Six weeks before the Great Blackout of 2003, Mayor Bloomberg’s senior energy adviser quit his post amid a series of disputes over the administration’s approach to energy policy, The Observer has learned.
The adviser, Richard Miller, was a senior vice president at the city’s Economic Development Corporation. Mr. Miller had been assigned the task of formulating a comprehensive new energy policy that would offer new ways of meeting soaring energy demand and set guidelines for the construction of new power plants.
The policy statement, two years in the making, was released last month with very little fanfare.
But just two weeks before the plan became public, Mr. Miller quietly resigned. According to sources familiar with the situation, he left in part because he clashed with Daniel Doctoroff, the deputy mayor for economic development, over City Hall’s decision to block construction of a huge new power plant on the Brooklyn waterfront. City Hall had argued that a new plant was incompatible with Mr. Doctoroff’s plans for a sweeping redevelopment of the waterfront.
But Mr. Miller, who had long argued that the city needs to beef up its capacity for generating energy within the five boroughs, thought City Hall’s opposition to the new plant was misguided, sources said.
This difference was part of a broader disagreement between Mr. Miller and City Hall–a difference that has taken on a new urgency in light of the catastrophic blackout that deprived New Yorkers of power for up to 24 hours and reportedly cost the city $1 billion in lost revenue.
Mr. Miller believed that the Bloomberg administration wasn’t paying sufficient attention to the city’s need to produce new sources of energy, the sources said. They added that Mr. Miller also felt that the administration had failed to devote enough attention and resources to developing an energy policy.
Mr. Miller also came to believe that energy policy couldn’t be formulated out of the city’s Economic Development Corporation, sources said. He felt that the goals of the E.D.C., which seeks to spur the city’s economy, weren’t always in sync with the quest for sound energy policy, the sources said.
“He felt the city’s energy policy wasn’t going anywhere,” said one person who discussed the matter with Mr. Miller.
Under former Mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins, the city had an energy-policy office, and its director had real weight within the government. Mr. Miller, however, apparently felt that he wasn’t accorded the power and access his predecessors had.
Mr. Miller declined to comment on any aspect of this story.
Mr. Doctoroff rejected the suggestion that City Hall has not given energy policy its due. “We think we’ve been very actively supportive of in-city generation,” he said, adding that the city was backing a number of plans to either expand existing plants or build new ones. “Nothing that occurred during the blackout is due to any failure on the city’s part. The question going forward is: What are the right polices to insure that we have an adequate energy supply to respond to our growing needs?”
The city’s policy, which was released after Mr. Miller’s departure, emphasized the re-powering of existing plants over building new ones, saying that it would be more friendly to the environment and would eliminate the politically fraught process of finding sites for new plants.
Mr. Doctoroff also denied that the E.D.C.’s goals were overshadowing energy policy. “We think E.D.C. is the right place to formulate energy policy,” he said. “Our new energy team is hard at work coming up with ways to insure that the city’s needs will be met in the future.”
Mr. Doctoroff declined to elaborate on Mr. Miller’s departure. But City Hall sources maintained that the administration had been unhappy with his work. “We presented his policy to the Mayor,” one official said, “but he rejected it due to lack of substance.”
Energy Point Man
As the city’s point man on energy policy for several years, Mr. Miller was charged with ensuring that New York’s power supply met the needs of businesses and residents. Under Mr. Bloomberg, Mr. Miller has testified on behalf of the administration before the City Council and has represented the Mayor at private-sector energy conferences. In those settings, he has been a consistent advocate of building new power plants within the city.
The immediate dispute which led to Mr. Miller’s departure highlights a broader debate over a perennial urban dilemma: how to supply power to a dense population that is ever hungry for more power, but is opposed to the construction of new power plants and transmission lines.
Mr. Bloomberg has been struggling to address that problem since taking office in January of 2002. He has repeatedly talked about an urgent need to build more plants in New York City to prevent blackouts. At the same time, many prospective projects have dragged on because of opposition from community groups, or fear among investors who are reluctant to subject themselves to the uncertain process of gaining approval in the first place.
In his quest for a sound energy policy, Mr. Bloomberg has been grappling with another problem: Many of the difficulties the city faces are beyond the control of municipal government. Although the city can help or hinder the siting and construction of power plants and transmission lines, the power system comes mostly under the purview of state and federal entities, and is affected by issues over which the Mayor’s office has little control.
“The drawback to action at the local level is that a lot of these [energy] grids are regional, so you’re not going to be able to do that much to fix it at the state and local level,” said James Lewis, director of technology policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The situation has become even more complicated in recent years as New York, under the initiative of Governor Pataki, deregulated the energy industry and put the operation of its plants in private hands. One result is that it has become less clear than ever who exactly is accountable for such vital matters as the security of the generating stations and transmission lines, and the expensive upkeep of the distribution network. Another result is that it is arguably more difficult now than it has ever been to build new plants.
All of these factors have conspired to make the task of Mr. Miller–and now that of his successor, Gil Quinones–nearly impossible.
“Making energy policy in New York City is a much more complicated task than anywhere else in the world, because of the sheer demands on the grid and because of the density of the population,” said Assemblyman Michael Gianaris, who recently introduced a bill to improve security at New York’s power plants. “I’m hopeful that because of what we’ve just experienced, everyone is now aware of the priority we have to place on dealing with these issues.”