Friday, January 24, 2014

Media Sleep at the Wheel as Cuomo's "Energy Highway" Plan Gets Ready for its Closeup

[Original post Jan. 20, but I'm adding this note after learning something new from Capital New York on Jan. 23:  From the docket for this overall case, which should update for you here, there was a Jan. 17 "development" that I hadn't noticed:  "PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that, in light of policy objectives designed to avoid landowner and environmental impacts, as well as policies to be considered in a new proceeding to be initiated in the first quarter of 2014 (as announced by the Commission in its December 26, 2013, order in Case 07-M-0548), the Commission has decided to consider whether modifications are needed. The Commission expects to address this matter at its February 20, 2014 session."  What this might mean in the long run remains to be explained.]

I got the PowerPoint on this today:

Anybody still remember the New York Regional Interconnect (NYRI)?

Or its predecessor — Marcy South (which was, in fact, eventually built after a fashion)?

Well, this is a new electric powerline plan that's been strategically crafted so as to avoid prior train wrecks, partly by falling beneath the radar of most media and citizens in New York, for as long as possible.  In a nutshell, this is the story, which is an old story:  Greater NYC needs more electrical power (especially if Gov. Cuomo makes good on his promise to close the nukes at Indian Point).  Turns out, Upstate and Canada have at least some of that power.  But both the private and public sectors have struggled in the past to deliver the juice south, due to very predictable local opposition.

Sure, everybody wants the juice, just not so much of it flowing through their backyards.  (Yes, this is in some ways a lot like New York's 5.5-year-old drama with shale gas — stuff which it consumes daily from out of state, but still drills for nowhere inside the state, even though it's holding.)

What do to?  Re-brand and re-launch — AC Transmission Upgrade, 1,000 Megawatts, Energy Highway.  It's not a new powerline; it's an initiative.

The plan so far is nicely obtuse.  Most people can read every word of the PowerPoint above and still not know what the hell any of it means, which is most of what the authors hoped for.

Why is this so under-reported?  Other than the built-in technical obtuseness, this is under-reported because New York's Albany-based media pay close attention to press releases from pretty much just two primary sources — those from the governor, which do a great job of disguising his plans in buzzwords and platitudes, and those from the full-time crisis jockeys on the "good government" left — who can certainly play "Mum's the Word" when it suits their interests.

In this case, new, enlarged, or improved high-voltage powerlines, especially if they're carrying renewable power, are certainly preferable to New York's ascendant greens than any of the alternatives (which include keeping nuclear power alive along the Hudson River, or trying to add frack-fueled natural gas power plants and their associated pipelines much closer to downstate).  If New York's environmentalists have to throw a couple hundred hapless upstaters under a high-voltage powerline to get it done — even a couple hundred hapless upstaters from their own base — well, then, so be it.

There was an especially telling piece from the environmental side recently which complained about an "unfair disadvantage" for renewables, as compared to natural gas — having to do not so much with price, but with transmission.  The message was that the U.S. system is rigged with a supposedly cumbersome, over-reaching bureaucracy, suppressing the development of high-voltage lines, and a supposedly porous and inept bureaucracy, blithely green-lighting the development of fossil fuels pipelines.
  (I just love it when the left starts complaining about "burdensome regulations.")

In time for New York State's Oct. 2013 first-filter
AC Transmission Upgrade deadline, the private sector succeeded in putting four entrants into the horse race for the work:  New York Transco (a consortium of state utilities and, therefore, something of an old-guard front-runner), North America Transmission, Boundless Energy NE, and NextEra Energy Transmission.  The state intends to choose only one plan, or possibly some kind of hybrid.

The marketing departments for each of these competitors are undoubtedly torn between two internally conflicted needs:  To drum up support, on the one hand, and to avoid alarming the local populace, on the other.  But lately I'm noticing that the pressure to stay quiet and obtuse is starting to give way.  The entrants appear to be making some very local rounds, judging from some dazed press coming from the hard-hitting likes of
the Herkimer Telegram, or The Altamont Enterprise (which errs in allowing a flack to misdirect a reporter from the fact that government-sanctioned seizure of (and payment for) an easement undoubtedly ranks as a form of eminent domain).

Gov. Cuomo announced a streamlining plan in his 2014 State of the State address in order to fast-track transmission projects which manage to somehow stay entirely inside the lines of existing rights of way.  But the AC Transmission Upgrade is a pre-existing condition that will have to be grandfathered-in under New York's old, familiar plod:  Yes, there will be an official preference for disturbing as few upstaters as possible, but it's not mandatory, and it certainly won't go fast.

[A quick note made Feb. 23, 2014, but without updating the whole post:  A Feb. 20 press release from the PSC shows that I had this wrong:  The announcement more or less clarified instead that Cuomo's streamlining idea will, in fact, have the effect of sending the AC Transmission Upgrade suitors back to their drawing boards to modify their proposals, in accordance with newly adjusted selection criteria.  As New York's energy politics are increasingly governed by perception, rather than economics and other natural laws, a step back can be touted as a step forward.]

The biggest piece of withheld devil-in-the-details detail so far, of course, is how much any of these plans will require new or wider rights of way, and where.

Not a good time to be further pissing off upstate, but what're you gonna do?

Should get interesting.

1 comment:

pCBB said...

Local newspapers have been following these projects since companies had begun briefing our town supervisors last winter. At least one company has published notice in local papers.
Of the two lines proposed to cross Franklin NY, the Oakdale to Fraser line is planned to fit mostly within existing easement, whereas Edic to Fraser would require a second 150' easement to east of existing one.
Detailed submission on the NYS PSC website under case numbers:
12-T-0502 Overall project
13-T-0454 Edic to Fraser
13-T-0456 Oakdale to Fraser