The transplanted Texan who recently took over New York state’s high voltage electricity system has become a key player in ensuring the state meets the ambitious renewable energy goals of the Cuomo administration.
The man is Bradley Jones, a mechanical engineer by training, who in October became CEO of the New York Independent System Operator, the 500-employee entity in North Greenbush that oversees the state’s high-voltage electric grid from its 64,000-square-foot control room, making sure the lights stay on in New York state.
Before moving to the Capital Region, Jones was chief operating officer at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which has the same role as the NYISO in the Lone Star State.
But Jones, who will release his first five-year strategic plan on Monday, has quickly become well-versed in New York’s energy and public policy challenges – including plans by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to mandate that half of all the electricity consumed in the state come from renewable energy sources by 2030. Texas, the biggest wind power state in the country, gets nearly 10 percent of all its power from wind farms.
Jones believes New York can achieve Cuomo’s goal largely through long-needed upgrades to the state’s vast electric transmission line network, which is currently overmatched and can’t carry all of the renewable energy being produced in the farthest reaches of the state to the downstate population centers. The NYISO also runs the state’s wholesale electricity markets that play a major role in encouraging investment in needed infrastructure.
“The best way to do that is to connect the large renewables in the north and west of our state with the large base of customers in the southeast of the state,” Jones said. “You’ve got to have transmission to do that. So to achieve our goals, we’ve got to be focused on transmission. Let’s figure out a way to get it done.”
Wind farms like the Maple Ridge Wind Farm near Watertown – with nearly 200 turbines, it’s the largest in the state – have to operate at less than full capacity because the transmission network they feed cannot handle all the power they generate.
Jones says two transmission line projects on track for approval – one in western New York and one that would go from Utica to Albany and down to Pleasant Valley in Dutchess County – will substantially increase the amount of renewable energy produced in the state.
“The combination of those will increase our renewable capability by 50 percent of what we have today,” Jones said. “That’s 17.5 million more megawatt hours. It’s an incredible figure.”
Jones says the next big transmission projects should help the state import more electricity from Quebec, which produces the bulk of its electricity from massive hydropower projects.
When people in the industry ask Jones what his goals are as head of NYISO, he keeps his message relatively simple.
“Every time I’ve told them the same thing. My first three initiatives are transmission, transmission, transmission. That’s really my focus,” Jones said. “The state of New York needs to build transmission to meet its goals. We have a significant role in this process.”
Initiatives to achieve renewable energy goals, both at the state and federal level, will be included in the plan NYISO will release Monday. Other major initiatives include the introduction of more distributed energy sources, such as solar and combined heat and power systems, and a continued investment in technology and infrastructure.
That includes investments in safeguards against potential cyberattacks by either hackers, terrorists or a foreign power that could disable the electrical grid, a scenario outlined in ”Lights Out,” a new book by longtime TV journalist Ted Koppel. Although Jones dislikes talking about specific threats to the system out of fear of drawing unwanted attention to the issue, he said NYISO is doing all it can to prevent such attacks.
New federal rules covering cybersecurity for utilities and entities like NYISO go into effect early next year and the penalties for noncompliance can be as high as $1 million a day.
“We have an intense focus on that,” Jones said when asked about cybersecurity. “We feel extremely confident about our performance under the new requirements. It’s an expansion of what we’ve done in the past. We’re focused on the issue and have been performing very admirably.”
Jones attended Texas Tech in Lubbock and worked in Austin taking his Capital Region job.
And although he admits he made the move to the Capital Region specifically to take the NYISO job – one of the most prestigious of its kind in the country – he has been pleasantly surprised at how much he has enjoyed life here so far. And he is intent on growing the connection between NYISO and the local community.
He especially wants to look to local schools like Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Union College and the University at Albany for talent.
“It was about this opportunity. But just let me say, coming to Albany has been fantastic for me,” Jones said. “I came from Austin, and Albany is so very similar to Austin. It’s built along a major river. It’s a capital city. It’s a government and college-type town, which has a huge and growing technical base. The things right here are identical to Austin. Both cities are just like that in that regard. The people of Albany have been incredible. They have been opening and they’ve been friendly. I’ve enjoyed everything about my time here.”
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