Op-Ed: With Public Power, Queens will make generating half the power in NYC a good thing

QNS file photo by Dean Moses

Queens generates almost half the power in the city, and it’s killing us, literally.

The latest research found that air pollution causes 3,000 preventable deaths a year in New York City alone. The stretch of fossil fuel plants known as  “Asthma Alley” causes children growing up in nearby Queens and South Bronx neighborhoods to be hospitalized for the disease at rates as high as five times the national average, and is a huge reason that the two boroughs have some of the worst COVID-19 death rates in the city.

We deserve better. But for years, we were told we couldn’t have it. That to keep the lights on in the city that never sleeps, we had to toss a bit of our health and future into the fire. But with 21st century renewable energy technology, that’s no longer a choice we need to make. We can keep the lights on without poisoning our air, lungs, or futures.

So there’s no excuse not to.

Astorians have spent almost a year fighting against multinational energy company NRG, who wants to build a fracked gas plant that will ensure “Asthma Alley” retains its title for decades. Residents in Brownsville and Newburgh face similar struggles against poisonous fossil fuel infrastructure. But these are just symptoms of the deeper disease that, like a virus hijacking the cells in our bodies, turns a system that should support us, against us.

Greed. More specifically, the control of our energy system by for-profit, corporate monopolies like Con Ed and National Grid, whose only goal is to squeeze as much money from New Yorkers as they can.

Con Ed extorts New Yorkers with the second highest energy bills in the country. Do we get the second best service? No, we get crumbling infrastructure that makes what used to be considered “once in a generation” blackouts an annual event. We get deadly fossil fuel pollution, especially in working class, Black and brown neighborhoods. We get corporate lobbying against the renewables that would save our health and planet. And of course, we get union busting.

It’s time to take our power back. No more CEO’s and Wall Street investors deciding it’s more profitable to, as one union said, “run ’til it breaks” than to repair crumbling infrastructure. No more corporate boards deciding that ending childhood asthma cuts too far into their bottom line.

We need Public Power, an energy system owned and run by us. With two bills, the New York Build Public Renewables Act, and the New York Utility Democracy Act, we can replace corporate control of the energy system with public ownership, and democratic accountability. A system that prioritizes our well-being, because it’s controlled by our vote.

New York’s economy is the 10th largest in the world. Imagine what we could do if the energy system powering it was designed to benefit regular New Yorkers, instead of the wealthy few. With Public Power, we can do far more than end Con Ed’s exorbitant bills and toxic pollution. We can make the energy system the engine to rebuild New York.

Transforming our infrastructure by investing in a 21st century electrical grid that keeps the lights on, no matter the weather, and no matter your zip code. Tearing down the fossil fuel plants and pipelines that poison our air and lungs. Building a 100% renewable energy system as fast as science demands. And funding a surge of permanent union jobs to do it—not dozens of them, but tens of thousands.

One in seven Americans already get their power from a public utility, which are cheaper and more renewable than the for-profits. With Public Power, New York can make this already successful model the foundation of a 21st century energy system and economy. So tell your rep to make it happen, at www.publicpowertoday.com. Because with Public Power, Queens will make generating half the power in the city a good thing. 

Charlie Heller is a volunteer member of the Public Power NY Coalition.