State gives 14 power line plans an F

HUDSON–The state Public Service Commission (PSC) staff has issued an Interim Report recommending the state agency drop consideration of all but 8 of 22 proposals for new or upgraded high voltage electricity transmission lines through the Hudson Valley. Several of the remaining proposals would still run through parts of Columbia County.

The proposals were initially requested after Governor Cuomo, in his 2014 State of the State address, called for an “Energy Highway” plan to upgrade and expand the state’s electrical power grid. One focus of that plan was to eliminate what experts have called “bottlenecks” in the high voltage lines that bring cheaper power from upstate sources to the New York City metropolitan area and the rest of the southeastern part of the state. Some of those lines considered part of the bottleneck run through Greenport, Claverack and Livingston, and have been in place for decades.

The remaining eight proposals come from private companies, including one group comprising all the electric utilities that serve Columbia County. But the Interim Report, dated July 15, says that even though these proposals might be the “most environmentally compatible of the proposed projects… [they] may still represent significant impacts that will warrant mitigation.”

Since the proposals were initially filed, local opposition to the proposals has grown, spawning a regional organization called the Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition (HVSC). The Town of Claverack is a member, along with the Olana Partnership, the Columbia Land Conservancy and Scenic Hudson, as well as towns in northern Dutchess County and local citizens’ groups.

Along with objecting to the proposals based on environmental concerns and the visual impact of new, taller towers and new rights of way, the coalition has also questioned the basic premise that there is a need for the new lines. The PSC staff report says the group’s challenge to the rationale for the project will be considered as the review process continues.

Making a complex process even more complicated, the PSC staff report acknowledged that all the proposals now need further review with the announcement that a new power plant proposed for Orange County is expected to come on line in a few years. The new plant, which is south of the proposed transmission lines, may relieve some concerns about congestion in the lines that run through Columbia and Dutchess counties.

There is support for new lines, some of which comes from a group called The Power New York Coalition, which lists members of business groups in the Capital District and the electrical workers union IBEW Local 97 among its members. The Power New York Coalition issued a statement after the PSC report came out that did not mention Interim Report, but said, “This week in Albany, we continued to debate whether upgrading New York’s power infrastructure is even necessary–an argument that was settled years ago by the leading energy policy experts in state government and the private sector.”

The Power New York Coalition says its members believe the governor’s plan would improve the state’s transmission infrastructure and in the process create “11,000 jobs and generate as much as $1.6 billion in increased economic activity during the construction phase.” The group also says the plans for new lines would lower energy costs and make the power grid more reliable.

Although the Power New York Coalition considers the issue of need a settled matter, the HVSC has an analysis by Gidon Eschel, a research geophysicist at Bard College, that indicates the current grid can handle the load even if the Indian Point nuclear power plant is shut down. The commission has yet to address the specifics of Dr. Eschel’s proposal but the staff has treated the matter a worth including in the ongoing review of the project.

Scenic Hudson Director of Environmental Advocacy Hayley Carlock said that the decision by the PSC staff to recommend rejection of so many proposals on environmental grounds was not typical of actions taken by the commission in the past. “It was sort of a bold step for them,” she said.

Overall, Ms. Carlock said, Scenic Hudson is pleased with the process so far. But opponents still share the PSC staff’s position that the projects still recommended for consideration could have serious impacts on the residents of the county and the environment.

The staff must now prepare a final report, expected sometime in September. A final decision on what route or routes the power lines will take or whether any new lines are needed may come from the commission possibly as soon as the end of this year.

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