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Utilities press for power-line upgrades  

Credit:  By Tom Precious, News Albany Bureau, The Buffalo News | www.buffalonews.com 1 June 2012 ~~

ALBANY – In a rare show of cooperation, the state’s major private and public utility companies are pressing a new proposal for a multibillion-dollar upgrade to the state’s aging electric transmission system.

The unprecedented collaboration by traditional warring factions of the state’s massive power industry comes as dozens of counterproposals were submitted to the Cuomo administration this week by other energy entities looking to get in on a major expansion of power transmission and generation in the coming decade.

The proposal for the unified effort by a new entity called Transco envisions $2.5 billion in spending on new and upgraded high-voltage power lines, according to sources briefed on the plan submitted by the utilities, including National Grid, Consolidated Edison, Central Hudson Gas and Electric, New York State Electric and Gas Corp., as well as the New York Power Authority and Long Island Power Authority.

Utility officials either declined to comment or did not return calls to comment.

The utilities’ plan could offer a major boost in business to Western New York power plants that now can’t send excess electricity to high-demand areas in downstate. The state’s 11,000 miles of transmission lines are aging rapidly and now feature several logjams limiting how much power can be sent from Western New York and other upstate power facilities to where energy needs are growing the most in downstate New York – which is also home to some of the nation’s highest electricity costs.

The Transco effort was one of more than 80 submissions received by the Cuomo administration Wednesday evening by an assortment of energy groups with different ideas on how to get more and cheaper power into the state, according to sources with knowledge of the process.

Among the plans already being pushed is an effort to bring hydropower from Quebec on a new transmission line to be built mostly underwater – under parts of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River – to New York City. The plan is getting push-back from upstate interests who insist the project will diminish investments in transmission and generation facilities in Central and Western New York.

Another proposal, sources say, is West Point Transmission, which also envisions a new line under the Hudson River to a site now home to the Indian Point nuclear plant in Westchester County. The consortium proposing that plan, which includes NRG Energy, also envisions bringing lower-cost power from as far away as Western New York to downstate along a new line.

The Cuomo administration is declining to comment on the submissions, which will not be made public, at least in part, until June 15 under a previously approved timetable. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is calling for creation of an energy highway to do everything from getting cheaper power downstate to expanding green energy production, such as wind farms and solar energy.

A spokeswoman at NYPA, which received the 82 separate submissions Wednesday, declined to comment on the plans, or on the Transco package, whose partners, sources say, include NYPA.

Lawmakers involved in the effort say the state is poised to remedy an energy problem decades in the making in New York – where aging power lines and power plants are the norm.

A report by the major utility companies in April said the last major cross-state transmission project was completed in the 1980s, and that 85 percent of high-voltage lines in the state were built before 1980.

The utilities said more than one-third of the lines need to be replaced in the next 30 years at a cost of $25 billion. Who pays those costs – whether ratepayers or private investors or some combination of the two – is part of the process the Cuomo administration will be working on over the next several months.

“The transmission problem did not occur overnight. One of the most amazing aspects of what’s been going on is that this transmission system has been able to serve us for 30 years while being largely neglected,” said Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, a Hudson Valley Democrat who is chairman the Assembly Energy Committee.

Cahill’s Senate counterpart, Sen. George D. Maziarz, a Newfane Republican, declined to comment on the various plans.

Sources say the utility infrastructure plan submitted to the Cuomo administration Wednesday envisions $400 million in new transmission lines and $2.1 billion to upgrade existing lines, including choke-points in the system around Utica, the Albany area and south into the mid-Hudson Valley.

One union whose members have jobs with the utility companies is pushing the Cuomo administration and lawmakers to embrace plans that upgrade the existing power infrastructure. The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has opposed the underwater project from Quebec. The developers of that project say its costs will be borne by private investors and it will save billions for downstate consumers.

“Importing power to satisfy downstate demand is flawed and harmful in that it will suck billions in revenues out of New York State that need to go into the existing, aged transmission system, and further imperil existing struggling upstate New York power plants,” said Phil Wilcox, business representative for IBEW’s Local 97.

Source:  By Tom Precious, News Albany Bureau, The Buffalo News | www.buffalonews.com 1 June 2012

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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