Another public utility feasibility study vote fails

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Supporters of a public utility feasibility study faced disappointment last night when a vote to advance that study failed in a 16-13 vote in the Monroe County Legislature.

The bill would have allocated $1 million in the county’s budget for a study researching the viability of providing areas, currently served by Rochester Gas and Electric, with a public power option instead. Last year, Rochester City Council approved $500,000 in funding toward this study, but it was contingent on the county also contributing funds.

“Of the nation’s 3,200 electricity providers, just over 2,000 of them are publicly owned utilities, so we are actually behind the trend, we are in the minority here,” said Carolyn Delvecchio Hoffman, who sponsored the bill. “Personally, I believe in community-owned utilities. This is something I would be excited about regardless.”

While some Republican legislators expressed concern about the business practices of RG&E, they uniformly voted against the measure. Three Democrats–Howard Maffucci, Michael Yudelson, and Legislature President Yversha Román–also voted against the proposal.

Maffucci, Yudelson and fellow Democrat John Baynes had voted against the attempt in November 2023, stating there were legislative procedure issues at the time. While Baynes switched his vote to “yes,” the other two brought up concerns over cost and a split union issue as reasons for their “no” vote this time.

“While the county’s finances have improved, we must remain vigilant and manage spending in a fiscally responsible way,” said Maffucci, whose district covers parts of Pittsford and Brighton. “I believe it is unwise at this time to spend up to $1 million. I cannot in good conscience support this.”

“I’ve said many times that I would like to see more accountability from RG&E and a demonstration that they are devoting resources to overall improvement and, more importantly, making progress. This is critical even if a convergence of public power was to move forward or if it wasn’t,” Yudelson said, who represents a district covering parts of Pittsford and Henrietta.

“I note that it’s unusual for us to have issues where organized labor is divided,” he continued. “The unions who

 represent the people who do the work, they are against it. And that tips the scales for me.”

Román voted against the study stating she believed it was worth reconsideration.

“This will allow us all the time, as (elected officials), to seek ways to address these very pressing concerns from RG&E and our community,” she said.

In a statement issued afterward, Román noted that she “voted in the negative tonight to preserve the opportunity to bring the issue back to the Legislature for consideration in the current term.” A motion to reconsider may be made only by a lawmaker who voted with the prevailing side.

Following the vote, supporters of the study expressed their displeasure with the result from the gallery. Metro Justice organizer and policy specialist Michelle Wenderlich was specifically singled out by the president for disruptive behavior before the Legislature went into a five-minute recess. Upon returning, the rest of the procedure was carried out without further incident.

The meeting’s public comment section stretched over three hours and featured speakers who both supported and opposed the study. Supporters, many of whom had been organized by the Rochester for Energy Democracy Campaign, wore red while opposition, many of whom were employees of RG&E, wore green.

“The Democratic Party majority was elected to do the people’s business, and this was their first big test,” said Mohini Sharma, organizing director for Metro Justice. “Tonight the County Legislature chose to put the interests of a multinational corporation over those of their constituents. Monroe County residents deserve a future in which we are no longer beholden to a profit-driven, foreign company for our basic energy needs, and we will continue to fight for that future.”

Per a statement, Sharma and the RED campaign say they will keep pushing for a feasibility study through other options, including introducing an updated proposal to the county Legislature, pursuing state legislation for a countywide study, or pursuing a feasibility study led by the city of Rochester.

“For the second time, Republican legislators have successfully protected taxpayers from the boondoggle of a public utility takeover,” said Republican Leader Steve Brew in a statement following the vote. “This is a victory for common sense, but more importantly, for our taxpayers, ratepayers, businesses, and labor. Anyone operating in reality could not support this fantasy, and I am grateful for our Republican Conference and colleagues for standing up to radical Democrat, and socialist, proponents.”

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer and data journalist. The Beacon welcomes comments and letters from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name. Submissions to the Letters page should be sent to [email protected]

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