PSC tours central Ghent

State, NYSEG, power line foes all hop on the bus
GHENT–The state Public Service Commission has conducted site visits this month of the route proposed by New York State Electric and Gas (NYSEG) Corporation for a new, high-voltage  transmission line across the middle of the town.

NYSEG has applied to the commission for approval to build an 11.1-mile, 115-kilovolt transmission line to connect one of its existing lines with a parallel line owned by National Grid. NYSEG has said the project is necessary in order to provide backup to a line running between Churchtown and Craryville. Without the backup, NYSEG says blackouts for 10,000 customers could occur if the line were to go down during peak loads.

This proposal is different from the transmission line plans for Governor Cuomo’s Energy Highway initiative that two companies are about to file with the Public Service Commission, parts of which may pass through Columbia County. The companies are NextEra Energy and a consortium of power companies under the name New York Transmission Owners, or NYTO. The consortium includes NYSEG as well as National Grid and Central Hudson, among others. Notices outlining the applicants’ plans are published starting on Page 25 of this edition .

NYSEG’s proposal for its Ghent backup line has met with strong opposition from town officials and residents, who have expressed concern over the project’s potential impact on the local environment, landscape, tourism, and agriculture. The proposed route runs through residential properties, farms, easements created by the Columbia Land Conservancy, and property owned by Art Omi. Local residents have formed an organization called Protect Ghent, a not-for-profit opposed to the project.

The site visits conducted September 3 and 4 are part of the PSC’s review of the case. Koethi Zan, executive director of Protect Ghent, said in a phone interview last week that the site tour included Administrative Law Judge Eleanor Stein, representatives from the PSC, NYSEG, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and several concerned residents–in all about 35 people. They rode in a bus along the route of the proposed transmission line so that officials could observe the impact the new line would have. Ms. Zan said Protect Ghent compiled a list of about 20 stops where residents could show PSC officials where the line would run and how it would affect their lives.

“I feel in general both the Public Service Commission and Judge Stein are doing a very thorough review,” said Ms. Zan. “They definitely want to see how this line would impact our community.”

A hearing was scheduled for Tuesday, September 17, at which NYSEG would have the opportunity to present its case. Ms. Zan said NYSEG needs to demonstrate that there is a need for this project, and that the need outweighs the impacts.

“The response from the community has been very strong. Our community is uniting because this is not the right place for this power line,” she said. “Our community is experiencing a period of revitalization and renewal through sustainable agriculture and tourism, and this power line will destroy everything this community has been working so hard to build.”

The Town of Ghent retained two engineers have developed a low-voltage alternative to the NYSEG plan. It involves upgrading existing 34.5-kilovolt lines. Town attorney Ted Guterman said the alternative is a better option that would have minimal impact on the environment. But he said NYSEG has not taken this option seriously.

The company rejected the low-voltage option, saying it is not cost-effective.
The town recently presented this plan to PSC at the agency’s request.

Ms. Zan said she supports a low-voltage alternative, but says NYSEG has to prove there is need for the project in the first place.

“If they establish need, then I think there are a number of alternatives,” she said. “I think they just drew their line without regard to the residents of this town.”

Once the PSC completes its review, Judge Stein will make a recommendation, followed by a final decision from PSC.

Calls to NYSEG for comment were not returned before deadline. The company’s website, www.nyseg.com has information on its application including a link to the PSC website and copies of documents in the case. Click on the “Our company” tab at the top of the homepage.

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