New York Doesn’t Need the Build Public Renewables Act

A notable environmental bill that failed to win adoption in the New York legislature’s last session was the Build Public Renewables Act (BPRA).

The bill passed the Senate but was not brought up for a vote in the Assembly. Bowing to public pressure, however, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie called for a special hearing this Thursday to get more input on the bill.

And it desperately needs thoughtful input, because it is an over-reaching and ill-considered bill, designed to surreptitiously undermine energy markets. rather than just free up NYPA to build more renewable projects.

If authorizing NYPA to build renewable power generation was all the bill did, there would be little to object to. But the act goes further and requires it to do so. This takes away from NYPA’s authority to make good business decisions on whether it’s better to build power generation or buy it on the competitive market.

And despite the goals of supporters, requiring NYPA to build renewable energy sources won’t speed the transition to renewable energy in New York. Being a public-benefit corporation doesn’t magically enable it to build solar or wind farms any faster than for-profit firms or jump ahead of them in the congested interconnection queue (the waiting line to attach energy production facilities to transmission lines).

And every request for proposals put out by the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency (NYSERDA), has been eagerly met by private independent energy companies. To the extent that New York may not be on target to meet its renewable energy goals, it’s because the goals were arbitrarily set by politicians and because it’s hard to build sufficient transmission capability that quickly.

Additionally, the bill puts a dangerous constraint on NYPA, only allowing it to generate or purchase renewable energy after 2030. There is an escape clause letting it buy non-renewable energy to meet reliability needs, but we’ve already seen that the Department of Environmental Conservation isn’t concerned about reliability when considering the building of generation facilities. This brings into question whether DEC would try to block any NYPA efforts to generate non-renewable energy, even if needed for reliability.

Other lesser-known provisions of the BPRA are overtly ideological and would distract from its primary purpose of providing electricity affordably and reliably.

First, the bill would require a dramatic expansion of NYPA’s Board of Trustees from seven to seventeen members with required representation from a variety of special interests, including NYPA employee and contractor labor unions, environmental justice advocates, community renewable energy advocates, consumer advocates and building electrification and energy efficiency experts. This is a scheme sure to create conflict and potentially undermine what should be the single-minded focus of NYPA, which is to provide electricity reliably and affordably.

Second, the bill requires the creation of a so-called “energy democracy” plan. Energy democracy may sound high-minded, but it’s a buzzword for anti-market activism that seeks politically dominated energy production. In the end, BPRA is likely intended as the first step toward eliminating New York’s effective energy markets and socializing power production and distribution in the Empire State.

New York doesn’t need this bill. It should be limited to authorizing NYPA to build new renewable energy facilities if NYPA finds it beneficial to do so. Beyond that, the legislation can only harm NYPA. If not radically revised, it should be rejected.

Those wishing to submit public comment on BPRA can access the comment form here.

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