A Socialist Take on the Power Grid: Publicly Owned, Democratically Run Utilities

New York City’s power grid is in trouble. Mismanagement and profiteering have led to a rise in summer blackouts and other recent outages within the city. Deceptive business practices by energy resellers (ESCOs) have put an additional burden on families across the state. The time has come for New Yorkers to take control of their electric grid by making it a public utility.

ConEdison is currently a publicly traded for-profit company granted the exclusive right to deliver electricity and natural gas to city residents. While ConEd is subject to utility regulation, the profit-making and expansion-focused incentives of private operation make the current model unsustainable in the long run. Several prominent politicians have thrown their weight behind a new push to municipalize New York’s power delivery infrastructure.

This change is long-overdue, and the time for action is now. Moving towards a city-owned model would benefit New Yorkers through increased accountability from democratic control, and through the return of profits to the public rather than private shareholders. Under the current system, ConEdison faces little scrutiny when parts of the system fail, and yet hundreds of millions of dollars flow to shareholders each year.

However, the biggest benefit of municipal control is for environmental reasons. New York state and city have already set ambitious climate goals over the next few decades. Our energy sources are on track to become more sustainable and more local. Unfortunately ConEd’s business model is not compatible with this new future. As a publicly-traded company, ConEdison increases its value when it grows its business, and it grows its business by increasing energy delivery to customers. As New York gets greener and more efficient, we hope to use less electricity, and eliminate the use of non-renewables like Natural Gas. Yet, the growth-focused ConEdison has pushed forward with unpopular gas pipeline projects in Brooklyn and Queens. While a focus on system expansion makes sense for a growing private company, it is a mindset that is simply incompatible with New York’s future. Public operation allows for the system to gracefully transition into the age of green energy by taking away the market incentives for growth.

Lastly, New Yorkers deserve a real stake in their infrastructure. Projects like localized mesh internet and rooftop community solar have enormous potential to democratize and strengthen services that we rely on every day. These kinds of projects allow the community to participate by hosting and building infrastructure that can benefit the entire neighborhood. They also create opportunities for job training and long-term employment in technical fields.

By creating local, participatory infrastructure we are literally building community and capacity, creating a better world for all.

Kristin Richardson Jordan (KRJ), Candidate for New York City Council District 9 Kristin is a poet, local activist, speaker, teacher, DSA member, Black queer woman, and third-generation Harlemite on a mission to disrupt District 9 (Central Harlem) with radical love. Started almost a year and a half before the murder of George Floyd, her Kristin for H.A.R.L.E.M. political platform includes advocacy for police accountability, abolition, affordable housing, redistribution of resources, senior care, gun control, education, and environmental justice. She is interested in making change both through her grassroots campaign and through a community-based participatory democracy once elected and has drafted policy on each of her HARLEM platform points. Find out more and get involved at KristinForHarlem.com.

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