex-wearers managed to accrue a larger share of the world’s wealth. Now, the world’s 85 richest people have accumulated more wealth than 3.5 billion people —the world’s poorest half. That’s billion: 3.5 billion humans together have less than 85 individuals.

In the years after the Wall Street crash, between 2009 and 2012, America’s wealthiest 1 percent captured 95 percent of economic growth, while the bottom 90 percent got poorer .

Americans cherish the dream that hard work can change this. But upward mobility is mostly an illusion. Seven out of 10 Americans born into poverty will likely stay there .

In the three decades after World War II, Americans deliberately created the conditions that increased economic opportunity and decreased income inequality. Their methods included charging the rich very high income and inheritance tax rates, providing support for labor unions which enabled workers to successfully bargain for better wages, and nurturing a culture that would not tolerate paying a CEO more for one hour than earned in an entire year by the workers whose labor created the corporation’s profits.

In the past two and a half decades, by contrast, the wealthy deliberately created the conditions that increased income inequality and decreased economic opportunity. Tax rates on the rich so plummeted that quarter-billionaire Mitt Romney paid a lower rate than many middle class Americans . The federal government gives tax breaks to fabulously profitable corporations like GE and ExxonMobil and bailouts to reckless banks like JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup.

As the CEO of Star Scientific, the Virginia dietary supplement company, discovered:  There’s not much that can’t be bought with $140,000 in loans and gifts to the right politicians .

For example, according to the indictment, at Gov. McDonnell’s request, t he Virginia secretary of health asked policy advisers to meet with Star Scientific CEO Jonnie R. Williams Sr. Johnnie wanted the state’s public universities to study the health benefits of a Star Scientific tobacco-laced supplement. Jonnie, according to the indictment , said he’d discussed with the governor having the State Tobacco Commission pay for the studies.

Somehow, it doesn’t seem likely that the average Virginian or mom-and-pop business that couldn’t afford a $15,000 wedding gift for the governor’s daughter and a loaned Ferrari to the state’s first couple would be able to secure special treatment like taxpayer-covered scientific studies of tobacco-spiked dietary supplements.

That sort of special treatment, legislation or lack of regulation secured through gifts, campaign contributions, promises of jobs after lawmakers leave office, and other goodies is what Oxfam calls “political capture.” Using their wealth and influence, the rich capture the political process and exploit it to sustain and enhance their wealth. This has occurred at the expense of everyday Americans. It has contributed significantly to income inequality.

Oxfam , a non-profit that has fought poverty and injustice for 70 years in more than 90 countries, issued a report last week titled “Working for the Few ” that describes how political capture causes income inequality and calls on the billionaires and world leaders who met in Davos to do something about it.

The report notes that while income inequality has increased worldwide, it has declined in some nations, particularly several in South America where wealth is more equitably shared, where progressive taxation was instituted, and where the governments provided universal access to healthcare and education.

Oxfam asked the World Economic Forum’s billionaires and global leaders to set a goal of ending extreme economic inequality in every country. Among the recommendations it offers for doing that is curbing the power of the rich to influence political processes in ways that benefit only the rich.

In other words, Oxfam is asking the rich to control themselves, to stop their fellow Jonnies of the world from buying politicians fancy watches and dresses to get what they want.

Oxfam and Pope Francis have the same goal, but if humanity is to be served by wealth and not ruled by it, then humanity cannot simply sit back and wait for wealthy Jonnies to voluntarily relinquish power.


Union Membership in New York Increased by an Estimated 145,000 Workers in 2013!!!

According to numbers released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership in New York increased by an estimated 145,000 working men and women in 2013.  New York retained its nation leading status with the largest number of union members as a percentage of the state’s workforce; 24.4 percent of New York workers now belong to unions.  The national average is 11.3%.

“Nearly one out of every seven union members in the country lives in New York,” said Mario Cilento, President of the New York State AFL-CIO.  “Our members live, work, and vote in every community across this state.  Union members represent the hopes, dreams, and values of all New Yorkers.”

The release comes as the New York State AFL-CIO seeks to change the dynamic in Albany from one where the agenda is driven by corporations and the wealthy to one that looks at policy from the perspective of hardworking New Yorkers.  More information on that campaign can be found at  www.makingnywork.org .

Cilento said, “While these numbers are encouraging, our collective challenge is to educate and mobilize our members to be active and vocal in fighting to make New York work for all of us.  Together, we will achieve a state that invests in New Yorkers, protects vital public services, and reduces income inequality.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics release, which is based on data collected as part of the Current Population Survey (CPS), can be found at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm .