What will our future look like post-COVID-19? That question looms as large as the devastation triggered by the virus. Aside from the loss of loved ones and friends, more than 40 million people have been out of work and are struggling to find some semblance in a new normal – like getting back to work and feeling some financial security.
However, as we look back and assess major disruptive events throughout history, an enduring truth emerges. A strong healthy economy has always, and will always, need energy and energy will always need reliable infrastructure to ensure that we can do that.
Moreover, energy plays an intrinsic role in our future and our recovery, as we will require reliable, reasonable and resilient energy to safeguard our families, our small businesses and our country’s economic future.
What has been remarkable during the pandemic is the strength and resilience of our global energy delivery systems – though we often don’t think of them – underscoring that those systems are efficient and built to last. Contrast that experience with the vulnerability of the health-care, retail, services, and travel and tourism sectors and you can really see the stark contrast.
Unknowingly, we truly are grateful for the dependability of our energy supplies since they work without us even thinking about them. But consumers recognize that, as we begin to move into recovery, energy is vital to our economy and its growth. It is essential to ensure our tens of millions of unemployed can regain and retain their jobs and that countless small businesses can get back on their feet and survive.
It won’t be easy for small businesses and consumers alike. Main Street’s confidence has crashed. CNBC’s Small Business Survey released early in May found that 13% of small business owners think they can survive less than a month in an extended lockdown period while 31% say their business could last “a few months or less” while only 35% say their business could survive more than a year.
These are staggering findings. They signal that to play its traditional critical role in a post-crisis environment, reliable energy must be praised and not denounced as we continue to generate and supply clean, cheap, and secure supplies of it.
Utilities are doing their part. During COVID-19, utility companies across the U.S. have been taking significant steps to ensure continuous service and bill forbearance while also being sensitive to the needs of their customers who have been hit hard by the economic fallout from the virus.
But policymakers and regulators must do their part as well. For instance, in the middle of the pandemic, New York State moved forward with an activist-driven plan to being closing a nuclear power plant that provides a quarter of New York City’s power. At the same time, it went ahead with a politically motivated denial of a pipeline that could have easily replaced the lost energy, despite the fact that it could help lower emissions and end service disruptions on high-demands days.
And even still, more irrational thinking was on display during the latest legislative session after policymakers created a fast-track approval process for large-scale renewables – which is praiseworthy – but leaves all other proposals in regulatory purgatory. There should be one process that is clear and defined so projects and their developers have transparency and consistency – but that’s not happening. They’ve also approved Gov. Cuomo’s permanent restriction on even considering hydraulic fracturing projects.
This is all occurring while state grid regulators have consistently pointed out that more gas capacity will be needed in the future with downstate New York already 70% dependent on natural gas now for power generation.
These same lawmakers also need to think twice about the full implications of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA). On its face, the CLCPA seems like a great solution, but ultimately it doesn’t take into account the complexity of the energy system nor did legislators even do a basic economic analysis of its cost to the economy and the millions of now unemployed New Yorkers.
These lapses in thought are what ultimately harm consumers and communities that depend on affordable energy, leading them to believe that they’re on a path to success – when it’s really a road with no end – and they’re almost out of gas.
We have urged legislators to oppose such expansive, ill-advised legislation that would raise energy bills, hurt families and small businesses, and prevent supplies of clean, affordable fuel like natural gas from reaching consumers and small businesses who prefer it over more expensive electricity.
Dealing with energy issues is not black and white, and there’s not a simple solution we can just implement tomorrow. All-of-the-above isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a reality that we must understand if we’re going to not only meet the energy demands of our communities but create solutions to meet our environmental goals as well.
In the meantime, we hope more state legislatures will follow the growing number of states that are adopting infrastructure protection laws to prevent anti-energy activists from vandalizing in the name of protesting against needed energy projects.
If past crises are any indication, adjustments to our energy systems will be evolutionary, not revolutionary. Change is beneficial but we have to ensure that our energy supplies continue to be reliable, affordable and resilient.