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New York needs “a public option” in electricity to meet climate and equity goals, report says

Transitioning to ecological sustainability Expanding democratic ownership

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Isaiah J. Poole, ipoole@democracycollaborative.org

A bill currently awaiting action in the New York state legislature that would expand the publicly owned New York Power Authority (NYPA) to speed up the deployment of renewable energy, give residents a public option for obtaining their electricity and create as many as 51,000 additional jobs, according to a report by the climate + community project, a group of science and energy policy experts, and The Democracy Collaborative. 

The pioneering legislation, called the New York State Build Public Renewables Act, would make the New York Power Authority a major developer of renewable energy in the state and a key consumer energy provider.

The report says that NYPA is well-positioned to help the state meet the mandate set by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, the most ambitious state-level climate legislation in the country. That legislation requires that a significant share of the benefits of its decarbonization strategy go to disadvantaged communities, those who have borne the worst effects of historic disinvestment and environmental degradation caused by fossil fuel use.

Without the profit imperatives of investor-owned utilities, NYPA could ensure that the utility bills of low-income households stay low; invest in efficiency measures, with a targeted focus in places like public housing; and support such projects as wind farms, sharing benefits with the local community, or rooftop or community solar on top of public schools, according to the report. 

This report highlights the core principles of our campaign, that a for-profit model for utilities is antithetical to conservation, efficiency, and equity, and that reclaiming energy as a public good is a necessary step in confronting the climate crisis,” said Sarahana Shrestha, campaigner with Public Power New York.

Supplanting for-profit energy service providers would both “eliminate predatory operators in the state and replace them with publicly owned power production that has clear mandates for renewable energy,” says the report, entitled “A New Era of Public Power: A vision for New York Power Authority (NYPA) in pursuit of climate justice.”  “For a truly just and competitive energy market in the state, New Yorkers deserve a public option for electricity,” the report says.

NYPA is the largest state-owned energy provider in the United States. It generates energy mostly for state facilities and some private enterprises as part of economic development programs. It largely has been disallowed from owning and building renewable energy. The report says that in its expanded role, NYPA would become a vanguard renewable energy generator. “As we fight to make this green future a reality, the report affirms that we must start divesting from dirty energy and investing in renewables,” said New York Assemblymember Zohran K. Mamdani.

The report says that the energy transition investments it is proposing would create somewhere between 28,000 and 51,000 total jobs and between $48.6 billion and $93.5 billion of additional economic activity. That includes more than 16,000 new sustained jobs and  $25.3 billion in additional economic activity generated through a renewed focus on energy efficiency improvements between now and 2030.

NYPA’s ownership structure opens up new and more equitable opportunities for financing a just energy transition, the report says. “Furthermore, because it is a publicly owned energy provider, its activities can be democratically accountable to New Yorkers, particularly those historically burdened by the impacts of energy infrastructure and climate crisis.”

In order to meet “high standards of transparency, accountability, equity, and participation,” the report also calls for shifting NYPA’s governance structure to a multi-stakeholder model, with representation from community and labor groups. “Any changes at NYPA should come with structural reforms that reflect New York’s commitment to disadvantaged communities and workers,” the report says.

“‘A New Era of Public Power’ is a carefully researched and well-drafted plan for how public power will lead to climate justice,” said Assemblymember Robert Carroll, sponsor of the state public power bill. ”Policymakers across New York should read it and heed its clarion call,” he said. 

What key New York leaders are saying about ‘A New Era of Public Power’

“This report highlights the core principles of our campaign, that a for-profit model for utilities is antithetical to conservation, efficiency, and equity, and that reclaiming energy as a public good is a necessary step in confronting the climate crisis. The existence of New York Power Authority, the country’s largest publicly-owned energy provider, gives New York a unique advantage to democratize our energy system and Build the Public Renewables we need.” 

—Sarahana Shrestha, campaigner with Public Power New York

“The Democracy Collaborative and climate + community project’s latest report makes it clear that public power — a publicly-owned energy grid that provides reliable, clean energy for all New Yorkers — is possible. As we fight to make this green future a reality, the report affirms that we must start divesting from dirty energy and investing in renewables. Whether through the NYS Build Public Renewables Act, the Clean Futures Act or further democratizing NYPA, we must continue to fight for clean energy that is accountable to the people.” 

—Assemblymember Zohran K. Mamdani

“The New York State legislature has the opportunity to pass two bills to make electric generation and distribution publicly owned and democratically controlled. Those bills would let New York meet the ambitious goals set forth in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, by freeing our electric grid from for-profit corporations. These bills would give New Yorkers the power to demand clean and affordable energy; and free all of us from the profit motives of Con Ed and National Grid. But don’t just take my word for it, read the report! “A New Era of Public Power”, is a carefully researched and well drafted plan for how public power will lead to climate justice by the climate + community project and the Democracy Collaborative. Policy makers across New York should read it and heed its clarion call.” 

—Assemblymember Robert Carroll, Sponsor of A1466-A “The New York State Build Public Renewables Act”

“This report provides a blueprint for how to make New York’s power system more equitable while providing more reliable, cleaner energy to all New Yorkers. For too long, private utilities have maximized profit at the expense of their customers and hindered a more rapid shift away from fossil fuels. New York is fortunate to have a public utility and expanding its reach and operations will help move from private profit towards a public good.” 

J. Mijin Cha, Assistant Professor, Urban and Environmental Policy, Occidental College and a Fellow at Cornell University’s Worker Institute

“A Just Transition is much more than achieving economy-wide emission reductions- it’s about creating new systems, processes, and resources that are grounded in equity and directly supports frontline BIPOC community leadership. To truly move away from fossil fuel extraction we must move away from extractive systems that perpetuate a legacy of harm and pollution in communities of color and low-income communities. This report outlines strategies to operationalize New York’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act and creates co-governance models with environmental justice communities.”

—Summer Sandoval, Energy Democracy Coordinator at Uprose

“The vision of a reimagined NYPA outlined in this report is not only innovative but necessary for a transition that is both green and just.”

—Rio Hartwell, organizer with Metro Justice Rochester

PUSH Buffalo has been on the frontlines of the fight for energy democracy and climate justice in New York State for years. We’ve challenged the extractive business models of investor-owned energy utilities in our region through community organizing and regulatory advocacy campaigns, winning important concessions that directly benefit poor and working class households and communities of color. These victories, however, are often partial and piecemeal, offering stop-gap relief that fails to address root cause conditions. A New Era of Public Power envisions a viable alternative to the status quo and outlines a long-term solution for frontline communities in NYS to gain democratic control of the energy system, maximize public benefits, and realize meaningful accountability to the state’s climate and equitable reinvestment goals as codified in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.”

—Clarke Gocker, Director of Policy and Strategy at PUSH Buffalo  

“This report makes the clear case that the transition to renewable energy belongs in the hands of the people, not private utilities or Wall Street investors. By taking public control over a basic service in a key moment of transformation, we can build a renewable, equitable, and democratized energy system that repairs the racialized harm of extraction.” 

—Johanna Bozuwa, report co-author and Co-Manager of the Climate & Energy Program at The Democracy Collaborative 

“New York has committed to climate and equity goals that are among the most ambitious in the world. Public ownership, democratic accountability, and economic benefits flowing to the working class and racialized communities who have been harmed the most by the climate crisis can help make these promises a concrete reality. An expanded NYPA governed in the public interest could truly serve as a global model for a just transition.”

—Thea Riofrancos, report co-author, Associate Professor, and member of DSA’s Green New Deal Campaign Committee

“This report shines a light onto transformations needed to make New York a true leader in low-carbon power. New Yorkers deserve a just power system that builds clean public resources and keeps crucial 21st century infrastructures in public hands—not a machine for funneling outsize profits to Wall Street investors and climate speculators. This report provides a valuable roadmap for New York and a model for key fights across the United States.” 

—Sarah Knuth, report co-author and Assistant Professor, Geography, Durham University

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