Power plan sparks concern

NYSEG meets with local officials on new high voltage line

CHATHAM — Representatives from NYSEG, the power company that serves much of northern and eastern Columbia County, held a tension-filled meeting with a group of local officials and concerned citizens on Tuesday about the company’s planned upgrade of its infrastructure in the county.

The meeting at NYSEG’s office in Chatham was a chance for a face-to-face dialogue between the NYSEG project planners and representatives of the four towns — Ghent, Chatham, Kinderhook and Stockport – that may be affected by a new electricity transmission line. That 115-kilovolt (kV) line would be connected to a new power substation in the Town of Ghent.

“We’re trying to be proactive, that’s why we’re here,” said NYSEG Project Manager Dennis Bender. “We’ve asked the towns to provide representatives who can come up with alternatives to evaluate.”

NYSEG said the new 10-mile overhead transmission line would provide a back-up to its Churchtown-Craryville line. The power company confirmed its plan would require obtaining new rights-of-way from some property owners in the affected towns. Meeting attendees asked if there was any way to add the new power line within the existing right-of-ways.

NYSEG’s chief engineer, Jeff McKinney, said there were several governmental restrictions involved with putting two power lines on the same right-of-way. He said obtaining new rights-of-way was imperative to the project, which will help prevent nearly 10,000 county residents from losing power if the lines reach capacity. “The line can go through grandma’s house, I don’t care,” Mr. McKinney said. “If this [power outage] were to happen, it’s fairly catastrophic. It’s going to make news so we should fix it.”

For a time, the meeting escalated into a somewhat adversarial back-and-forth between Mr. McKinney, whose official title is Manager for System Planning, and a consultant hired by some private citizens to evaluate the project.

After several questions about possible alternative configurations and routes for the transmission lines from Richard Gross of Renewable Energy Planning of Framingham, MA, Mr. McKinney, the NYSEG engineer, repeatedly said that from a planning standpoint, “we don’t take routing into consideration at all.”

“We do our analysis on what gets us the most bang for the buck,” said Mr. McKinney.

Mr. Gross asked whether other lower-voltage alternatives for the transmission line had been considered to avoid building the new substation in Ghent.

Mr. McKinney said NYSEG could look at that suggestion, but added “The increase in the short circuit — the ooomf behind the power — is what is really needed,” he said. “In my engineering judgment it would be significantly less power for the same cost.”

Mr. McKinney went on to say that NYSEG’s original plan to fix this long-standing problem was to build a new line into the Valkin substation, but “we could not work that out with National Grid,” he said. “And from a planning standpoint, I don’t care. All I need is a supply. We’ve worked with National Grid to try to determine the best locations, while trying to keep the costs down on both sides.”

NYSEG said the Ghent substation would provide a connection to National Grid’s 115-kV Churchtown-Valkin line. There are two possible locations for the new substation. One is a two-acre site about 600 feet west of Route 9H near Falls Industrial Park Road. The other is a two-acre site about 200 feet north of Stockport Road.

Columbia County Deputy Director of Emergency Management Gary Tuthill, asked Mr. McKinney if there was a downside to the project.

“No,” said Mr. McKinney.

“Every project has a downside,” said Mr. Tuthill.

“Not from a planning standpoint,” said Mr. McKinney, but then he softened his stance. “It costs money. It affects people. That’s the downside. Every NYSEG customer pays for this.”

Kinderhook Town Councilman Peter Bujanow asked whether NYSEG had considered putting the new line underground.

“We have limited resources,” said Mr. McKinney. “Underground lines can be more detrimental to the environment than over-the-ground lines. We’re a business and our preferred policy is not to go underground.

Councilman Bujanow asked if sites like airports and the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site in Kinderhook were considered when planning overhead lines. Mr. McKinney said they were.

“I think we all can appreciate the need for these new power resources,” said Mr. Bujanow. “But we also like to balance our needs with your desires and possibly create a win-win situation with existing lines. The homeowners in our towns have an investment in their properties and new overhead power lines could be detrimental to those values.”

Ghent Planning Board Chairman Jonathan Walters said he wants to make sure that NYSEG “thoroughly investigates all alternatives.”

In response, Mr. McKinney said NYSEG could run analysis on alternatives suggested by the local officials, “But I’m thoroughly confident they won’t be productive.”

Later Mr. Walters said he was satisfied that NYSEG agreed to the run through the alternatives. “I’m interested in a really solid analysis and I’m pleased you’re willing to do that,” he said.

NYSEG asked Mr. Walters to collect alternative options for the project and forward them to Mr. McKinney, whose team would then run computer simulations.

“The whole point of this meeting is that we be on the same page,” said Mr. Bender, the project manager. “Even if you don’t agree with the page.”

Mr. Bender said he expects NYSEG and community leaders can meet again “within the next few weeks” to examine possible routes for the transmission line. 

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