Jane Menton is a lifelong New Yorker and current resident of Queens, where she sits on the board of her co-op. In this episode, Jane, the mother of two young children, explains why New York City’s Local Law 97, which mandates huge emissions reductions from buildings, is an “electrification monster” that will be “ruinously expensive” and could result in electricity shortages and a “humanitarian nightmare.” (Recorded August 29, 2023.)
Robert Bryce 0:04
Hi, everyone. Welcome to the power hungry Podcast. I'm Robert Bryce. On this podcast we talk about energy, power, innovation and politics. And I'm pleased to welcome my friend Jane Minton. She is a writer at Manhattan country and a resident of New York City. And we're going to talk today about local law. 97. Jane, welcome to the power hungry podcast.
Jane Menton 0:23
Thank you so much for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.
Robert Bryce 0:26
Now, I warned you. I don't want everyone but I want you that guests introduce themselves on this podcast. So I mentioned we're going to talk about this local law 97. In New York City where you live, you actually live in Queens, but we'll get to that in a minute. Guests introduce themselves. So if you don't mind, please introduce yourself in about less 60 Seconds or Less go.
Jane Menton 0:46
I'm a lifelong New Yorker. I was born and raised in the city. And I now live in a co op in Queens. I joined the board my call of about a year and a half ago, where I found out about local law 97 And I have been aggressively advocating on this issue ever since I think it's the biggest issue that is going to affect the city over the next decade. On top of my work as a board member, I also run a debate series in New York City called the Soho forum where we tackle policy issues. And you can look that up at the Soho forum.org. And sometimes I write them in Hatton contrarian.com, I guess that's pretty much all there is to say about me, and I'm a mom, I have two little kids. So I do a lot of parenting as well. And you're expecting another and I'm expecting one more. Yes.
Robert Bryce 1:33
That's great. Well, that's a good good introduction. And it's less than 60 seconds. So well done on that. Thank you, Jane. We've been acquainted for several years now. And we've talked about New York City, New York City politics, and I looked up local 997. It was signed on Earth Day by former Mayor Bill de Blasio on Earth Day 2019.
Jane Menton 1:55
A political statement that ever was one. Yes.
Robert Bryce 1:58
So what is local law? 97. And you said this is the biggest issue that will affect the city over the next decade. And I've looked at it and it looks absolutely draconian. But I don't own an apartment in New York City. Why do you care about this so much wide? What is local not law? 97. And what does it do?
Jane Menton 2:15
So when it was passed in 2019, it's also called the climate mobilization act. And its goal is to reduce the carbon emissions of all buildings over 25,000 square feet, which is a lot of buildings in New York City, we're trying to get to net zero by 2050. So over the next, it's a progressive law. So it starts when they signed it in 2019. The first, it didn't even go into effect until 2024. So it's actually coming into effect this January, is the first deadline and the first deadline, you have to reduce your carbon emissions by 20%. And then by 2035, it's 60%. And then by 2040, it's 80%. And so it's something that is going to slowly hit buildings. But when it was passed on Earth Day, it was hailed as this. The biggest, most ambitious climate law that any city has ever passed on New York is doing this incredible, making this incredible gesture during this incredible step towards protecting our environment for the future. And every single person that passed this law basically was term limited out of city council. So they are all gone. By the time this law actually is going to have any of the consequences that they've imposed on us. And so that's just one of the things about it that I think is you can they they probably knew that it was a terrible that it was going to have these big dramatic consequences for New York and that they would never have to face that music because they would wouldn't be there to when it when it when it came to.
Robert Bryce 3:56
But the gist of it is that you but the gist of it is that by cutting the emissions from your building your your building uses natural gas heat, right. So this is effectively a mandate to force your building. And yes, I read there 3700 other buildings coops and condo buildings, over 800,000 apartments in New York, that will have to go to a non boilers, they will have to go to some kind of electric heat pumps. I mean, this sounds incredibly expensive. And if you don't comply, you pay fines. You pay
Jane Menton 4:28
annual fines. So when I first found out about it, I hadn't even heard of this. I hadn't heard of it when it happened 2019 I joined my board in 2021. And another board member sent us on email and he said local on it seven I don't know if you'd like it. I don't know if you have already started working on it as a board. But it is going to have a huge impact on our building. And he sent us this chart that showed the carbon emissions for our building, and it showed that 75% of our buildings carbon emissions come From our natural gas heating system, and when I saw that, I immediately realized if we were ever going to reduce our building's carbon emissions by something as significant as 60%, the only way to do that would be to eliminate our natural gas, heat and convert to an electric system. And I sent that email to the other board members where I said, have you guys realized what that this means electrifying the building. And I like I think it's very, because the rules of this law are progressive, it's hard to see that as the end goal of the law, when you're on its face when you first look at it. Like this year 2020, for my building personally get to pass for our carbon emissions, we don't have to pay a penalty, we don't have to make any dramatic changes at all. And that's why and it's not until 2030, that when the next penalty, and the next limit comes into effect, that we will have to begin making these dramatic changes. But the changes are so dramatic. As you were saying we have to eliminate our boiler system, and we have to completely convert our system to an electric system. Which by the way has never been done. We've never had you can build a new building from scratch as an electric building. But no building no coop building in a city that's over 100 units has ever attempted to retrofit a natural aid from a natural gas system to an electric system. We don't even know if it's possible. We have no feasibility study on that whatsoever. So the renovation and the work that we would have to do to get that going, we would need to be planning years and years and years in advance. So one of the most pernicious things about this law, I think, is that we can sort of, because the penalties of the beginning are so minor, we can sort of sleepwalk towards this ultimate reality of having this electrification monster, like, wake up and eat us all alive, basically. Because, yeah, we had an engineer come in to our building, to talk about how we would do such a thing, how we would electrify our building. And they projected a cost of over $3 million for this project, which, for our building, we have 158 units, that's almost $20,000 per unit that would need to be assessed to the residents and paid for by residents. So
Robert Bryce 7:27
but it's not, but it's not clear that you even can do it. Or where would you? Where would you put the heat pump? You've got to it's a big air. It's a big air handling unit. So I mean, where I mean, can they even say the engineer when he looked at it say Oh, well, we'll put it here. We'll put it there. How you would manage the equipment change out?
Jane Menton 7:47
This is what's so crazy. They did. Their report, literally projects a cost, which as as I was, as we were saying there's there's no feasibility study, so they project the cost is $3 million. Okay. We have no axe, we have no reality test for that we have no idea, you know, if that's going to be the final cost, how much it will cost to open all these walls? Do all the wiring displace residents, the timeline for that we have no idea. And then at the bottom of his projection, he says, not recommended at this time.
Robert Bryce 8:23
So here's, here's what we think it might cost. But we don't recommend you do this, because we don't know how it's going to work. Because, you know, it's interesting, because I hadn't thought about the I lived in a house with a heat pump. And let me just say, Jane, I don't know if you have but heat pumps suck. I mean, they just suck. I mean, you know, they don't, there's something about heat and my friend Meredith Angwin described it well that our skin likes the heat of the feel of radiant heat, right and heat pumps are it's a very diffused heating system, right it's not you know, it's not like sitting by the fire right that is a kind of a cozy feeling right or natural gas heater you know, that has an open flame. There's something very appealing and comforting to that in with a heat pump building. You don't have a heat pump system. You don't have that kind of radiant warms. But the other thing that's key here and it's just I don't know why I didn't think about this before but you real estate's at a premium in New York City. Where are you? Heat pumps depend on these big air handling units these big heat exchangers you have to put them somewhere and so are you going to put it on the roof is there room up there? How would you get it up there or do you have would you have to buy a just add adjacent lot or something to put that infrastructure on that's what I mean. There is
Jane Menton 9:34
no adjacent lot adjacent lot.
Robert Bryce 9:38
See what I'm talking about? That's what I'm saying? It just but so it's this it looks like a it's interesting. You said this electrification monster because I just published a piece on substack about this electrify everything push that is very pernicious. It's happening all across the country. And there's no there's been no serious and estimates of what the cost of the will be or the impact on consumers. But what you're saying is New York City's in some way ahead of this. They're all this. This is effectively as I read it, a ban on the future huge use of natural gas. And you pointed out in your piece on Manhattan contrarian that the city statute now prohibits new natural gas hookups in the city, in buildings under seven stories starting in 2024. And buildings over 27 over seven stories starting in 2027. So the gas ban is in place in New York City. It is
Jane Menton 10:27
it is. Yes, yeah. We are definitely ahead of the rest of the country on this. And part of me is like we have to stop it by any means necessary. And part of me is like letting this go forward will show everybody what a disaster a nightmare. This is and could help the rest of you from ever attempting anything like this. It's it's not?
Robert Bryce 10:53
What could it mean? You said $20,000 For every resident in your building
Jane Menton 10:58
every Yeah, so it'd be every unit every unit forgive
Robert Bryce 11:01
me. And so tell me about your building. You said it's in Queens, where is it? And what's the makeup of the residents of your building?
Jane Menton 11:10
It's in Sunnyside queens. It's, I love I love. I love my neighborhood so much. I actually, you know, I can speak highly enough about it. It's very quiet family oriented. Our building is I would say 30% older residents on like a fixed income, which is another big issue with this law. 30% young families like mine, and like a 30% miscellaneous, like, mix of people missing like a 10% there. But you know, you can fill it in, add it to the MISC category. Yeah. But it's definitely a middle class building. It's not it's not a luxurious building by any means. We don't like have a doorman or anything like that we keep our maintenance very low. As a board, we work very, very hard on managing our costs to make sure that we're not, you know, ever pushing people's budgets. I mean, we just did it. We had to do an assessment last year for heating costs. That was about $80 a month more for the average resident. We got tremendous pushback for that. $80. And that's when I was like this a lot like this for these residents. They will have absolutely no way to pay for this. They're they're going to be shocked when they find out that local law 97 will increase their monthly costs by several $100. Not less than $100. Several $100. So yeah, that it would economically my building cannot handle anything like this. The average resident my building is certainly a middle class.
Robert Bryce 12:54
So tell me you said it's a co op. So you bought your apartment or yesterday it didn't call it a condo, what do you call it an apartment? What do you how do you call it?
Jane Menton 13:02
It's a co op. Cooperative?
Robert Bryce 13:05
So what is that? So but what do you call your unit? What do you do call it a call a condo? Whether
Jane Menton 13:10
it's a co op? It's, it's
Robert Bryce 13:13
from Oklahoma, I live in Texas. I visited
Jane Menton 13:18
New York. Okay, what is a very unusual type of housing, we don't actually own our property, we own shares in the building. And we have a proprietary lease. So it's not like it's not like a condo or a home in the sense that like you own your home. And you have a title to your property. We own shares in a corporation. So that's the main difference. And all of our taxes, we pay maintenance and the maintenance covers all of our taxes, all of our heating. Yeah,
Robert Bryce 13:54
I never understood this. Okay, so I'm glad that I'm finally learning this at age 63. This is good for me to keep learning about. will show them tell me so how long have you lived in the building?
Jane Menton 14:05
I moved. We moved here five years ago, right before our son was born. We basically we were completely maxed out of our other apartment, which was just a one bedroom and buying an apartment for us was financially made the most sense at that time. And it's, it's great. I mean, it's a two bedroom, one bathroom, 850 square foot apartment. So one of the other things that I would say about this law is that they talk about, you know, these buildings as massive polluters. And one of the danger to the climate that is but the reality of these apartments is like, you've got a whole family my case it's a family of four living in 850 square feet. We don't even have our own washer dryer. Most of the residents in my building don't own a car. They don't. They don't drive. We walk everywhere. We like I walk my son to school every morning I walk to the grocery store, I, I have a car actually, because I have little kids. And I need to schlep them to see their grandparents for the most part. But, but I almost never drive it. We had it for two years, and it has 10,000 miles on it, like we almost never drive our car. And yet, we're being told that we are major climate polluters. That's
Robert Bryce 15:23
just as a quick aside your father is he is the man or the founder of the Manhattan, contrarian Francis, who's a prolific writer on his blog, Manhattan contrarian.com, where you're a contributing writer. So that's interesting how you couch that or how you talk about that fact that, in fact, your carbon footprint, which is a term I really don't like, but your you know, the amount of co2, you as an individual produced, I'm going to just guess, in living in New York versus me and Austin, Texas, where I drive every day, and I drive to the grocery store, sometimes two times a day, if I forget the rice, like I did yesterday. So my carbon footprint is substantially higher than yours. And yet, you're looking at a situation where I put it this way, you're facing a massive carbon tax. I mean, that's another way to think about what the City Local what this local law does local law 97 is that it's placing a huge tax on your carbon emissions by forcing all of these buildings to retrofit their systems to get rid of gas boilers, gas, water heaters, all these other things that are most gas stoves that we take. I didn't even think about the gas stoves. So that's the other part of this. So you have you will have to electrify everything by 2050, which is next week, really in terms of planning for built infrastructure like this. So I mean, this just riffing here. But I mean, if I was an H, back heating, ventilation air conditioning guy in New York City, I'd be going, like crap, I got more and more work here than I can ever do.
Jane Menton 17:01
Well, yes. So two things on that. One is there's not enough electricians in the city, if we actually tried to get all of these buildings to do this type it to comply with this law and the timeline that they have set in place. We would not have the construction workers or the electricians to do it. If we did this is this is 10s of 1000s of buildings. It's no, it's not possible. We have another law actually called local law 11, which is a whole other can of worms. Don't even get me started on on this situation, because it just makes you wonder why I live in New York at all, but it's facade work for our buildings. And similarly, every building is required to file report on their facade work on the same deadline. And all of these buildings were trying to have their facade work done in time to not be fined or penalized in some way. And there was no construction workers to do it. So we've already experienced with another law that when you set this type of timeline, you do not have the workers to do the work. And then local law 97 Is that much bigger, that much more of a monster? I really think this law is monstrous. So like,
Robert Bryce 18:14
a shot for shot work. Forgive me. I don't know what you're talking about. What does that mean?
Jane Menton 18:18
Oh, it's um, it's like brick pointing work for. So we have these big apartment buildings that have most of them are made out of bricks. And sometimes the bricks come loose, or they need to be like, reappointed in some way. And they in the law went into effect, I think, because the buildings were having bricks fall off. And it was a danger to pedestrians. So yeah, they make us they started regulating that and they check our facade.
Robert Bryce 18:51
But you don't have the skilled labor to do that kind of work in a timely manner. So that's another part of this regulatory scheme or skein of things that's happening in New York City where I mean, as I look out at the rest of the US, and particularly under the Biden administration, I'm just saying this is their observation, not as a partisan. But this is this mended this regulation, regulatory onslaught, it seems like New York City is even worse than what we see nationally in terms of these rules that are actually having an effect on your everyday life, your everyday cost of living, etc. Am I Oh,
Jane Menton 19:26
it's so frustrating. I mean, every board meeting that we go to, it's, you know, we would like to redo the whole carpets just for our own like aesthetic, the look of our building, whatever. And there's never any money for that because all of the money is going to these local laws, all of it I mean, this local law 11 is going to cost our buildings something like $500,000 local law 97 is going to cost for building something like it's looking like $3 million. Like when you have these sort of enormous
Robert Bryce 19:58
it can be done On, right, if it can be
Jane Menton 20:03
done. I mean, we haven't even gotten to the New York City grid, which is. So so far from ready for something like this, that they're putting buildings in a position of, of a rock and a hard place. It's like you either have its attacks, you either have to do this work and find out, you don't have the power, your building doesn't have the power, you don't have heat in the wintertime, or, and by the way, bankrupt your residents to do that, or pay an annual fine that over the course of a decade will amount to the same amount of money. couple million dollars.
Robert Bryce 20:39
So you said that the fines could be you wrote this on Manhattan contrary and you said by 2035, we must reduce our emissions by 60%. Or face fines well in excess of $100,000 per year. Now, you've already made the point you're 30% of your residents in the building are fixed income. You moved there five years ago. So just so you know, everybody likes to talk about real estate. So give me an idea of what you paid for the your your your, your two bedrooms, I will tell you two bedroom apartment one bath apartment in the co op.
Jane Menton 21:09
It's embarrassing, and you will
Robert Bryce 21:12
go out with it. Jane, it's okay.
Jane Menton 21:16
We paid $560,000 For our apartment. And it was not in good shape. So we renovated it as well. Not much we put about $40,000 into it. Sure. I won't even tell you what I paid for my parking spot. Okay, okay, well,
Robert Bryce 21:35
okay. What did you pay for the parking spot
Jane Menton 21:38
$125,000 for a parking spot. That is the type of space constraints that we have. In New York, I bought that parking spot in an auction, actually. So there was another bidder bidding the same amount for that spot, I didn't think I would even get it are building, typically a studio you can get for $200,000. And then the biggest apartment in our building is a two bed two bath. And those are between 650 and $700,000? I would say, right. So on a per square
Robert Bryce 22:17
foot basis, you paid I just feed at $660 a square foot something like that. So
Jane Menton 22:21
let me tell you for New York City, that's like, like we're talking about the most one of the most reasonable prices that you can pay for apartments is here in the in Queens, right? Compared to Manhattan, where you're seeing $1,000 a square foot or more, you know, these coops they've multimillion dollar apartments in them. And our situation is extremely different. Like a lot of the clips I've been working with, as I've been working on the local law 97 issue, you know that you can get a two bedroom apartment for 350 If you go further out into queens. So this is like the most reasonable real estate, I think that you can buy in the whole city,
Robert Bryce 22:56
right? But you pay for proximity to will, you know, pick a place Rockefeller Center, the closer you are to the center of Manhattan, the more expensive it's going to be. And if you're in the fashionable neighborhood, like Williamsburg, or wherever else, then you're going to have those higher costs. So but you I'm sure you know about the history of this, what to me is I've thought about it. I'm no expert on New York City, but I followed it for a long time, you know, several years. If we look back at to Mayor Bloomberg era, the push then was to get rid of fuel oil boilers in the city and replace them with gas fired boilers. And this was a big upgrade, right? Because it improved air quality and reduced emissions, the emissions from from gas are far less than they are from oil fired boilers. So I thought well, in terms of progress for air quality in the city, that was a big upgrade. And it was something that Bloomberg was very proud of. But then de Blasio took this to a whole nother level and do you know what years those were there? Do you do you know that off the top of your head because
Jane Menton 23:57
the top of my head? It was eight years ago that my building converted from oil to gas? Um, that happened? Eight,
Robert Bryce 24:06
eight years ago. Yes. So was that was that compelled by the city? The new city rules? Yes. Okay.
Jane Menton 24:13
It was but it actually wasn't a big deal for our building. We actually still have the same boiler it had been modified to work from oil to gas. And I don't I wasn't involved in that process that also I'm no expert. But I know that it's I know that our boiler. Now we were talking to you about replacing it because it's like 30 years old. So it's definitely the same boiler that we had for oil. And the problem, of course, with replacing it now is that is another project that will cost about half a million dollars. And we might have to throw it all away if this electrification thing goes through.
Robert Bryce 24:49
So you're facing kind of a double cost here that you could, you're faced with the necessity to replace an aging boiler in the near term, but in the longer term you may I have to replace the boiler with an electric heat pump. But I mean, the one of the other things that is was made clear by and I followed this for a while Heat pumps are terrible when it gets really cold by under 30 degrees, they don't work very well. So I mean, you could be faced with a situation where you have to replace all this stuff. And then yet in your apartment, you're going to have a little dish heater or a little resistance heater where you're going to plug that in because the main heater doesn't isn't working well enough. Right. I mean, there's that one scenario that could could be the outcome from this.
Jane Menton 25:29
That's even like the better scenario, I think, because I think that the reality is that the electricity we would need to heat these buildings is so beyond the grid capacity that on the cold days of the year, we will just have blackouts. And that that will be a much bigger humanitarian crisis for New Yorkers, then, I mean, to me, that's like, not only is this law financially, just a complete nightmare. But it also it could be a humanitarian nightmare, especially when you think about these buildings, which are many cases six storeys and up so dependent on elevators dependent on electric water heaters that you could have in a blackout situation, no ability to evacuate some of your most vulnerable members. There are people in my building that I know we couldn't evacuate like people who rely on electric scooters and wheelchairs
Robert Bryce 26:32
because they can't navigate the stairs. Right? And how many how many? How many stories in your building?
Jane Menton 26:38
There's only six storeys in my building, but in the city, you know, there are so many buildings that are 1012 20. storeys,
Robert Bryce 26:47
you bring up a really good point. And it's one that I made in this piece I wrote on substack on because the deal II came out with new numbers just recently that showed that electricity costs 3.3 times more per unit of energy than natural gas. So natural gas is the lowest form lowest cost form of in home energy by far by a factor of three. And yet this push for electrify everything which this local law 97 is part of but the electrify everything push which was coming from big NGOs that have budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars. They're pushing this and I guess New York City was on the forefront, but going upstream of your building, I think you make a really important point. And one that is not being considered here is can the grid even handle it because people forget the massive amount of energy that's delivered in the form of natural gas for direct use and buildings. And to replace that with electricity, you're talking about loads that are enormous, doubling the amount of electricity that significantly now,
Jane Menton 27:46
if you talk about like in New York City, they're like, Oh, we're also going to electrify transportation. We're going to electrify buildings. We're talking about tripling demand for electricity. Like, meanwhile, our electricity is 90 in New York City specifically is more than 85%, almost 90% generated by natural gas. Right? So we're, we're talking about what just burning the natural gas somewhere else and then transmitting the electricity, which is significantly less efficient than just burning natural gas on site. And, as you said, significantly more expensive. But on top of that, our state wants to eliminate our natural gas, electricity plants, right. So they want to close those plants by 2030. That would bring so I actually I made a note for myself before our before our calls just to make sure I had it than the actual numbers. So right now, New York State has 37.5 gigawatts of installed summer capacity. And as you were saying, in the like, heating is such a major electric look like it would be massive. Yeah. And if they shut our natural gas electricity plants, that would bring our installed capacity from 37.5 gigawatts to as little as 11.5 gigawatts of installed capacity for the state. Right. And then, net New York ISO, which runs our electricity market and National Grid have both said that they would need to expand the grid more than 50% by 2035 to meet all these electricity mandates, and double the grid by 2050. So that would mean having at least 56 gigawatts of installed capacity by 2035 and 75 gigawatts of installed capacity by 2050. Meanwhile, in 2030, we're going to have 11.5 gigawatts of installed capacity How are we like, with what technology? Are we going to rapidly expand the grid to meet this demand?
Robert Bryce 30:07
You know, that's a key point. Because this is the this is the part of it, especially in a state like New York, where are you going to put it? As my friend Lee coordinator says, when any energy infrastructure where you're gonna put it, how you going to connect it? How are you going to pay for it, and particularly in New York state where in upstate, you're seeing a big backlash against renewables. And in fact, this is a past article 94. See, that allows the bureaucrats in Albany to override local communities to force them to take solar and wind projects they don't want. But, you know, it's all space constrained for transmission for the siting of the renewables themselves. So I fear I don't know what your thought is that it will take some kind of blackout to make people sober up about this. I mean, is that how you see it? What what what is going to bring? You say, you're pushing back on this, but what's it going to take to make the city council for one? What to get them to sober up on this issue?
Jane Menton 31:02
I wish I knew for sure. One of the things about the advocacy that I've been doing is that it's very easy, I would say in Queens, especially to get residents motivated to address these financial concerns if financial concerns to them are very big, and would be detrimental to their budget. And our city council, I've talked to our city council, my personal city council members, her name's Julie Juan, I've talked to her several times, she's been very receptive to the idea of building something amendments into the law to address these financial issues, subsidies, tax credits, I mean, none of it is going to actually make this, like there will still be a big financial cost to residents, even with that in place, but politicians do want to help us with the financial burden.
Robert Bryce 32:00
But but that's not really,
Jane Menton 32:02
you know, and I'm like, that's not a solution.
Robert Bryce 32:05
You're only expanding the role of government. What, what I mean, shouldn't we shouldn't ask the question, shouldn't you just be pushing for repeal, that this is crazy that we should we should eliminate this this is bad policy we overstepped we didn't understand our mistake. Sorry, we, you know, I hate this phrase, Oh, my bad.
Jane Menton 32:27
I believe me, I, I when I started this process, I still am in my heart 100%. Repeal local on 97. It's, it's, it's not possible. This law is impossible. It's impossible. And it will, like people are very fixated on the financial consequences. And I'm fixated on the decimation of quality of life, regular blackouts, no reliable electricity, these buildings that are completely dependent on functioning infrastructure to work, we're very removed from the natural world in any sense. So like, none of us, like, you know, we just we we need, we need functioning infrastructure. And this will undermine it completely. I'm very fixated on that concern for residents, and making it clear to them explaining why the grid is not going to work. It's very difficult. It's very difficult. Politicians do not get it.
Robert Bryce 33:34
We'll show them why they beat me to the punch, then they don't get it. And why is that is because it's easy to just say this, that and the other about energy and power, because they don't know anything about it. And we'll just, oh, well, that sounds good. And so it sounds like it'd be the right way to go. And they don't have to do any math, no engineering, no physics, they don't have to. Because it sounds so appealing.
Jane Menton 33:55
It's addition to like, I can't, I can barely do what complicated math. I'm no mathematician by any means. And it's literally addition, like I just told you the numbers. It's like, take, take the installed capacity that we have and subtract 60% of it. And you're left with this much like that's all the math that I'm trying to do here. And yet so I've talked to you, I've been on calls with several of our local politicians. And not to call out any specifically, but I was on a call with one who was like, Don't worry about the grid, the greatest going to be ready. The grid, the grid engineers, they have so much money, the grid will be ready when necessary. Like don't even worry about it.
Robert Bryce 34:41
That what is Con Ed saying his Con Ed gone on record on any of this because here's here's here's how I see the utilities the utilities are looking at all this. And I kind of see this more broadly right across the US right with the investor on utilities. They have to live with the regulators right the weather, what law kind Margot's politicians, so they're inclined to say, oh, okay, yeah, we'll we'll we'll make that work. Yeah. Well, you know, we'll work with you. Instead of saying, No, that's a dumb idea. Right. So what is Con Ed said, What is what's there see this
Jane Menton 35:12
with New York ISO too. None of them want to see their market. None of them want to see their monopoly on the market get undermined significantly. So they all sort of couch the way they talk about this. It's like, oh, it's gonna be really hard. And the energy transition is, it's not, you know, it's going more difficult, more, it's more difficult than we thought. But they won't come out and say, This is not possible. We're trying to maneuver what we can do in a shifting political landscape. They'll say that that's like very their code. Yeah, very code. Con Ed, also, they're there, they've been authorized by New York State to raise their rates. Because New York State wants them to build out all of these infrastructure projects. So to comnet it sort of like, if, if you let us raise the rates, sure, we'll build whatever you want.
Robert Bryce 36:10
To build the rate. That's how they make their money, right? The builder wants to put steel in the ground and your copper and our concrete will do that no problem. So they're not going, they're not going to push back against the feasibility if they can just add more stuff, because that's how they make money.
Jane Menton 36:26
But meanwhile, these rate hikes so we're looking at a doubling electricity price, like over the next year or so.
Robert Bryce 36:36
Double on top of it. So as comnet announces that they're they're looking at doubling rate, electric rates,
Jane Menton 36:42
they just announced a 20% hike for this summer. And then I think next year, there's going to be like a progressive rate hike to almost double what we were paying.
Robert Bryce 36:58
Well, because I know rates are going up across the country, there's no doubt about that. I think Duke Energy announced 30% wage hikes in North Carolina. And the especially in the last year or two electric prices have gone up dramatically. And the expectation is for because of a lot of this infrastructure improvements, great improvements, etc. They're going to continue going up. So that idea that oh, this is going to be cheaper, which is what you hear over and over again, from the NGOs and from you know, the White House and the rest Oh, this is gonna be cheaper because we were to electrify everything and electricity is cheap, blah, blah, blah. It's just not true because the price of electricity continues to rise.
Jane Menton 37:35
It's going to be for residents we're getting like hit on every side we're getting hit and having to pay increasing electricity prices were getting hit and having to pay for these enormous renovations that and then at the end of it last I said I like I do not think we will have electricity. So one of the things that really scares me about electrify everything is like so right now we have a somewhat diversified infrastructure, you know, so if if there was a blackout, I could still cook food on my stove. I still have hot water right so if water well, I guess Yeah, cuz well I do because I live under six storeys. So after six storeys, you need electric water pumps. If we had electrify everything, and there's a blackout, I have nothing like we have we have nothing.
Robert Bryce 38:27
And that's a critical point. You need diversity of supply. And yet this idea that we should put all of our energy eggs in one basket, it's well as I said, in my sibs, my substack don't want to get too technical here. But that's crazy town. I mean, for one crazy town,
Jane Menton 38:43
it's it's, yeah, I think people are going to be shocked. Their quality of life is under severe threat, and they don't know it. That's the part that makes me the most scared. As a New Yorker. Um, one of the things that I have been saying to people that does resonate, is because the grid stuff I have for some reason, like, even though I've worked with this group called the PCCC, which is the President's condo, Co Op Council. It's a coalition of coops and queens, that are advocates for coops with legislators. And I've explained the grid to them, I've like sent them the numbers and broken it down. And I haven't really gotten there. Like when I talk to them, they're like, oh, Jane is our growth expert. And I'm like, Thank you, that's incredibly flattering, but I'm like, such an amateur and such a novice on this stuff. So like, that's, that's nice, but like they they defer to me on it. They don't like advocate for themselves. And it's, yeah, so even even in that sense, like so advocating with the general public and with legislators is that much harder. Um, and one of the things that I found that does work is saying, you know, we're being sold that electricity is this incredibly green state, oh, electricity is going to be our solution to climate change. And that's not true as long as our grid runs on fossil fuels. That's like, the only way that that could possibly be true, is if we had a renewable emission free grid. Otherwise, we're being told to spend all this money and just burn the fossil fuels somewhere else.
Robert Bryce 40:29
Or if you had a nuclear plant, like say, Indian Point, oh, yes, but nevermind. Oh, wait. That's right. Nevermind, the Natural Resources Defense Council should be indicted for their role and the Riverkeeper and Robert Kennedy, Jr. Should be indicted and criminally charged for their role in the premature closure of Indian Point, which was at one point was, well was providing about a quarter of all the electricity consumed in New York City. And yet it was pretty
Jane Menton 40:56
Yes. emission free emission free.
Robert Bryce 40:58
So one other part of this that just occurs to me as you're talking about it, Jane, is that, yes. So this idea, theoretically, that you would have to dramatically increase the size of the the amount of generation in New York City or New York generally, rather, the state to meet this new demand, you have the other downstream problem, okay, well, you have the Let's assume you can magically add 20 or 30 gigawatts there 20 or 30,000, new megawatts of generation, you now have to move that into the city. And you have then the challenge of replacing local transformers, wire, high power transformers, all of these things, which are in very short supply the transformer shortage across the United States, in some cases, two year wait, and then for high power transformers, most of those are fabricated overseas, and they have lead times of two to three years. So I mean, I'm just as I'm riffing here, but you know, feeding back to you some of the sincere the grid expert. Oh, yeah. The de facto grid expert, but that you Okay, well, well, where are you going to get the kit, right? Because all of these things are increasing in cost, inflation is hitting all of these costs. And you don't have enough line, but enough qualified laborers who can do the work. So it's not I mean, there are multiple challenges here that I'm just, you know, just talking it out that aren't being recognized at all, in this headlong rush toward eliminating, you know, hydrocarbons because of climate change. And there's but no, no understanding of all the friction that is going to be between now and trying to make that happen. So I'm just anyway, I'm just adding those points to what you've already said. But it's, it's a kind of a myopia around Oh, we'll just make it happen, because we want this to happen.
Jane Menton 42:40
Right? No, it's It's very confusing. One of the things that I've been thinking about since I got into this is why aren't when they're writing these policies? Why aren't grid experts being consulted? Do you want? I mean, like, somewhat, surely, surely, some one of them would have said we can't do this, or this law is like, to to the timelines too constrained, it has this, this and this problem, you know, I maybe we can make this minor shift or like, adapt this to as you would like, or, you know, make the change from fuel oil to natural gas will reduce emissions by XML. All of like, surely, if a single grid expert was consulted in the writing of this law, this law would not have passed as it is. So why are legislators being given this authority to pass laws that are entered, like, not possible by any engineering standard? How does that happen? Well,
Robert Bryce 43:41
yeah, well, my reply is Well, so are by and large, our council members, our politicians, our legislators, are their lawyers. And why are they lawyers? Because they couldn't couldn't do the math to get into engineering school. So that's my
Jane Menton 43:53
don't tell my dad because he's a lawyer and an energy writer.
Robert Bryce 43:58
So you've been a lifelong New Yorker. That's one of the questions I wrote down, Jane. So how is it New York changed over the years? I mean, you've seen you know, I was I visited New York in the 20s in the 80s. And you know, when Times Square was a blighted area, and you know, I've seen it change over the years. You've lived there your whole life, and it's a very heavily Democratic city, right? It sure is. Yeah, explains a lot. I think of this local law. 97 You're guessing in your 30s? How is the city changed over your over your lifetime?
Jane Menton 44:31
Oh, lots. I mean, I think everybody's very nostalgic for their childhood. But I was growing up in the city in the 90s and early 2000s, which was just the best, best time to be a New Yorker, I think it was so it was just increasingly safe, increasingly clean. And just I had so much freedom growing up. And I really, I've only left the city for I only left the city for four years to go to college. I've really only ever lived in New York besides that, and I'm very attached to it. So it's like very hard for me to see it objectively by any measure. But I think that COVID exposed a lot of its it was already during the de Blasio years, a lot of, you know, these progressive policies were put in place and stop and frisk, for example. That then COVID exposed a lot of the city's weaknesses like that some of the downturn probably would have happened, but over a longer period of time, if we hadn't had this lockdown situation in the city. One of the things that I thought about a lot during the pandemic was how Manhattan specifically is so dependent on its office culture, Midtown in the financial district, and that that office culture had, like, exceeded its necessary life. But New Yorkers didn't think so or hadn't realized it, or were just like, so committed to their lifestyle and didn't matter. And that during COVID, who were like, oh, like, let's not go to an office anymore, but that sort of deteriorates the whole supporting economy of those areas, and just left you know, homelessness like and like date, like I don't know, did some of these areas like around Penn Station, feel very unsafe now, and I never felt unsafe in the city. The subway feels unsafe now. We've had like people come in to
Robert Bryce 46:48
the MTA the subways having declining ridership and less Yes. And the system itself, it seems to me that I look at New York and San Francisco, right. They've been kind of traditionally the coastal hubs in Los Angeles, of course, is one but as financial centers, right, San Francisco has long been a banking center, and so is New York, but this move away from offices and more work at home, and that it's been a been a big blow, and how do these cities then reinvent themselves in it now, but I think, particularly in San Francisco, I know we're not talking about San Francisco, but this this progressive liberal attitude about oh, you know, decriminalized crime, and the rest of it is just loosely ruinous for the quality of life in the city. And that it's it cascades once it starts.
Jane Menton 47:35
Yeah, it's a very fast like,
Robert Bryce 47:39
is that what you've seen is this the kind of a gradual worsening of street life I guess, in the city, because I haven't been in New York in many years now. But it's kind of I'm translating what I'm hearing you say now Sunny sides, Knott Central, not downtown.
Jane Menton 47:54
We're definitely removed from downtown Manhattan. And I honestly like I don't get to Manhattan that often anymore. Because I don't work in an office anymore. But one of the things about it too, is it's like it's a compounding problem, because it's so hard to live here. So it's like, like, I was saying, I live in a two bedroom, one bath that I paid a ton of money for, you know, and then you've got these, like local laws that are hitting us left, right and center or electricity prices and all these things. And it just becomes like, what, why? Why? Like, for me, it's, you know, I'm from here, my family's here. My husband's from here, my husband's family is here. So, for us, it's a family thing. But if if they weren't, like anywhere else in the city, see, I mean, anywhere else in the country seems just like a much easier, we could have, you know, a three bedroom house, we could have a driveway, we could have, you know, we could have land.
Robert Bryce 48:48
You could move to Connecticut or New Jersey or somewhere else and find a place and if you're working remote, then it doesn't make that much difference, I suppose. Let me ask you one specific question. And then we're going to wrap up here because I want to be mindful of the time. So what is your would you Are you paying attention? I'm assuming would you pay for your last electric bill?
Jane Menton 49:07
Okay, so you think I wouldn't be paying attention, but actually, my husband pays. But he told me actually just yesterday that our electric usage per month is about 100 kilowatt hours. Wait, that'd be right.
Robert Bryce 49:25
Yeah, it would be measured in kilowatt hours. Yeah. So it's not very,
Jane Menton 49:29
it's not much It's not much. Yeah.
Robert Bryce 49:32
Well, I just be curious to see what you pay for a small two bedroom apartment versus my house here in Austin because I just looked at the bill this morning, but we don't have to go there.
Jane Menton 49:40
It's significantly less than $100. I want to say it's like not even $50
Robert Bryce 49:44
Okay, all right, fair enough. So if we come let's say
Jane Menton 49:49
the AC on the AC sends our electric bill up to like, almost $200 Gotcha.
Robert Bryce 49:55
Okay. Well, my last electric bill and has been insanely hot here and all Austin, you know, for the last month and we have, well, a house that's more than 150 square feet, I'll just put it that way. Last electric bill was about $300. So anyway, that gives you some indication if you run your electric bill, or if you run your air conditioner. In an apartment with less than 1000 square feet, your electric bill goes up to $200, which would indicate that you're, you're, you're paying high price on a watt hour basis kilowatt hour basis for the power that you use. And that would go up in if this you know, this electrify everything push continue. So, but is it but just to be clear, is this really gotten the attention? You know, you're talking to your legislator in Queens, has it gotten much attention in this in the broader City Council? I've seen a few pieces in the New York Post. I know the New York Daily News is covering it. I haven't seen any coverage of this in the New York Times.
Jane Menton 50:54
There's been a little bit of coverage of it in the New York Times, but the New York Times is very pro local law. 97, I would say so they even when they highlight the challenges, it's more like but of course, this law is such an important step towards defeating climate change, which again, boggle boggles my mind that they could promote that narrative. When our grid runs on fossil fuels, it simply does not make any sense. But that being said, we are doing we're really trying to put together a grassroots movement out here I have personally connected with like eight or nine coops in my neighborhood. We are trying to petition our legislators all of this time to amend this law. Ideally repeal it. But I don't know, I honestly, politically don't know if that's even possible. And that's, I was gonna say that earlier. The political climate here is very difficult, because people are so concerned about climate change that any anything that they see as, like climate denialism or not, not protecting the climate, they'll resist. And legislators are very sensitive to that. So politicians are sensitive to that, of course. So it's like, we have a couple of city council members now who represent districts where, like mine, where the residents are very concerned about the financial implications of local law 97. But that are like, out of 50. I think it's 52. City council members, right? It's like 13, we're not even close to a majority. And then you have so many others, where their districts are so adamant that local law 97 Go forward, that it feels like how are we ever going to make a real difference on this?
Robert Bryce 52:51
Yeah, it's interesting, you put it that way, because it just seems like there is climate denialism or whatever it is, well, wait a minute. No, this is just practical, physical limits. System. We don't we can talk about climate. We can talk about, you know, what we feel about it what what the right number is parts per million, but about but we have to be very practical about how the system works. And that seems to be the very clear missing part of this is that there's so little understanding of the feasibility of the costs of the prac, that labor issues that supply chains, all these other things just coming together in a law that could be ruinously expensive for New York residents like you and your and your neighbors in your building.
Jane Menton 53:33
ruinously expensive, ruinous I mean it if it actually goes forward to its full application, ruinous to the whole city if this city doesn't have power? What like what is New York? Like? What is it No, no theater, no restaurants, no public transit like what what is this place? Why are we here? Like, it makes no sense. So that's the part I just I just, I think that that has not that has not hit home for people at all. And like you were saying, maybe it will take a blackout. Maybe it will take some of this coming to like hitting home and being real for people to understand what they voted for. Like I do not know if I can make any difference in convincing people until that happens. I don't know I've been trying.
Robert Bryce 54:24
Well, and try you should. My guest is Jane Minton, my friend Jane met and she's a writer at Manhattan constrain a resident in New York City and a resident actually of Sunnyside queens and as a member of her co op in Sunnyside Queens you can read her writing at Manhattan contrarian. She also manages the Soho forum debate series. Jane if you listen to podcasts knew I always ask my guests What are you reading?
Jane Menton 54:47
I do I didn't know that you're going to ask and I actually don't know if I can recommend the most recent book that I read which was a novel called drive your plow over the bones of the dead very A strange little book and maybe I didn't fully understand it. I did read an excellent novel called a Gentleman in Moscow, which I would highly recommend.
Robert Bryce 55:08
Oh, that's a great book.
Jane Menton 55:10
I love that book.
Robert Bryce 55:11
What's the author's name?
Jane Menton 55:13
Mr. Tolt? I'm not pronouncing it correctly, but I am or to W Le s.
Robert Bryce 55:18
Yeah, I'm more told Sir told us Yeah, right. Oh, that was a tremendous book. I love that my son Michael told me Dad You have to read this book. And so I did. It was really really good. I'm glad you that you read that I recommend I recommend that book as well one of the best novels in recent memory.
Jane Menton 55:33
I completely wholeheartedly agree and I just think that the main characters buoyancy of spirit even in the face of calamity tremendous calamity. I was reading this book and I was like, This is what it's like to live in a city that is ruining itself I guess because it's Moscow during you know, the Soviet era. And but but yet he is such a brilliant character that it's just such a joy to read the whole book.
Robert Bryce 56:01
Yeah, and vivid characters and just really great writing. So I will I asked that question because I know you're a young mom and you're expecting another child so well once the third arrives you won't have time for anything.
Jane Menton 56:12
Right that's the other problem. I read like 10 pages a night that's it.
Robert Bryce 56:17
That's my Well Lauren and I have three kids is my brother Wally told me when we went from two to three so now you go from man to man to zone and defense but what gives you hope Jiang?
Jane Menton 56:28
Oh my gosh, definitely my kids. I mean, definitely help like thinking about their future and trying to make the world better for them gives me hope and also like that humans, humans somehow survive all kinds of things. So that's like a pessimistic optimistic answer that no matter how, like you will be fine as a species. You know, we've we've, we've endured so much. So what didn't really go wrong? It'll be okay.
Robert Bryce 56:58
Who needs lights?
Jane Menton 57:01
Lights and stoves and refrigerators. It's all gonna be so fun.
Robert Bryce 57:04
Convenient, right? Yeah. Well, that's great. My guest has been Jane Minton. She is a writer at Manhattan contrary and a resident of Sunnyside queens. She is pushing back against local law 97. And after talking with her about it, I understand much better now. Why it is just full on crazy town. And yet it is the it's going forward in the city of New York. So, Jane, thanks a million for joining us on the power hungry podcast.
Jane Menton 57:33
Thank you so much for having me. This is truly such a pleasure. Thank you,
Robert Bryce 57:37
and all of you in podcast land. Make sure to tune in to the next episode of the power hungry podcast. It might be as good as this one. It might not but even so, give us 345 12 stars on those rating things. Until next time, see you