When Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for the development of an “energy highway” earlier this year, he likened the idea to an Interstate Highway system with transmission “expressways” carrying ample power from Canada and western New York to New York City.
But as the Cuomo administration kicked off the initiative yesterday, officials left the door open for a more modest effort that might be better compared to repaving an old highway.
“We want to consider everything,” said Gil Quiniones, the president of the New York Power Authority, which is spearheading the effort. “But I think certain principles we have said, which is we want to build within existing right of ways and that we would like to repower existing plants to lower pollution and increase efficiency.”
Matthew Cordaro, an energy expert affiliated with the New York Affordable Reliable Energy Alliance, scoffed at the idea of a major energy superhighway running down the middle of the state, despite the governor’s rhetoric.
“What I see probably happening is some surgical reinforcement and replacement of the transmission system in parts of the state where you have bottlenecks and congestion, in conjunction with some additional generation and continuing to rely on existing generation, such as Indian Point,” Cordaro said.
The Cuomo administration launched the initiative yesterday at its New York Energy Highway Summit Program at Columbia University, an event that attracted a crowd of stakeholders representing utility companies, power generators, bankers, environmentalists and unions.
Though there is broad agreement the transmission network is aging, it’s still unclear how the governor will succeed in fixing a problem that has plagued New York for years. A key obstacle is how to pay for upgrades or new transmission lines.
Utility companies generally lack the incentive to ease bottlenecks along their lines, which are most congested between Albany and Utica and between Albany and the Hudson Valley. That is because the benefits of such an investment would likely flow downstate and lower the cost of electricity for other customers, experts say.
Quiniones said the state would rely on a study from the state’s transmission operators that identifies the bottlenecks and their economic impacts as a blueprint to go forward.
But he stressed that input from private sector would play “an essential role in helping to create the new or upgraded generation and transmission facilities that will form the backbone of the energy highway.”
Despite the lack of detail, Cordaro said he was optimistic Cuomo could resolve the problem. Upgrading existing transmission lines or putting in new ones in the same place would likely limit public opposition, he said, especially since newer technology allows for greater capacity without putting in larger lines or towers.
The governor’s attention to the problem is also a good sign, he said. Cuomo named several key officials to his Energy Highway Task Force, including Quiniones, Economic Development Commissioner Kenneth Adams, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens, Garry Brown, chair of the Public Service Commission, and Francis Murray, president of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority.
“First of all, they’re focusing a lot of attention,” Cordaro said. “You have the regulators and governmental agencies involved. You have a governor that is anxious in seeking a solution. Those are the forces at play here: the need to improve the economy of the upstate region, to deal with an aging infrastructure and to keep a lid on costs, which are going up.”
The task force’s next steps include the issuance of a request for information next week and the creation of an action plan by this summer.
For now, though, they had few immediate answers for the many questions surrounding the initiative, such as who would pay for upgrades, what the system will look like, whether rates could rise upstate and how the state will finally spur the private sector into action.
The task force did try to dispel the idea that the effort is aimed at bringing more power to New York City to replace the Indian Point Energy Center. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has sought to shut down the nuclear power plant, which is located about 30 miles from New York City.
“No, this is not strictly a plan to just look at alternatives to Indian Point,” said Public Service Commission chief Brown. “That would probably be a much more narrow exercise.”
Jim Steets, a spokesman for Entergy, said the governor’s focus on transmission investment was welcome, but cautioned against letting upgrades pave the way for shutting down the plant.
“I guess it’s somewhat reassuring, if you take them at their word, that this isn’t about shutting down Indian Point,” Steets said. “It would be a shame if somehow whatever gains that come from a process that began today to address those issues could be erased by some political motive to shut down Indian Point.”
Tags: Columbia University, Francis Murray, Garry Brown, Gil Quiniones, Joe Martens, Kenneth Adams, New York Affordable Reliable Energy Alliance, New York Energy Highway Summit Program, New York Power Authority
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