NYC Public Advocate Outlines New Public Electric Utility Plan

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[Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams]
Williams: "When Con Edison can oversee historic blackouts, leave New Yorkers in the dark, and then get a rate hike, it's long past time for change, for bold ideas that meet the scope of the challenge."
Photo: YouTube

Following widespread and persistent power outages this week, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams has released a report calling for a public power system, a municipal grid, to replace the existing near-monopoly by Con Edison in New York City.

The plan-- which was announced during a press conference today with advocates and elected officials-- highlights the flaws in reliability and cost with the current model, and outlines a plan for New York City to control its own electrical grid moving forward.

"When Con Edison can oversee historic blackouts, leave New Yorkers in the dark, and then get a rate hike, it's long past time for change, for bold ideas that meet the scope of the challenge," said Public Advocate Williams on releasing the report. "This plan not only demonstrates the need to restore power to the people with public power, it outlines the path to get there, and it's a path we need to start down now."

The new report, Municipalizing New York City's Electric Grid, explains a two-pronged approach to achieving public power, rooted in the generation and the transmission of energy. It calls for the expansion of the existing New York Power Authority (NYPA), which is publicly owned, to provide lower-cost energy generation. It also outlines a process for acquiring the electrical grid in New York City, currently operated by Con Edison, for transmission of that power.

Con Edison has come under scrutiny in recent years following widespread outages and rising rates- but operates under a monopoly within the city, limiting its public accountability. Municipalization, the report argues, would bring greater transparency and lower electricity rates to New York City residents. Public power has also been known to provide more reliable energy. For example, after Hurricane Sandy, millions of New Yorkers were left without power, but one local utility in Long Island-- Rockville Centre's municipal utility-- was able to quickly get the lights back on for nearly all their customers. Numerous cities across the country, including Austin and Los Angeles, have undertaken the process of municipalization, but New York City would be the largest.

There are a number of steps involved in the municipalization process, which would require both city and state action. After analyzing all economic and practical costs and benefits, the city would begin to acquire Con Edison's assets, eventually transitioning into the city itself operating as a utility. There are several methods for initiating this process, including city legislation requesting "home rule" from the state to begin transitioning the grid and state legislation related to energy generation and sale.

The Public Advocate is pursuing legislation to begin the municipalization process in line with the path presented in the report, a process which often takes several years.

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