Communities, workers lose in ‘Green’ deal

New York’s Green New Deal will start to unfold during the state budget process. The “deal” has a major part of its foundation on “Environmental Justice” and “Just Transition.” With respect to impacts on jobs in the new clean energy economy, few have felt more injustice than the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. Promises of “commensurate green jobs” for those displaced by retiring fossil plants have been empty for utility workers; most retiring early, leaving the area or remaining unemployed.

The reaction policy to date has been to backfill lost taxes to retired power plant communities that is steadily reduced and vanishes over time, with no plans to address — in aggregate — the thousands of acres of newly dormant sites with legacy environmental challenges.

New York is expecting new regulations that will put the last two coal plants out of business, and is also working on regulations to eliminate environmental emission exemptions for “peaking units” that only operate when demand is high — extremely hot summer days and the coldest of winter days. This will impact dozens of sites.

The question of reliably replacing these units with clean energy will continue to gain urgency. Current scenarios have New York generators retiring, while virtually any visit to the NYISO website shows thousands of MW imported daily from non-RGGI Pennsylvania, also flush with burgeoning natural gas supplies from use of technical advances in extraction.

It appears that in these scenarios, the “competitive market” has exported jobs and tax revenues hurting schools, services, communities and our energy economy, while importing power that is close to 40 percent derived from coal-power generation — hardly an environmental or economic “just transition.”

There is an opportunity before New York to make lemonade out of these lemons by deploying a State Agency such as Empire State Development to inventory dormant sites that include former power plants, brownfields and landfills that have existing utility scale energy infrastructure built and ready to put thousands of MW into the state grid.

Years of waiting and delays for critical transmission upgrades to allow surplus clean energy to be delivered from source to load within New York reinforces the value of “smart growth” repurposing of existing and valuable transmission lines and substations present at these sites.

And every time an existing site is repurposed, rural and agricultural land degradation is avoided.

Developers could advance projects at sites with a contingent agreement from New York state to expedite a “shovel ready site.” Upfront dollars for site preparation would be complemented by back end saving of not needing to invest in expensive and time delaying infrastructure. New York need not spend a dime on remediation unless and until a developer commits to the highest use at dormant sites through some established competitive process, with state assurances the site be ready to develop.

Restoration of environmentally compromised properties in regions already supportive of power generation while replacing lost jobs and tax revenues would seem to epitomize “Environmental Justice and Just Transition.” Providing high value family sustaining green jobs to folks, including those successfully completing targeted training at facilities such as the Governor’s Northland Avenue facility in Buffalo — built on a former brownfield and targeting the regions most impoverished — closes the loop on Environmental Justice and Just Transition.

Ted Skerpon is president and business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 97 and chair of the state IBEW Utility Labor Council representing 15,000 state utility workers.

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