Saturday, March 7, 2015

Power and the City

In May 2013, Mayor William Hallenbeck announced, with considerable fanfare, that the City of Hudson was going to save money and help the environment by switching to 1oo percent locally produced wind energy, purchased from Viridian. "Today, we embark on the future of Hudson," said the mayor at a press conference, "saving taxpayers' hard-earned dollars whenever we're able to, while doing something right for the environment and our state's economy." Hudson, he declared, would be the only municipality in New York to be exclusively powered by wind energy.

In February 2014, the mayor announced, once again at a press conference, that in the first five months with Viridian as its energy supplier the City had saved $26,030, saving in only five months 63 percent of what the City was projected to save in the first year. If the rate of saving continued, the mayor said, the City would save $62,472 in the first year.

In April 2014, the mayor made a unilateral decision to switch from all wind power to a combination of wind power and solar power--the solar power also to be purchased through Viridian. At that time, the mayor spoke of installing solar panels on the Central Fire Station, on City Hall, and on the new police and court building being planned. (Almost a year later, none of these things has happened.) At that time, too, he made assurances that the City remained "on track to meet its savings goal of $40,000 for the year." (The annual saving of $62,472, predicted in February, had apparently been abandoned.)

Then in September 2014, it was revealed that the City's energy bill for the prior year was $113,782 more than the previous year--an increase of 33 percent. It was also revealed that, far from being "exclusively powered by wind energy" or by some combination of wind and solar, only some of the City buildings were involved. The Department of Public Works and the Police Department were getting their energy from Viridian, but the Youth Department and the Fire Department continued to buy energy from National Grid. It's not clear where the power to City Hall was coming from.

There was much consternation over whether increased usage or higher rates accounted for the increased cost to the City in 2014, but the mayor defended his action. He was quoted in the Register-Star as saying, "Regardless of if we save thousands or tens of thousands we did the right thing. We took a leadership role and led the county and Hudson Valley, and now there are Democratic and Republican-led towns and councils who followed Hudson's lead of price stability and green energy, all choosing Viridian."

Last week, in Connecticut, inspired by a civil lawsuit brought against Viridian in Maryland and more than a hundred complaints about the company in Connecticut, FoxCT News did an investigative report on Viridian Energy: "FoxCT Investigates: CT energy company accused of misleading customers."


  1. I was at the meeting where the fellow from Viridian gave his pitch to the Common Council. There were already public expressions of doubt about Viridian's veracity, and I noticed that the spokesman was weirdly tight with The Friendly City's "old boys." The whole thing felt like a set-up for a gag about a snake oil salesman. The product was the miracle answer to The Universal Energy Crisis, and right on cue the ever-conscientious ever-dutiful council was all in, bringing the punch line home. I'm not making any personal claims, but there were certainly members of the public who were less gullible.

  2. Well, now, that's pretty damning. "Read the fine print," they say.

  3. Just put "Viridian" in the Gossips search field and enjoy reviewing the public's perspicacity.

    I did a search of the Common Council Minutes through 2012 and 2013, but I can't find any mention of Viridian or of the company spokesman's snake oil speech to the council.

    It is annoying that the city's very long 'Minutes Index' is not a searchable document. And yet it is our document; the public paid for it and the public owns it.

    What a help it would be to public access if the city would expend a few extra key clicks with an OCR software.

    But consider the other implications of the difficulty of using an unsearchable PDF that is not arranged alphabetically. Don't the aldermen ever review their own work?

    No wonder so many of them can't remember which way they voted in the past, or even what was voted on!

  4. This morning, the City Clerk has informed me that I'm going about searching the Minutes all wrong.

    Rather than endlessly scroll through the Index, one can simply enter a word, say "Viridian," into the website's search field (city website homepage, upper right hand corner). 

    All searches cover the official Minutes, just not the "Index" for the Minutes!

    The Index was the innovation of the Clerk herself after she supposed, correctly, that it would assist the public in its research.

    The only thing she overlooked was the reasonable assumption that if one Minutes-related document was unsearchable (the Index), then others might be too.

    For instance most of the sewer documents are unsearchable, such as the DPW's 839-page Long Term Control Plan. That has no index at all, and necessitates endless scrolling searches even after downloading.

    But the irony about the Minutes Index is all the more unfortunate because an innovation meant to increase public access contributed, instead, to an opposite impression.

    My apologies and compliments to our excellent and innovative City Clerk.