The developer of a $1.6 billion high-voltage power line is in Washington today and is to talk with Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton about how his project would be a boon for wind farms and other renewable-energy resources in Upstate New York.
But local officials and opponents of the project say New York Regional Interconnect’s pitch isn’t connecting. They say the company’s claim that opening up the state electric grid by constructing a 190-mile-long transmission line would make green energy more viable is misleading.
Bill May, project manager for the Albany-based NYRI, said he has spoken to would-be wind farm developers who could benefit from construction of the transmission line from Marcy to the lower Hudson Valley through Madison and Oneida counties.
“Their single biggest business problem is being able to deliver to market,” May said in an interview Wednesday.
“The same wind that brings us lake-effect snow also brings a lot of renewable energy,” May continued. “Unfortunately, the areas where there are a lot of opportunities for renewable resources are never in congested urban areas. Transmission is the only resource that connects large renewable resources and urban areas.”
Opponents say transmission isn’t the only factor in the renewable-energy equation. The viability of a wind farm is determined by the availability of wind, the cost of hooking into the existing transmission system,
and state and local subsidies, said Madison County Assistant Planning Director Paul Miller, who has been working with the municipal coalition Communities Against Regional Interconnect.
Miller says wind farms wouldn’t be able to hook into NYRI’s line because its direct current transmission is incompatible with the rest of the electricity running through the state’s grid and needs to be converted at pricey substations.
“Those substations cost hundreds of millions of dollars,” Miller said. “No wind farm could participate in that. . . . Like much of what NYRI says about their project, recent statements are mostly wind.”
May, of NYRI, said the transmission line isn’t meant as an access point; instead, it would act as an “express highway” to transfer excess Upstate electricity to Downstate consumers. Building the line and adding it to the grid would be enough to increase the state’s overall capacity and improve the marketplace for renewable-energy developers, May said.
“It will provide a road to market and an incentive to continue to develop larger new projects,” he said.
Bill Moore, who developed the Fenner Wind Farm and is managing the 187-turbine project going up on the Tug Hill Plateau, said the wind industry isn’t currently in need of any more capacity. A state study showed 3,000 megawatts of new wind power can be connected to the state’s grid without any upgrade, Moore said. About 375 megawatts are currently operating statewide, he said, with many more in development.
“I don’t think it’s necessary to bring the question of wind feasibility into this matter,” Moore said. “They are two different topics.”
Moore did say that transmission deficiencies in the state grid would need to be addressed at some point.
“New wind can survive on its own with the existing system,” Moore said. “But we would all be better off with an expanded transmission system.”
By Alaina Potrikus
1 March 2007
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