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The Human Impacts Institute investigates New York City’s largest energy service provider.According to Consolidated Edison, Inc. (Con Edison), the company “is committed to meeting the current and future energy needs of our customers in a safe, reliable, efficient, and environmentally sound manner”, which is not dissimilar to the most basic and general definition of sustainable development: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs“.

So how well is Con Edison adhering to its mission?

Con Edison delivers electricity to more than 3 million customers and natural gas to more than a million customers. In an interview with a customer assistance representative of Con Edison, S. Jenkins, he stated that Con Edison no longer makes energy to supply to its customers; the company buys its energy from other supplier, such as NRG Energy, Reliant Resources, and KeySpan. Additionally, a subsidiary of Con Edison, Con Edison Solutions, supplies renewable energy options for New Yorkers at slightly higher rates. Jenkins also stated that the percentage of energy supplied to New Yorkers by coal, gas, nuclear, solar, or other types of energy sources varies based on what suppliers had the lowest price each month and their individual production sources of energy.

In 2010, Con Edison emitted 4,270,000 tons of direct greenhouse gas emissions, largely from its steam generating stations. Since this number only takes direct GHG emissions into account, the question of the overall greenhouse gases emissions emitted from energy production and supply in NYC remains. What we do know is that greenhouse gas emissions from NYC buildings made up 75% of total citywide GHG emissions in 2009.

As New York’s largest energy-delivery provider, Con Edison has taken steps to balance out associated detrimental effects to the environment and community health. Con Edison presents its customers with tips to make them more energy efficient, advising them on how to inspect and care for their homes. The company provides tools to measure energy costs, such as the Home Energy Calculator, which “analyzes home energy use and the savings that can result from a variety of energy-efficiency measures”.

Con Edison also offers both residential and business customers ways to make their homes and businesses more energy efficient. Residential customers are entitled to rebates on high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment, free or subsidized efficiency upgrades for targeted neighborhoods, and more. For business customers, Con Edison offers free energy surveys and incentives for equipment upgrades, financial incentives for reducing its energy use during peak periods, and more.

For customers looking into alternatives to gas-powered vehicles, Con Edison provides information on the different types of electric vehicles, home charging options, and the factors that affect the cost of charging an electric vehicle.

While Con Edison also promotes renewable energy by supplying customers with information about the incentives and rebates of solar energy technology and sponsoring renewable energy projects such as the Long Island-New York City Offshore Wind Project, the energy the company provides still comes primarily from coal and natural gas.

Despite sustainability initiatives, Con Edison has not supported select “green” bills in New York State. For example, when on-bill recovery legislation was going through the Senate, Con Edison tried to block its passage, stating that “accommodating the program would require them to update and recode their billing system to include the loan line item” and that “this might cause homeowners not to pay their bill on time”.

Con Edison has also protested against the New York Solar Jobs Act, which would establish a program to develop over 5,000 megawatts of solar power capacity in NY by 2025 and is estimated to create more than 22,000 new jobs. The company argues that electricity rates would rise if the legislation passed. According to a 2010 CrossBorder Energy analysis, the cost of enforcing the bill would be 39 cents on the average monthly residential utility bill. The bill may not largely impact consumers, but Con Edison would be forced to purchase solar energy under 15-year contracts.

Although Con Edison has taken steps towards helping New Yorker’s “green” their energy sources, it’s evident that there’s a long way to go in providing sustainable energy sources and service to our homes, offices, and schools.

By Jenny Cheng, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Climate and Coalition Building Intern

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