Cuomo plans ‘energy highway’

Source: Larry Rulison • Times Union • Posted: Saturday, January 7, 2012

Transmission lines in Albany,  New York October 30, 2009.    FOR RULISON STORY (Skip Dickstein/Times Union) Photo: Skip Dickstein / 2008

Transmission lines in Albany, New York October 30, 2009. FOR RULISON STORY (Skip Dickstein/Times Union)

Project would upgrade transmission system to send power downstate

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State speech Wednesday included a plan to upgrade the state’s high-voltage electric transmission system so that power generated in upstate New York power plants and wind farms can be moved downstate.

Bottlenecks in the transmission system — mainly between Utica and Albany and south of Albany — make it difficult to move electricity to the New York City area. That makes downstate power expensive and it forces upstate power plants to hold back on resources that could potentially create jobs.

Cuomo was not clear which state agency would lead the program, but he said the state would develop a master plan and issue a request for proposals for a $2 billion “energy highway” that would take power downstate. The plan would also include upgrading outdated and polluting power plants in urban areas.

Some in the industry have said the bottleneck in the transmission system could be relieved by merely upgrading and adding capacity on existing lines so that new transmission towers, which many people consider an eyesore, would not have to be built. In recent years, privately funded transmission line proposals have failed to get public support due to such “not-in-my-backyard” sentiment.

Cuomo said the plan would be privately funded. It’s possible the New York Power Authority could be involved, but Cuomo did not mention NYPA in his speech.

Members of the New York Independent System Operator, a nonprofit agency in North Greenbush that oversees the transmission system, were elated that Cuomo has made the upgrades a priority.

“Electricity is the lifeblood of the modern economy. Today’s businesses — and the jobs they provide — depend on a secure, dependable supply of power…” said NYISO Chief Executive Officer Stephen Whitley. “Upgrades to the transmission system can make more effective use of statewide generating resources, including the renewable resources being planned and developed throughout upstate New York.”

A private developer has proposed a $2 billion underground/underwater transmission line that would take clean hydro power from Quebec directly to New York City. But union workers have opposed the plan because the line wouldn’t draw on any electricity generated by plants in New York state.

Cuomo in his speech did not mention two other energy proposals that are included in his agenda for 2012, one of which is a new solar policy called the NY-Sun Initiative that would help expand solar projects in the state.

“We’re hopeful that with the continuing support of Governor Cuomo and key legislators in the Senate and Assembly, New York can create good jobs in the solar industry,” said Ed Malloy, president of the New York City and New York State Building and Construction Trades councils, which is part of a new group called the New York Solar Jobs Coalition.

Cuomo’s other proposal is to push up the effective date for “on-bill” financing that was passed during the last legislative session, from June to this month. That program would allow consumers to finance large energy efficiency upgrades at their homes through their utility bills. Cuomo said an agreement between the state and utilities would allow 40,000 homes to immediately participate.

“Clean energy and energy efficiency both present significant environmental and economic opportunities that will benefit all New Yorkers,” said Carol Murphy, executive director of Alliance for Clean Energy New York in Albany.