A year in, New York’s pioneering public power law makes uneven progress

This story was originally published by Canary Media.

One year ago, New York state passed one of the country’s most ambitious clean energy and climate justice laws. The Build Public Renewables Act authorized the New York Power Authority, or NYPA — a state-owned public power utility — to build and own clean energy projects for the first time. If the state falls short of its ambitious climate goals, the law mandates that NYPA step up to build renewables that will keep the state on track. 

Heralded as a major win for environmental justice and climate advocacy groups, the law also introduced a program for low- and moderate-income residents to receive credits for clean energy produced by the public utility and allocated $25 million each year to renewable energy job training, among other measures.

But in the year since, progress on implementing the law has been spotty. Though NYPA says it has made carrying out the law a priority by laying the groundwork for future renewable power projects, activists and some policymakers say the utility has not been transparent in its planning thus far, making it hard to tell whether NYPA is on track to transform the state’s energy sector at the pace required by its 2019 climate law.

“The real problem is there is not sufficient transparency into what they are planning, so it’s hard for us to say how effective it is,” Michael Paulson, co-chair of the coalition Public Power NY, told Canary Media. 

Paulson’s group, along with the New York chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, labor unions, and climate justice organizations across the state, campaigned for four years to pass the Build Public Renewables Act. An amended form of the law eventually made it into the state’s annual budget early last May. Activists hoped that strengthening the role of publicly owned power would enable a swifter expansion of cleaner, cheaper electricity — and create a structure that’s more accountable to consumers than the dominant investor-owned utility model.

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Over the past 12 months, the authority has taken some initial steps toward working with private renewable energy developers. In January 2024, NYPA issued a request for information from developers and contractors to learn about opportunities for wind, solar, and battery energy storage projects. In March, the authority followed up with a request for qualifications to evaluate and prequalify renewable developers to work with on future projects, to which it received more than 85 responses. 

In January 2025, the power authority is required to publish a highly anticipated strategic plan, which will outline how and where the utility will develop renewable energy projects in a way that benefits disadvantaged communities and meets the state’s climate goals. ​“Our goal is to maximize the renewable generation we can bring online for New Yorkers,” Paul DeMichele, manager of media relations for NYPA, said in a statement to Canary Media.

But so far, advocacy groups and lawmakers heavily involved in the writing and passing of the legislation have criticized how NYPA has chosen to roll out the program. At a March 26 meeting of the authority’s board of trustees, NYPA President and CEO Justin Driscoll revealed that the organization has hired the consulting firm McKinsey to help implement the plan and ​“ensure our operating model internally and our internal governance around the buildout of renewables for the state.” DeMichele told the publication Hell Gate that ​“McKinsey was engaged, through an open bidding process, to help us better understand where private developers have been challenged while developing renewable projects.” 

Sarahana Shrestha, a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly and longtime advocate of the Build Public Renewables Act, told Hell Gate that ​“McKinsey’s way of doing business is the complete opposite of what we designed the bill for.” The consultancy has come under fire for its role in a corruption scandal with South Africa’s electric utility, among other high-profile issues. Shrestha and New York State Senator Michael Gianaris recently introduced a bill to require more frequent public reports and hearings on the authority’s implementation of the Build Public Renewables Act.

Meanwhile, the power authority will need to navigate the challenges facing the offshore wind industry — a pillar of the state’s mandate to meet 70 percent of its electricity needs with clean power by 2030. In recent months, at least five offshore wind projects in New York have been canceled due to rising costs and supply chain issues, casting doubt on the state’s ability to meet its decarbonization target. New York is currently on track to meet less than 57 percent of forecasted 2030 demand with renewable energy. 

To Public Power NY’s Paulson, the sector’s struggles are another reason to rely less on private developers and to strengthen the public power sector. ​“It’s becoming increasingly clear that the New York Power Authority and public power simply have to step up and play a significantly bigger role if we’re going to have any chance of reaching these legally mandated climate goals,” Paulson said.


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