10:29am

Mon March 18, 2013
Energy

Jury still out on Cuomo's Energy Highway blueprint

On a residential street outside of Albany, there is a discreet red-brick building. There’s no sign telling drivers that the flow of all the electricity in New York state is being controlled inside. The organization at the controls is the New York Independent System Operators (NYISO). They’re a non-profit created after New York’s energy markets were opened up in the '90s.

“Somebody once described us kind of like the air traffic controller for electricity and that’s actually a pretty good description,” said NYISO’s spokesperson Dave Flanagan. Eleven thousand miles of transmission lines and more than 300 power plants are monitored from six computer consoles at NYISO’s control center.

Flanagan says the biggest challenge is making sure power gets to New York City.

“We have really a surplus of electricity but we are limited in some cases in our ability to get the electricity from areas where we have those surpluses to areas where the demand is greatest.”

Albany: energy bottleneck

Flanagan says bottlenecks around Albany are the main issue. Most power travels from Western New York eastward to Albany and then south down the Hudson Valley into New York City. Often, around Albany, there’s just too much power trying to get to New York City. That means higher prices in the city and a reduced market for upstate producers.

Flanagan says a mixture of expanded transmission and new power sources would address the problem.

That’s where Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Energy Highway Blueprint comes in. It’s a series of proposals, leading to an estimated $5.7 billion in investment in the next 10 years, to increase power transmission and generation.

Donna De Costanzo, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council applauds the parts of the plan that focus on clean energy.

“We need to make sure that what’s being brought down from our transmission lines is clean,” she said.

The blueprint calls for $250 million in renewable energy contracts and $35 million more in transmission upgrades to connect new sources to the state’s grid.

Indian Point could be made redundant

De Costanzo says renewable energy and efficiency upgrades could supply enough power to replace Indian Point, the nuclear power plant 40 miles north of New York City.

“It’s clear that we do need to do something about Indian Point when a natural disaster, many of which we’ve seen in the last couple of years, including an earthquake, flooding and tornadoes, could shut the plant down or trigger a disaster.”

Closing Indian Point isn’t included in the Energy Highway, and Cuomo has argued for its closure since 2011. But Jerry Kremer, chairman of the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, says the governor’s plan would be most useful if closing Indian Point was left off the table.

“The whole idea for the energy highway is to find ways to improve transmission and to get new sources and not to throw a monkey wrench into an existing source.”

Critics argue CHPE creates no new jobs

He also criticizes a separate transmission project called the Champlain Hudson Power Express project, which would bring power from Canada directly into New York City. 

“The problem with Champlain Express is that it’s like taking the power from Canada and having one long extension cord into New York City. It creates no new jobs.”

That proposal is waiting for approval.

Kremer argues the focus should primarily be on carrying additional upstate-produced power into the city.

Some of the projects included in the Energy Highway are just starting this year and many will run past 2018.

Coming up tomorrow: "Green Bank: Underpinning plans for ‘greener’ energy in New York"

The $1 billion fund is intended to support the ongoing development of renewable energy solutions and energy efficiency technologies. Cuomo's poached a top advisor from the federal energy secretary to head up the initiative. The NYGB will only be the second "green bank" of its kind after the pilot established in Connecticut in 2011 and the measure has been broadly welcomed. Ryan Delaney of WRVO reports on what the role of this "green bank" will have under the direction of the state's newly appointed energy "czar" Richard Kauffman and whether New York’s uptake of the "green bank model" could also resonate nationally.

The Innovation Trail is a collaboration between six upstate New York public media outlets. The initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), helps the public gain a better understanding of the connection between technological breakthroughs and the revitalization of the upstate New York economy.

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