The Supreme Court’s recent ruling in West Virginia v. EPA dismantles one of the last regulatory tools remaining to cut carbon emissions on a federal scale in the U.S. With the failure of the Democrats to pass significant legislation and the specter of looming defeats in midterm elections, it’s now up to progressive cities and states to take the lead in fighting the climate crisis.
This year, we were close to launching a new state-level strategy in New York. The State Senate approved the legislation in May. Build Public Renewables Act. The bill mandates the state’s New Deal-era public power provider — the New York Power Authority (NYPA) — to generate all of its electricity from clean energy by 2030. It also establishes a process to allow the New York Power Authority, in addition to owning and building renewables, to shut down existing polluting infrastructure. Despite being the largest publicly owned utility in America, and having a track-record of providing the lowest cost energy in the state, the New York Power Authority can’t legally own or construct new utility-scale solar generation projects. This is because the state limits the public utility to six large, utility-scale projects of more than 25 megawatts. This was because renewable energy developers wanted the New York Power Authority to be less competitive. The Build Public Renewables Act would remove this restriction and unleash the New York Power Authority’s game-changing power.
The Build Public Renewables Act had enough votes to pass in the Assembly and move to the governor’s desk to be signed, but Speaker Carl Heastie refused to bring the bill to a vote. Heastie was angered at the undemocratic move as well as the tens and thousands of dollars in campaign donations that he received from fossil fuel companies. He called a special hearing to discuss the Build Public Renewables act for late July. The Public Power NY campaignHeastie is being called upon to assist Gov. Kathy Hochul should call a special session in order to pass the Build Public Renewables Act.
Three years ago when the Public Power NY campaign was launched, things looked much brighter at the federal levels. Like these presidential hopefuls Jay Inslee centered his plan for a clean energy economy on community-owned and community-led renewables while Bernie Sanders’s climate plan100 percent of power should be held by the public. Sanders wanted to achieve this goal quickly by using public funds and infrastructure. Corporate investors have failed the public, so Sanders preferred to use public funding and infrastructure.
Joe Biden decided to combine most of his promised Green New Deal elements into the $3.5 Trillion Build Back Better proposal. Sen. Joe Manchin (D. West Virginia) killed the proposal in late 2021. In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the rise in gas prices, the Biden administration released a million barrels of crudeThis spring, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was reopened and is now cutting fossil fuels instead of releasing it. scrambling to persuade countries like Saudi ArabiaTo increase production.
States like New York are able to lead the charge. If New York wants to implement the nation’s leading climate legislation it has passed, we need an ambitious plan like The Build Public Renewables Act. New York’s state legislators passed a bill with a Democratic supermajority. Climate ActIn 2019, the state committed to generating 70% of its power from zero emission sources by 2030. The goal is to reach 100 percent clean energy by 2040. Since 2019, however, no climate legislation has been passed by lawmakers.
If they refuse to mandate that the state build the infrastructure to reach the Climate Act’s goals, political leaders’ promises threaten to become nothing but hot air. New York is stuck in only 6 percent wind and solar energy. The state currently receives about 20% of its electricity from hydroelectric plants run by the New York Power Authority. However, the New York Power Authority shutting down its hydroelectric facilities will result in the state losing about 20 percent of its electricity. the aging Indian Point nuclear power plant, which provided 25 percent of New York City’s energy until 2021, the state may become More Instead of being less dependent on fossil fuels.
New York must double its solar and wind capacity over the next seven-years to meet state law. The New York Power Authority is uniquely positioned to meet this challenge. The agency has proven that it can complete projects faster, cheaper, and more efficiently than the private sectors. It has a very high bond rating (NYPA is considered credit-worthy and can borrow at very low interest), which would allow it to raise money to finance projects. It would not be required to raise utility bills like investor-owned utilities to build this green infrastructure.
ConEd, a utility for profit has just requested rate hikes to fund $1.4 billion in new fossil fuel infrastructure. If state regulators approve, this would result in a 10% increase in electric bills, and a 15% increase for gas. These are both very steep rate increases at a time of record inflation. This system is clearly not working as approximately 32 percent of Con Ed customers are in arrears.
The New York Power Authority was granted permission to construct utility-scale solar and offshore wind generation, transmission lines, and energy storage facilities. The plan has been criticized by private renewable energy companies as it would reduce free market competition. However, the Build Public Renewables act requires that the public power utility develop renewables. Only when and if The private sector fails to create clean energy at the rate required by law. The bill also requires New York Power Authority projects that pay a pre-prevailing wage and use project labor agreements. This would help to challenge the poor pay and precarious conditions that characterize the private renewables industry today.
New York’s decision to unleash clean public power will be an example to other regions in the U.S. For example, despite decades of warnings from climate scientists about the need to stop burning fossil fuels, Mid-Atlantic states like Pennsylvania and Maryland get just 7 percent of their electricity from clean wind and solar.
Washington, D.C. passed 2018 one of the most ambitious clean energy lawsThe country has set a goal to achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2032. However, the investor-owned, monopoly utility Pepco has demonstrated a clear lack of ambition to meet the city’s clean energy goals. Like New York’s for-profit utilities, Pepco is failing D.C. residents, according to the energy activist group We Power DC. According to its report, the utility had only 5.42% clean energy in its power mix. 2018 energy source report — far below the 16.5 percent clean energy that it needs to meet the Clean Energy DC Act.
Worse, Pepco raises the rates it charges D.C. residents to get power. This rate increase is unacceptable to the city. Office of the People’s Council called “excessive” and “unprecedented.” We Power DC’s public power pledgeCalls for a publicly owned utility that is accessible, just, and sourced entirely from clean energy.
Similar situations can be found in other parts of the country. New England, for example, still gets nearly 50 percent of its power from fossil gas. Only 5 percent of the country’s electricity comes from renewable sources like solar and wind. Why is it that progressive states in New England are putting their citizens at risk by failing to improve their energy supply? Investor-owned utilities like Eversource Energy, National Grid, and Eversource Energy are the dominant electric and fossil gas distribution companies across Massachusetts and New England. A recent report by a team of climate scientistsBrown University found that Eversource, a private energy corporation, spent the most money lobbying against climate change legislation in Massachusetts. These profit-driven corporations should not expect to close their polluting facilities and to invest in clean energy.
Campaigns like the Build Public Renewables Law will be inspired tremendously when it becomes law. We Power DC Maine Public Power. It would also offer an alternative to the increasingly troubled private utility system, such as Texas. A decades-long push in the Lone Star state to deregulate the energy system led to a deadly power crashIn the winter of 2021. In search of short-term profit, private companies cut all backup capacity in Texas, making it vulnerable to catastrophic failure when abnormally cold weather arrives. Hundreds of people were killed. A little over a year later, the Texas energy grid is again in crisisSix power plants crashed in the middle of a particularly scorching heatwave.
Public power would remove the profit motive that causes such crises from the energy system and direct revenue to building clean power, rather than filling the pockets of shareholders. lobbying against climate legislation. Public power would enable us to build the infrastructure that we need to survive in the increasingly dangerous environment we live in. The construction and maintenance of a clean energy system will create thousands of well-paying, secure jobs.
Energy should be a public good, reliable and accessible to all, regardless of one’s ability to pay. It’s time to take power out of the hands of polluting, for-profit corporations. To accelerate decarbonization, we must democratize our energy system. It’s time for public power.