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This article was originally published in the July/August 1995 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.

 

 

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Home Energy Magazine Online July/August 1995

 

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in energy

The Demise of NYSEO

The New York State Energy Office (NYSEO) quietly closed its doors in March, after many years of performing research, funding energy improvements, developing major code initiatives, and publishing useful technical manuals on energy efficiency. The closure, with virtually no fanfare, surprised even the agency's toughest critics.

Republican Governor George Pataki of New York had wasted no time in stating his understanding of the state's electorate in his inaugural speech: The people believe that government has become too big, too unwieldy, too distant, and too arrogant, that every day government seems to grow not to benefit the taxpayers or the people but the bureaucrats, officeholders, and special interests.

Within days, the rumors were confirmed to employees of NYSEO, and Pataki announced his intention to close the office. This was just one result of Pataki's victory over former governor Mario Cuomo, who brought NYSEO to both its zenith and its most bureaucratic gridlock; indeed, many who had praised the work of NYSEO during its tenure raised nary a whimper at its demise. Paraphrasing Pataki, many felt that the agency was benefitting only the bureaucrats and had no constituency.

NYSEO was an active group in its early years, but as the office and the staff aged, they became complacent and bureaucratic. Applications for energy-related projects, even for U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored programs such as the Schools and Hospitals program, were voluminous and took hours to complete. Many applications were not submitted for perfectly reasonable energy-efficiency projects because the application procedure was so complex. And the ultimate display of bureaucratic complexity took shape: a cottage industry of consultants cropped up across the state whose area of expertise was processing NYSEO applications. Programs which were designated for the masses, such as their Energy Investment Loan Program (EILP) for multiple dwellings, contained loopholes that only experienced consultants knew. For example, three separate equations were used for proper sizing of a replacement boiler, with resultant answers for the same building varying by a factor of four. This type of problem continued to fuel the belief that NYSEO's heart was not in its job.

In NYSEO's greatest undertakings were also found its greatest flaws. It was required by law to publish an annual State Energy Plan. The most recent three-volume, 1,100 page journal is a painstakingly detailed document examining energy use by sector, but not by geographical region. This omission weakened still further NYSEO's ability to gain a local constituency. Further, NYSEO's State Energy Conservation Construction Code, assailed by those in the conservation industry as too lenient, could not be strongly enforced because it had no teeth, and most practitioners in the field witnessed little adherence to its provisions.

The effects of closing NYSEO may not be noticed for years. Clearly, there were top-notch energy professionals with years of experience at NYSEO. When the end was near, NYSEO civil service employees requested comparability of titles, or equivalent state positions. Under this system, permanent employees may take positions currently held by provisional employees. In many agencies, however, provisionals are employees whose job doesn't fit a certain title, but who work in a new or specifically technical area in which few people are qualified. At New York's Public Service Commission this meant that 12 provisionals, most of whom worked in demand-side management, were required to vacate their positions by the end of May. But with a hiring freeze in place, it was still not clear that NYSEO staff would actually fill those positions.

As one insider put it, The loss of NYSEO should be a lesson to all government programs, energy-related or not. You must constantly improve, reinvent yourself, update your network of support, and seek to prove your detractors wrong; the minute you feel that your role is irreplaceable is the minute you'll be replaced.

--F.L. Andrew Padian

F.L. Andrew Padian is director of energy audit
services for the New York City Weatherization
Coalition and is also a private building consultant.

 

 

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