Power line plan advances

PSC sends high voltage upgrade bids out for review

CLAVERACK–Local activists opposed to a plan to run new high voltage power lines through the length of Columbia County were disappointed last week when the state Public Service Commission ordered that three of four proposals to install the lines should advance to the next phase in the approval process.

The new power cables and towers will deliver electricity generated upstate to New York City, Long Island and the metropolitan area, with some of the electricity expected to come from renewable sources. The project region-wide is expected to cost over $1 billion and would not be fully operational until 2019 at the earliest.

Proponents of the plan, including business groups and organized labor, as well as power companies vying for the right to run the lines, hailed the PSC order, saying that the upgraded transmission lines would create 11,000 jobs and generate $1.6 billion in new investment upstate.

But the environmental advocacy group Scenic Hudson said opponents of the new lines will continue their efforts to block the project.

The PSC’s ruling December 17 cleared the way for detailed reviews of the each of the proposals by the New York Independent System Operator, the organization that manages the power grid in the state. The review will be followed by a PSC decision naming the applicant that will build the lines.

The call for new lines came to public attention several years ago, when Governor Cuomo unveiled his Energy Highway initiative. The governor’s proposal identified high voltage transmission lines running through parts of the Capital Region and then through Rensselaer, Columbia and Dutchess counties as a bottleneck because they could not handle the demand for power downstate during peak load times. Columbia County towns from Stuyvesant south to Livingston would be affected by construction of the new lines.

Eliminating this power transmission “congestion” would address downstate demand and promote economic development in that region, according to the governor’s concept. Subsequent plans submitted by private firms that want to build and operate the lines, included a proposal by a consortium of local power utilities. The plan is based on surplus generating upstate being efficiently directed to downstate customers who need more electricity.

Columbia County communities along the routes proposed by the power companies have organized to fight the plan through a group called the Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition. The coalition says that the new lines, which would require taller towers, would damage views the historic landscape and cause economic harm to communities and individuals. The group, which has 18 members, including the Towns of Claverack and Livingston, the Olana Partnership and Scenic Hudson, has also questioned the basic assumptions of the congestion premise. An environmental scientist assisting the group concluded that the existing cable system, parts of which were built many decades ago, could handle present and future demand.

A release on behalf of the coalition, issued last week by Scenic Hudson, said the PSC decision “ignores thousands of public comments and expert reports undercutting the expressed rationale for the project—lowering peak-period electricity prices downstate and in New York City. Additionally, the proceedings have been rife with procedural flaws.”

The opposition to the Energy Highway did have some effect at the outset, with the governor using part of his 2014 State of the State address to say that new lines should remain within existing rights of way.

Haley Carlock, director of environmental advocacy for Scenic Hudson, said this week the the recent PSC order is not a permit for the project to begin and that the type of review being used for the power line proposals has never been done before.

The 83-page PSC order finds there is a need for the for new 345 kilovolt (kV) electricity transmission across this region created by “Public Policy Requirements.” It goes on to say that “transmission interfaces have been persistently congested and such congestion contributes significantly to higher energy costs and reliability concerns” concluding that new lines could produce “valuable benefits for New York.”

As part of the order PSC staff outlined opponents’ arguments that the proposals would increase reliance electricity produced by coal fired plants and that the current system can handle demand. The staff reported that the critics had made flawed assumptions.

The state Public Service Department says it analyzed 4,500 comments and documents submitted in the proceeding and attended “more than a dozen town, stakeholder and technical conferences,” adding, “In terms of public participation, the proceeding was one of the largest in Commission history,” with more than $2.3 million made available to municipalities, community groups and environmental advocates to develop the record.

Ms. Carlock said that that while Scenic Hudson and the coalition have not yet “nailed down our strategy,” there are opportunities to challenge the PSC decision. “We certainly intend to remain engaged,” she said.

To contact Parry Teasdale email

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