The United States Department of Energy issued a proposal yesterday that could reopen the way for a 190-mile high-voltage transmission line through central New York that state and local officials tried to block last year.
The department declared a multistate area from West Virginia to upstate New York a “National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor,” where congestion of existing power lines makes the electricity grid unreliable and subject to blackouts.
The designation, which includes a large part of New York State, permits the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to authorize the construction of large electricity transmission lines in those areas over state objections.
The New York Regional Interconnect company has proposed erecting hundreds of steel towers, each about 120 feet tall, along existing railroad, natural gas and electricity rights of way from Utica to Orange County. The 1,200-megawatt line would cross 154 streams or rivers, 155 mapped wetlands and 7 counties.
William G. May, manager of the $1.6 billion Regional Interconnect project, said the Energy Department’s designation would make it possible for the line to be built to relieve congestion on existing lines into New York City.
“The designation is an affirmation that this project is potentially part of a long-term solution to meet the growing needs of New York,” Mr. May said. A new line, he said, could bring clean renewable energy to the city from hydroelectric plants with extra capacity upstate, as well as new solar, wind and biodiesel generating stations.
New York officials, however, see the federal designation as interfering with their right to decide what is best for the state. Gov. Eliot Spitzer has opposed the New York Regional Interconnect project and will continue to do so, said Judith Enck, his adviser on the environment.
“The Department of Energy says it is going to consult with the governors of the states involved, and we look forward to that process,” Ms. Enck said. “We just hope that the regulators haven’t already made up their minds.”
There will be a 60-day public comment period on the designation.
The proposed route of the power line would take it to within a mile of the scenic Upper Delaware River, upsetting river communities worried that the towers would hurt property values and tourism. Mr. May said that the state’s Public Service Commission had ordered the company to study alternative routes. One option would run parallel to the existing Marcy South transmission line, which also runs from upstate to the metropolitan region. The other would run along the center island of the New York Thruway.
Representative Maurice D. Hinchey, whose district includes many of the small rural communities through which the power line would pass, opposes the project and has said that the federal government’s attempt to override local wishes may be unconstitutional. “It just runs contrary to basic principles of the country,” he said.
Mr. Hinchey said he had introduced two bills to repeal the provisions of the Energy Act of 2005 that give regulators the power to pre-empt state and local government.
The New York State Legislature passed a law last year that would prohibit New York Regional Interconnect from using eminent domain to acquire property for the line.
The Energy Department said a national corridor designation did not endorse any individual project, nor favor transmission lines over other means of alleviating congestion, like energy conservation or building new generating stations. Rather, officials said, the designations identify regions of the country where the electricity grid requires modernization.
“The federal government is not dictating how the states, regions, transmission providers or electric utilities should meet their energy challenges,” Samuel W. Bodman, the Energy Department secretary, said in a statement.
Kevin M. Kolevar, the director of electricity delivery and energy reliability for the Energy Department, said that in recent years there had been underinvestment in transmission lines and more emphasis on building new gas-fired generating stations close to where the electricity is consumed.
But gas turbines are not always the most efficient way of relieving congestion, especially when there is excess electricity-generating capacity in the region.
Mr. Kolevar said the national interest corridors were planned so unused capacity could be tapped.
In addition to 47 counties in New York, the mid-Atlantic national interest corridor covers New Jersey, Delaware, Washington and parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. The Energy Department yesterday also designated a Southwest Area national corridor covering counties in California, Arizona and Nevada.
By Anthony DePalma
27 April 2007
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