power lines

Last Saturday night, a blackout rocked 73,000 Manhattanites.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, separate blackouts struck in Staten Island affecting over 5,000 New Yorkers. Wednesday Morning, 1,700 Brooklynites were blacked out and on Wednesday night, there were also blackouts for 1,176 Bronx customers, and 1,049 Queens customers. Within four days, all five boroughs had experienced blackouts.

This weekend’s heatwave only added to the misery with 50,000 additional customers in Westchester and New York City losing power including 30,000 in Brooklyn alone. All of this comes a mere seven months after the Astoria Borealis and leaves us all asking why is this all happening?

The cause of these blackouts are a confluence of factors associated with the climate crisis: an aging energy grid, undemocratic and unchecked corporate power, and little to no accountability.

Con Ed maintains a monopoly on New York City’s over 3.1 million households. They brag on their website about providing enough solar in 2018 to provide for 32,190 homes. But that is 1 percent of households in the City. 

This week alone, more than quadruple that amount of homes were blacked out!

It is long past time to reconsider our relationship with Con Ed. Governor Cuomo said as much this week: “When people get their bills, they can’t say to be patient. This is a vital service they’re providing.  That’s why they’re regulated. That’s why it’s a public utility. If they do not perform, they can be replaced.”

He’s right. A public utility should work for us all. It should be democratically owned and run. Not an unaccountable corporate monopoly like Con Ed.

Unfortunately, this is seemingly just a threat. Last year, Cuomo said: “ConEd must be held accountable for the multitude of issues with their infrastructure that are too frequently impacting the lives of millions of New Yorkers. I am directing the Department of Public Service to conduct an immediate top to bottom investigation into today’s incident – the status quo cannot continue.”

He has not only allowed the status quo to continue, he’s allowed it to get even worse.

With over a billion in profits each year, Con Ed is now asking to raise its rates on New Yorkers despite worse service.

This hike would cause the average New Yorker’s utility bill to increase by about $22/month for those who receive both electricity and gas from Con Ed. This is in addition to Con Ed’s current rates of 25 cents/kWh, the second highest residential rates of any major utility in the country.

As this rate case shows, Con Ed wants to spend $146 million dollars expanding two pipelines to carry fracked gas. They want $211 million for expanding total fossil fuel infrastructure and want to raise their CEO’s pay above its current 9.5 million. Most of all they want to lock us into a fossil fueled economy for decades at a time when the world’s top scientists in the IPCC Report say we have one decade to get off of fossil fuels.

All of this makes us question why Governor Cuomo is allowing Con Ed to bring us down with them. Why is he locking us as ratepayers into a dying business model predicated on fossil fuels when science tells us we must get to 100 percent renewable energy as soon as possible?

Tonight from 7-9pm at PS 122 in Astoria, Chairman Costa Constantinides of the City Council Environmental Committee along with the #PublicPowerNYC campaign will host a Public Power Town Hall to oppose Con Ed’s proposed rate hike.

We will call for a publicly owned and democratically run utility.

On average, publicly owned utilities are 15 percent more affordable, more reliable with outage durations less than half the national average, greener, and safer than privately owned utilities. Publicly owned utilities’ contributions to state and local governments are, on average, 33 percent higher than those of investor-owned utilities.

We have seen what happens when a utility based on a dying business model bellies up just this year with PG&E in California.

We also know the future entails an inevitable transition to renewable energy, but Con Ed’s plan to expand gas infrastructure in this rate filing shows that they are trying to extract as much profit out of this dying business model will stop at nothing to change that.

Their rate hikes and locking us into more fossil fuel infrastructure is a literal impediment to averting climate catastrophe. This above all is why we must reject these proposed rate hikes and call for public power.

Aaron Eisenberg is a climate activist with the NYC Democratic Socialists of America.