WATERTOWN – Upstate New York continues to develop more wind, hydroelectric and solar power, but upgrades to transmission lines and load centers are needed to deliver that electricity to high-demand areas downstate.
That was one of the state’s energy-related hurdles discussed by Richard Dewey, executive vice president of the New York Independent System Operator, during a meeting Thursday with the Times editorial board.
NYISO is an Albany-based nonprofit company responsible for operating the state’s nearly 11,000-mile high-voltage transmission network. Utility companies such as National Grid buy power from the wholesale electricity market administered by the company.
Subsidies from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority aimed at increasing solar and wind energy output have spurred an increasing number of renewable energy projects across the state, Mr. Dewey said. But he said increased energy output has made it urgent to upgrade the state’s aging transmission network.
“On the renewable front, we have a lot of subsidies coming from NYSERDA to increase wind and solar output – and that’s great, because we want to change the characteristics of the output,” Mr. Dewey said. “But if all of that is upstate and all the load is still downstate, and we don’t make a similar investment in the transmission system, we’re not going to be able to move that output down to the load centers where it’s needed.”
Mr. Dewey said Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s energy plan calls for making improvements to the transmission network. But he said it remains to be seen whether the state will consistently support that plan by committing funding needed to upgrade aging power infrastructure. He said about 80 percent of the state’s transmission system was built in the 1970s or earlier.
The state “must take a two-pronged approach,” Mr. Dewey said. “If we’re going to increase investment to get more renewables and generation onto the system in total, we need to upgrade the fragile transmission network. … If we continue to increase that generation it might be economic, assuming it can be delivered; but if it can’t, it’s not economic anymore.”
NYISO manages the flow of electricity across the state by ensuring that it’s produced and transported to utilities at the right time and in the right quantities, Mr. Dewey said. It receives offers daily from producers who wish to sell electricity. After balancing those offers with projections of consumer demand, it makes decisions to supply power in the most efficient and cost-effective ways possible to different regions.
NYISO was established in December 1999 when officials from the New York Power Pool transferred operational control of the state’s power grid to the company.
Over the past 15 years, Mr. Dewey said, NYISO has made many strides to improve the state’s power grid and restructure the electric industry. Among other things, system efficiency improvements made by the company from 2000 through 2013 have led to a $6.4 billion reduction in fuel costs and the integration of enough wind generation to power about 490,000 homes each year.
“The utilities that owned the transmission lines used to operate them to get the most optimum gain for their footprint, but in 1999 they turned it over to the NYISO. Our firm has (operated lines) for the optimal transmission of power for the entire New York state footprint,” Mr. Dewey said. As a result of NYISO’s oversight, he said, the reserve capacity of electricity needed to operate the system has declined significantly from 2000 through 2013.
“Just being able to operate that a little bit more efficiently has saved about $540 million worth of power that we don’t need to buy” to meet reserve requirements, he said.
NYISO’s improved management of power plants, meanwhile, has led to a major reduction in carbon emissions, Mr. Dewey said. Compared with 1999, data show that 25 million tons of carbon emissions were avoided in 2013 as a result of improvements.
“We can run the cleaner and more efficient plants more frequently and the dirtier, less efficient plants less frequently,” he said. “And we can schedule them so they’re not stopping and starting and stopping and starting.”
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