Tale of two grids: Upstate wind power needs more extension cords to NYC

Source: By Tim Knauss, Syracuse.com • Posted: Monday, May 22, 2017

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Today’s release of the annual Power Trends report on the New York electric grid is another reminder of how much work remains to meet Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s goal of producing 50 percent of the state’s power from renewable sources by 2030.

Even if developers build the vast array of wind and solar farms required to hit the goal, the electric grid needs work to be able to handle the throughput, according to Power Trends 2017, the annual report from the New York Independent System Operator.

Simply put, most wind and hydroelectric power is produced in Northern and Western New York, where the supply of electricity exceeds demand. But two-thirds of all the state’s power is used in the New York City-Long Island region.

Transmission lines between the two areas are already overburdened, and are not equipped to handle the anticipated growth in Upstate renewables, the report says.

ISO officials call it “a tale of two grids” that need to be joined.

Two major transmission projects – one in Western New York, another from Utica to the Hudson Valley – are in the planning stages. But it takes years to get such projects built, even when they are developed along existing transmission rights of way. And more new power lines will likely be needed, according to Power Trends.

In addition to new transmission, the complex electric grid will need a variety of tinkering to make it ready for the renewable energy future, said Rich Dewey, executive vice president of the New York ISO. The ISO is a nonprofit organization that operates the power grid and runs New York’s wholesale electricity market.

“There is not a single solution,” Dewey said in an email. “Effectively addressing these issues will require a lot of parts working together.”

Dewey said state officials should consider new pricing strategies to lure renewable energy facilities closer to the power-hungry Downstate region. New York’s current subsidies for renewable power projects reward developers equally regardless of where they are sited.

The power grid will also need continued support from conventional, fossil fuel-based power plants to sustain operations during times when renewable output is low, Dewey said. That might mean adjusting market price mechanisms to provide conventional generators with a financial incentive not to close their plants, Dewey said.

Can all that get done by 2030? Yes, say ISO officials. But the time to start work is now, they add. The state’s transmission system can either enable change or prevent it, according to Power Trends.

The report quotes a 2015 study from The Brattle Group, a consulting firm: “Ultimately our transmission grid is the backbone that supports all future policy changes in the electricity sector.”