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Rakesh  Sharma's picture
Journalist, Freelance Journalist

I am a New York-based freelance journalist interested in energy markets. I write about energy policy, trading markets, and energy management topics. You can see more of my writing...

  • Member since 2006
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  • Aug 12, 2020

And the drama has started. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is threatening to revoke Con Ed's franchise license for delays in restoring power to tens of thousands of New Yorkers after last week's tropical storm. Except it might not be that easy for him to do that. As this article from last year points out, Con Ed's certificate is regulated by the Public Services Commission. And Con Ed is the oldest, biggest, and most dominant utility player in New York City's energy landscape and it is unlikely that the utility will go down without a fight. That means costly and prolonged court cases. But it is still telling that Con Ed's operational lapses have increased in frequency in recent years and there is a good chance that it may become accountable for its mismanagement of operations sooner rather than later. Till then, it is a "time-honored tradition" for politicians to blame the electric utility for all sorts of problems. 

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 12, 2020

"I want the utilities to know that we do not abide by the concept in New York that anything is too big to fail," Cuomo said, threatening that their "franchise can be revoked.”

Reads as posturing to 'look tough' and send a message to me, with the utilities likely not too worried about it. To say they didn't understand what it would take to get back online quickly is pretty silly, considering the massive efforts they've undertaken in the past for major storms. The Governor is venting the understandable frustrations of those without paper, but seems more like cathartic bark than actual bite

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 12, 2020

Ironic, that Cuomo blames ConEd's failure to keep up with grid maintenance in New York, after a blackout caused by storms driven northward by climate change - while replacing Indian Point with natural gas, and adding 9 million tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere.

So now he's threatening to revoke Con Ed's "franchise" license? Please, please Andrew...pull the plug. I would love to see ConEd walk away from New York - just let the lights go out. The company is under no legal obligation to provide power for the state, and Andrew and renewables activists say utilities like Con Ed are never "too big to fail", that they have a better idea.

Poor Andrew wouldn't be able to charge his cellphone, or warm his coffee in the microwave. Wall St. would go dark; no one in NYC's investment banks would be able to start their computers, much less check yesterday's closing prices, much less retrieve their email. Like a hammer, the full weight of New York's dependence on reliable energy would fall on Cuomo's shoulders. He'd be kneeling, praying to ConEd to forgive him, showering them with tax breaks and other incentives to turn the lights back on, asap. Please.

He ain't seen nothing yet. It would make Isaiah seem like a gentle spring rain.

Rakesh  Sharma's picture
Rakesh Sharma on Aug 13, 2020

Woah. Those are some powerful and vivid images you've sketched about Cuomo's (and New York's) fate, Bob. Ever considered writing a story/play about drama of energy politics?

For what its worth, New York's economy is already coming down to its knees. I read this morning that big-ticket retailers are fleeing the city or refusing to pay rent. Victoria's Secret, which has a pretty big showroom in Midtown, owes $1 million in back rent since March. One-third of the city's 240,000 small businesses would be gone forever by the time the pandemic ends, according to a report. Isias's devastation has simply added to the city's troubles.   

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 17, 2020

Rakesh, it's bad now, but my point was to emphasize it's nowhere near as bad as it would be without reliable electricity. In our deregulated electricity market, it's a real, if distant, possibility. That's the dystopian nightmare come to life - where people start running out of food and water.
Paranoid fantasy? Maybe, but I'll point out that historically, everyone believes a breakdown in social order is a paranoid fantasy until it happens.

On a more positive note, the lessors of Victoria's Secret's midtown showroom are scarcely in better shape. To whom are they going to lease a big, pink, empty showroom? Is the bank collecting the building's mortgage better off repossessing it, or holding out for what they can get from other tenants? We're all in this together, and I choose to believe cooler heads will prevail, that we'll work things out together. If, if, there's available electricity. If not, all bets are off.

Rakesh  Sharma's picture
Rakesh Sharma on Aug 12, 2020

cathartic bark than actual bite - that's a wonderful phrase and I intend to steal it for my writing. Yes, the same threats have been made by different politicians over the years. But I do think the Con Ed's lapses are being tallied and it might have to soon shake up its operations. 

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