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Commentary By Max Schulz

Pols' Calls To Conserve Are Full of Hot Air

On Thursday, Consolidated Edison registered a new record for peak electricity demand, hitting 13,141 megawatts. For perspective, consider the company's claims that it "first reached the 10,000-megawatt mark in 1988, topped 11,000 megawatts in 1997, broke the 12,000-megawatt barrier in 2001, and surpassed 13,000 megawatts last summer."

What this shows is not just that electricity demand in New York is growing, but growing faster and faster—because of the basic nature of our Internet and information economy.

A kindergartner could tell you the solution to the problem: generate more electricity.

Yet as millions of New Yorkers sweated out the hottest days in memory and thousands did it without power, the response from our leaders—from President Bush to Gov. Pataki to Mayor Bloomberg—was feeble: Use less. Do without. There's not enough power for everybody, and our grid would have trouble handling it if there were.

Certainly the wasteful use of energy should be minimized. But begging consumers to accept a little bit more suffering—or, in the cases of energy-intensive businesses, to limit their economic output—makes no sense unless leaders are working tirelessly throughout the rest of the year to increase electric output.

Right now, they're not. Year after year, while demand has shot up and up, New York has done far too little to increase supply or implement other innovations.

This week, we saw the consequences of that neglect.

To be fair, Bloomberg is at least aware of the problem. In January 2004, the report by his energy policy task force stated that New York City will need to increase electricity capacity by 25% by 2008 if Gotham hopes "to maintain its position as the financial, corporate and communications capital of the world."

Yet two-and-a-half years later, we haven't started inching down that road—much less barreling down it with the speed and determination necessary to meet the challenge.

Conservation is a prayer—not an answer. It's time to get serious about our energy challenge.

We need to try promising new ideas like distributed generation, a two-way electricity network where customers can sell excess power back to the grid, and real-time pricing, where the rates consumers pay are dictated by demand. Imagine if you paid more during the day when everybody's running their AC, and less at night when all the lights are out.

And we finally, desperately, need to start generating more energy statewide using nuclear and other technologies rather than allowing kneejerk "not in my backyard" resistance to scuttle necessary projects.

Those steps would curb wasteful energy usage far better than plaintive pleas from pols.