FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 7, 2015
Regional Coalition Submits Expert Reports Showing Proposed Power Lines Would Have Environmental and Visual Impacts Including Impairment to Roosevelt National Historic Site
HVSEC looks forward to upcoming two-part technical conference
HUDSON VALLEY—The Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition (HVSEC) on July 6 submitted to the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) a series of reports by expert consultants. These reports indicate potential major environmental and visual impacts from a current proposal for high-voltage power lines in the Hudson Valley. Research shows some of the proposed projects would threaten the farms and orchards in the heart of the valley’s agricultural region as well as the most-visited natural, cultural and historic sites, including the Roosevelt National Historic Site, where Franklin Roosevelt lived from boyhood through his presidency. The lines proposed under the state’s Energy Highway initiative could reach a height of 120 feet and cut through 25 communities in seven Hudson Valley counties, impacting businesses and regional assets that are the foundation of the region’s economy.
The expert reports will serve as the basis of HVSEC presentations in a PSC Technical Conference on Monday, July 20, to discuss environmental, visual and other impacts of the proposed transmission line projects. The HVSEC also has recently been informed by the PSC that its Department of Public Service staff will require more time to analyze need for the proposed high-voltage power lines, so the part of the Technical Conference that addresses need will be postponed until a future date.
Visual impacts could be damaging to FDR sites, Olana and other job-creating attractions
HVSEC engaged Dr. Richard Smardon, professor emeritus at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, to evaluate potential visual impacts from the transmission line projects. Dr. Smardon found that there was potential for significantly increased visual impacts in the Hudson Valley from some of the project proposals. Agricultural areas in Columbia County are particularly vulnerable to any increase in height or number of transmission towers, due to the significant distance over which lines can be seen on the agricultural landscape. Farms are a major part of the local economy in Columbia County. Agriculture and tourism in Columbia County are responsible for more than 1,400 jobs, and $115 million in spending annually.
In addition, a number of designated Scenic Areas of Statewide Significance would be traversed by the proposed power lines, which could be visible from the Olana State Historic Site and the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, both of which are facilities attracting tens of thousands of visitors per year—and contributing strongly to the local economy—in part due to the scenic beauty of their natural surroundings.
One proposed project would create a new utility corridor directly adjacent to the FDR Home and Library and through the Roosevelt Farm Lane property and Val-Kill. These National Historic Sites are key destinations of the regional tourism economy in Dutchess County that brings in $475 million in spending yearly and is linked to more than 8,400 jobs. New transmission lines towering nearly 100 feet over the bucolic Roosevelt historic sites would detract from the beauty and integrity of these places. The Farm Lane—historically part of the Roosevelt estate and frequented by FDR during his lifetime—was sold by descendants of the president after his death. When Scenic Hudson preserved the land in 2007 and transferred it to the National Park Service, then-U.S. Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne termed it “the most important expansion of the Roosevelt National Historic Site that will ever happen.” The construction of new transmission lines through this key link between two National Historic Sites would be a major blow to the integrity of the properties and regional heritage-tourism economy.
Environmental impacts should be of concern to communities and local economies
HVSEC engaged CC Environment & Planning of Batavia, N.Y., to evaluate potential environmental impacts from the transmission line projects under consideration by the PSC. The firm found that all of the proposed projects would likely result in some permanent environmental impacts to wetlands, water resources, and/or sensitive habitat areas within the Hudson Valley. Projects that propose to use a new transmission right-of-way had high potential for significant impacts, and generally projects that consist entirely of reconductoring would have comparatively less impact. Numerous state-designated Significant Coastal Habitats, Significant Natural Communities and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation classified wetlands could be compromised by one or more of the proposals. Two of the proposals involve entirely new transmission rights-of-way that would impact the state-recognized Illinois Mountain Biologically Important Area in Ulster County.
In addition to Hudson Valley and other downstate utility customers paying 90 percent of the projects’ costs—which could exceed $1 billion—as well as 80 percent of any cost overruns, Hudson Valley residents also could lose one of the regional economy’s most important resources—the unique scenic and environmental qualities that attract visitors, companies and skilled workers.
Important environmental, scenic and agricultural lands are the cornerstone of a sustainable Hudson Valley economy. By maintaining scenic working landscapes, rural heritage and quality of life, preserving farmland also helps drive economic growth. A study by The Trust for Public Land notes that executives looking to relocate or start firms rank quality of life—including an abundance of parks and open space—higher than housing, cost of living and good schools. Further, conserved farms safeguard wildlife habitat and environmentally sensitive areas, including local aquifers and drinking-water supplies.
Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan said, “While Governor Cuomo has stated his policy preference for projects that stay within existing utility corridors, the Energy Highway continues to attract projects that cast a shadow over the very assets of the Hudson Valley that are generating jobs and contributing to the region’s quality of life. Proposals that could cost ratepayers over $1 billion without demonstrated need and damage heritage sites such as the place where President Roosevelt guided the nation through the Great Depression and World War II should be relegated to the wastebin of history.”
“Large industrial-scale towers are incompatible with the Hudson Valley’s growing agritourism, which is a bright but fragile emerging upstate economy,” said Will Yandik, deputy supervisor of the Town of Livingston and fourth-generation farmer. “Increasingly, viewsheds and scenery are commodities that farmers capitalize on as much as the fresh fruit and produce they raise on their lands.”
Omega Institute for Holistic Studies Chief Executive Officer Robert “Skip” Backus said, “Every so often a decision comes in front of a community that can have impact for generations. For the Hudson Valley the proposed power line development is one of those decisions. The scenic beauty of the region is the foundation of our economic and social well-being and one of the main reasons we chose to call the valley home. My hope, given that we now know there is no need for this project, and the significant negative impact it will have on the region’s environment, is that we will act as stewards of the future and not proceed with the proposed development.”
“The Hudson Valley is one of the finest jewels in New York’s crown and the unique and speciality agriculture that the Hudson Valley has become known for needs to be nurtured and grown rather than be negatively impacted by the shortsighted, archaic and unneeded plan of more and bigger transmission wires to deliver electricity from upstate to downstate,” said Greg Quinn of Walnut Grove Farm. “Don’t downgrade the blooming agriculture industry and burgeoning agritourism in the Hudson Valley with this ill-conceived Energy Highway ‘upgrade.’ ”
“We depend on two major drivers for our economy in Columbia County—tourism and agriculture,” said Farmers and Families for Claverack leader Ian Solomon. “If a project comes along that threatens both of those drivers, we need to step back and take a look at why it’s being proposed, how much it might cost and what the benefit would be to area residents and businesses. So far we’ve been completely unsatisfied with the answers we’ve discovered.”
Coalition remains eager to demonstrate lack of need for proposed power lines
HVSEC also has engaged experts to evaluate whether the proposed transmission lines are needed at all. The PSC has postponed the part of the technical conference that would focus on this issue, so its staff can evaluate new power generation capacity expected to come on line, further reducing the rationale for the transmission solutions. The HVSEC is prepared to present its case on this issue when the PSC is ready to proceed.
About the Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition
The Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition includes municipal officials; environmental, cultural, historic and land preservation organizations; businesses; and residents who support creation of a modern, comprehensive energy plan for the Hudson Valley and New York State. More information available at www.hvsec.org.
Consumers need voice in utility-rate cases
State regulatory officials did local residents and businesses a grave disservice by approving such a steep rate increase for Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp.
Delivery rates on both electricity and natural gas are going up, and the state Public Service Commission should have done much more to mitigate what the utility has been proposing.
This disappointing turn of events demonstrates, once again, there is a dire need for a true, independent consumer protection board in the rate-proposal process. The public must have a much stronger voice in these complicated, highstakes matters.
State Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, has advocated for such an approach. He and many others support establishing a state Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate, among other changes. Other organizations, including the AARP and the local Citizens for Local Power, also have argued for an independent advocate.
Yes, the PSC accepts comments from the public and is supposedly charged with protecting the public’s interests, as is a unit of the Department of State. But the results are clearly lacking. The PSC’s recent actions regarding Central Hudson’s rate proposal clearly strengthens the argument that consumer concerns are being pushed around in what should be fair, reasonable negotiations.
Energy is not a luxury;it’s a basic necessity. And many residents, particularly the elderly on fixed incomes or those who have lost their job or who are now working for less pay in this post-recession economy, are having a hard time paying their bills.
Cahill has pointed out thestate once had several groups that were on solid ground fighting on behalf of residential and low-income ratepayers but “those important groups have been dissolved and de-funded leaving the average citizen without a voice during thisprocess.” While public sentiment was resoundingly against the increase, the PSC-approved delivery rate hikes are well above the general rates of inflation seen in Consumer Price Index reports, the Journal has reported.
The plan does include some potential benefits, including providing incentives to reduce home-service shutoffs when customers fall behind in their payments and for the utility to participate in demonstration projects aimed at increasing alternative-energy use. Citizens for Local Power also made a compelling argument that the basic, fixed monthly charge should not be raised. Customers can’t do anything, such as use less energy, to avoid those costs. This fee, now $24 a month for residential, will stay the same instead of going up by $5 as had been proposed. The local community organization Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson also did fine work in pushing to help those struggling to pay their bills. But, overall, the approval process perpetuates an unlevel playing field – one that puts the public at a dangerous and vulnerable disadvantage. A fair fight is needed.
New! Farmers Market Committee for Livingston
We are thrilled to announce that Leslie Strilec, long-time resident of Glenco Mills, will be taking the reins of the Farmers Market Committee for Livingston. From the beginning, Leslie has been actively involved in Farmers and Families for Livingston working hard to oppose high voltage transmission lines. As Chairman of the Farmers Market Committee for Livingston, she is seeking volunteers to help at the Hudson Farmers Market on Saturdays. Volunteers will hand out Power Line material along with information on a new telephone campaign created to encourage Governor Cuomo to protect the Hudson Valley from the adverse impacts of the pending power line expansion.
Volunteers will be needed for 2 hours twice a month on Saturdays. Claverack will cover the alternate Saturdays. Volunteers should contact Leslie directly at (518) 851-3866 or email her at email@example.com.
Regional Coalition Files Document with PSC: New Analysis Reinforces Lack of Need for Proposed Power Lines
May 5, 2015
HUDSON VALLEY—The Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition (HVSEC), a broad-based collaboration of community groups and officials partnered with Scenic Hudson, has filed official comments with the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) in its review of proposed high-voltage power lines. Those lines could reach a height of 120 feet and cut through 25 communities in seven Hudson Valley counties. In the technical comments, the 16 members of the HVSEC highlighted that developers still have failed to demonstrate a need for the project and that new information and analysis shows that there is no basis for the project in terms of electric system reliability, consumer rates, economics or public policy. Not only is the project unnecessary, it is likely to increase electricity costs, not decrease them.
Proposed towering power lines not a good deal if they are not needed
Citing recently released information, the HVSEC pointed out that the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) in its new draft Comprehensive Reliability Plan, issued March 30, determined by its own analysis that new electricity transmission capacity is not necessary for the reliability of New York’s electric system. This is significant because NYISO is the independent entity that operates New York’s bulk electricity grid, administers the state’s electricity markets and provides comprehensive and objective reliability planning for the state’s electric grid. In the report, NYISO considered new electricity resources as well as those returning to operation and reduced its projections for future electricity demand, even at peak loads.
Additionally, new research by Bard College Professor of Environmental Science and Physics Dr. Gidon Eshel has bolstered the findings of his late-2014 report on this subject. The earlier study demonstrated that New York has sufficient transmission and generation capacity to handle future peak demand, even if only half the projects NYISO lists as under development ever get built, and even if the Indian Point Energy Center is taken off line.
Cost for projects would fall unfairly on valley ratepayers
HVSEC again asserted concerns about the project costs, which could exceed $1 billion. The coalition continued its objection to the PSC’s plan that ratepayers would pay all project costs (90 percent paid by Hudson Valley, New York City and Long Island ratepayers and 10 percent by upstate ratepayers) as well as 80 percent of cost overruns—while there is no evidence ratepayers statewide would benefit from reduced electricity bills. In fact, it is more likely New Yorkers’ rates would increase.
If need is proven, criteria for making project as minimally damaging as possible
The HVSEC comments further stated that if the PSC should rule that one or more of the project proposals should go forward, the coalition has criteria it believes must be met. Projects that require acquisition of additional rights-of-way should not be selected to move forward, the coalition argued. The coalition believes consideration only should be given to projects that have no new visual impacts, or that would improve views, and that have the least impact on environmental resources. Each of the 20 different proposals submitted by the four developers has potential impacts to unique and sensitive Hudson Valley resources.
“There is no need to pursue this hugely expensive project, which threatens the beauty and farmland of the Hudson Valley,” said Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan. “Governor Cuomo has launched another initiative, Reforming the Energy Vision, which would upgrade the state’s power grid through innovation and ongoing energy conservation. We should be pursuing that more enlightened path to providing New York with a 21st-century energy system. This approach would put our state in the national vanguard while building on, rather than degrading, the beauty and economy of the Hudson Valley.”
“The ratepayers of New York State cannot be asked to put up more than a billion dollars when neither the state nor utilities can demonstrate that these new projects would lead to better service or cheaper rates,” said Town of Livingston Deputy Supervisor Will Yandik. “New York families and small businesses are already struggling with some of the highest rates in the country.”
Omega Institute for Holistic Studies CEO Skip Backus stated, “As CEO of Omega Institute I often find myself in conversation with other business owners in the Hudson Valley. Without exception the conversation goes to the cost of electricity in the valley and the fact that the proposed plan will do nothing to lower our rates and in fact will actually increase them and compromise the environment. The proposed project makes no sense given there has been no proven need. My hope is we can come together and find a way to better serve the citizens and businesses of the Hudson Valley.”
Dan Duthie, an attorney representing four towns, two citizens groups and one farm in the HVSEC, observed, “According to analysis by the New York Independent System Operator, the cost for this transmission project would likely exceed any savings ratepayers would get from the project. Simply put, this means that the ‘solution’ is more expensive than the problem.”
Coalition seeks modern solutions and a forward-looking state energy plan
The HVSEC is interested in innovative energy systems and supports creation of a modern, comprehensive energy plan for New York State. The HVSEC is concerned about major negative impacts the proposed towering, high-voltage power lines could have and is working to protect communities from these impacts. The proposed project could stretch for 150 miles, and the coalition is focused on portions of the power lines that would pass through a large swath of the Hudson Valley, ultimately reaching their destination in Dutchess County. The coalition asserts that the proposed power lines threaten prime agricultural lands, critical environmental areas and the Hudson River, economic health, scenic beauty, public parks, and cultural and historic sites. The project is not needed and will likely cause electricity rates to go up.
The HVSEC—which includes municipal officials; environmental, cultural, historic and land preservation organizations; businesses; and residents—calls on the PSC to either provide a robust review on the issue of need now or suspend the process until need can be conclusively demonstrated using the most up-to-date and comprehensive information. Additionally, the coalition believes no project that has a negative benefit-to-cost ratio should move forward.
About the Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition
The Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition includes municipal officials; environmental, cultural, historic and land preservation organizations; businesses; and residents who support creation of a modern, comprehensive energy plan for the Hudson Valley and New York State.
By Scott Waldman 5:49 a.m. | Feb. 9, 2015
ALBANY—It's not exactly clear where Andrew Cuomo's energy highway plan is headed.
Once heralded by the governor as a transformative way to bring down energy costs for consumers while increasing jobs at upstate power producers, the plan announced more than three years ago has produced little progress on a core initiative: a nearly $1 billion project to run AC transmission lines around Utica or the Catskills and down the Hudson Valley to meet downstate's growing power needs.
Developers recently resubmitted reworked plans for power lines, but after months of community objections and local town boards passing resolutions against the transmission lines, the state Public Service Commission will hold a June conference on whether they're needed. Some observers see that as a sign that the administration is delaying any substantive decisions on it and could be planning to shelve the initiative indefinitely.
"A modern, efficient power delivery system is essential to ensuring that we have the reliable, clean and affordable energy needed to meet the demands of a 21st century economy," Cuomo said of the plan shortly after it was announced. "Modernizing and strengthening our state's power transmission system is a centerpiece of the Energy Highway Blueprint."
While the transmission plan is still officially underway, the window in which it makes sense to undertake the upgrades seems to be closing, due to a combination of energy capacity improvements, strong local opposition and competing goals in the state's future energy plan.
State Public Service Commission chairwoman Audrey Zibelman, who inhereted the project when she took the helm as the state's chief utility regulator, recently issued a statement noting that regulators will “re-examine” the need for the transmission lines.
“After carefully considering comments from stakeholders and members of the public, and in light of other proceedings related to improving energy efficiency and modernizing the grid, we will carefully re-examine the need for transmission upgrades to address existing transmission congestion problems,” Zibelman said. “This thorough review will help provide greater clarity to the process and to the communities in the impacted areas.”
Assemblywoman Didi Barrett of Dutchess County, a Democrat who opposes the planned transmission lines, said that sounds like it could be a victory, though it's too early to celebrate just yet. She said the June conference will include a significant voice of opposition to the project, one that state regulators have clearly already heard.
“They recognize there is a real question about the need, they recognize this is not twenty-first century technology, that they're going to destroy some thing in the Hudson Valley, our viewsheds, our economy, our tourism,” she said.
For years, the state's grid operator and power producers have said bottlenecks on transmission lines in the lower Hudson Valley have reduced the availability of power from upstate producers. It has increased utility bills in New York City and the lower Hudson Valley. The energy highway is supposed to increase capacity, which will bring down energy prices. The state's website boasts that the energy highway is a “bold proposal” that will transform the electrical grid.
However, the state is currently reworking the energy markets and reconfiguring the electrical grid.
Under the Reforming Energy Vision plan, power will come from smaller sources, including solar and wind, not large power plants that burn fossil fuels. The transmission line plan is part of the old system that the state wants to replace, Barrett said.
The department is “actively engaged in the review and analysis” of newly submitted transmission line proposals, P.S.C. spokesman James Denn said last week. He said the P.S.C. will soon prepare a report that determines the need for those proposals, and will look at benefits and costs.
In April 2013, the state published an update on the plan, noting that New York was “ahead of the aggressive schedule” it established for itself. But the plan to use transmission lines to connect Western New York power producers to the Albany region, and upstate power producers to the Lower Hudson Valley, has failed to materialize in any significant way.
What's more, new power is already flowing to the region, and more could be on the way. After federal regulators created a new capacity zone in the Lower Hudson Valley, two new power plants in the Hudson Valley, Danskammer and Bowline, will bring back about 1,000 megawatts of power. And a proposed $2 billion power line that would bring Canadian hydropower through an underwater cable in the Hudson River will bring in an additional 1,000 megawatts of power and has received some of its final federal approvals.
The transmissions lines were also seen by some as a way to circumvent the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which Cuomo has said he wants to close. But the administration has made few moves to close the plant and tough new Environmental Protection Agency regulations on power plant emissions could make it harder for the state's energy grid to lose the emissions-free power produced by Indian Point.
Much of the delay stems from a mounting uproar over the lines along the route they are expected to follow. The most powerful opponents of the energy highway are protest groups and local elected officials from communities all along some of the earlier proposed routes. They have raised objections to the potential transmission lines all along the route, which could cut across pieces of private property or significantly increase the size of the larger metal poles used for high-voltage wires. Signs sprouted in hundreds of yards that read “No Monster Power Lines” and elected officials have called on the governor to reconsider the lines, which would be taller and wider than the current route, or create a new route entirely in some places.
The state is now studying whether the projects are even needed, a year after Cuomo announced a more streamlined plan for the approval of transmission lines.
Some executives in the energy industry see that as yet another punt by the Cuomo administration, which has put off a number of difficult energy decisions for years.
Upstate power generators are already vulnerable because of low energy prices, said Darren Suarez, director of governmental affairs at the state Business Council. Not building the transmission lines will make it harder for them to sell power in to the system and it will raise prices for consumers because there will be less competition, he said. It also makes power producers vulnerable to closure.
“Any delay in that process is potentially exposing upstate communities to those places not being in business,” he said.
Most of the state's energy initiatives run into protests, because they're either in somebody's backyard or because they cause pollution, said Jerry Kremer, a former assemblyman and chair of the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, a coalition of business groups, energy companies and consultants. The significant delays on the key energy highway decision make construction transmission lines less likely, he said.
“Each one of these decisions make it harder for the energy highway to have any short or long term victories,” he said.
While speaking on a variety of opportunities for NYS and the Cuomo administration to build on recent environmental successes, Ned highlighted what we and communities are advocating for with power lines proposals and a comprehensive approach to energy in the state. Here are links so you can watch/listen.
Ned Sullivan interviewed by anchor Liz Benjamin on Capital Tonight by Time Warner Cable News. (About two-thirds through the segment Ned speaks to the power lines proposals.)
Ned interviewed by anchor Brian Shields on Midday Magazine by WAMC/Northeast Public Radio. (About two-thirds through the segment Ned speaks to the power lines proposals.)
Gov. Cuomo Can Build on His National Record of Environmental Leadership & Foster Sustainable Economic Growth
President, Scenic Hudson
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ended his first term by banning fracking--capping off an outstanding year with a nationally important environmental achievement. The state also put the kibosh on a utility's plan to construct a costly, energy-intensive desalination plant on the Hudson River, launched the visionary Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) proceeding to retool the state's energy grid for the 21st century, and dedicated $20 million for farmland protection.
As Gov. Cuomo begins his second term, these four items should top his environmental agenda:
Forge a comprehensive PCB cleanup: When General Electric completes its federally mandated PCB cleanup of the Hudson River this year, it will leave behind a job two-thirds complete. Federal and state agencies serving as stewards of the river's health (known as Natural Resource Trustees) have declared that toxic PCBs remaining in the Hudson--America's largest Superfund site--will prevent its recovery for decades. The trustees have pinpointed 136 additional acres of contamination whose removal would significantly address this problem. GE is legally responsible for restoring the river's health, but it steadfastly opposes the additional dredging of areas identified by the trustees, as well as sections of the Champlain Canal where PCB contamination prevents the state Canal Corporation from dredging to make it navigable to deep-draft cargo ships.
Gov. Cuomo is the only leader with the clout to forge a comprehensive settlement of GE's Natural Resource liabilities and the canal's cleanup. He should bring to bear all necessary measures--including litigation--to persuade GE to step up to its responsibility. Doing so would save state taxpayers from footing the bill to clean up GE's leftover mess and hasten ambitious plans for a clean river and economic development all along it.
Safeguard the Hudson River from crude oil disasters: The annual amount of volatile crude oil transported through the Hudson Valley via barges, ships and unsafe railcars has grown from negligible amounts to billions of gallons, threatening the region's environmental health and public safety. Gov. Cuomo's leadership is crucial in preventing disasters from explosions and spills and in preparing communities to handle catastrophes. In addition to continuing to demand the safest railcars as the federal government completes its regulations, the governor should introduce legislation raising the cap on the state's spill response fund from $25 million to $1 billion--the minimum for cleaning up a serious Hudson River spill. He also should direct his environmental commissioner to conduct a full environmental review of permits seeking to allow heavy crude processing facilities at the Port of Albany and to reopen permits that allowed the increase of crude through this "virtual pipeline," now that the full risks they entail are known.
Terminate the Energy Highway: The state Public Service Commission's implementation of a plan aimed at lowering electric rates in New York City and its surrounding Metropolitan Area has raised the threat of unsightly new transmission lines through the Hudson Valley's iconic scenic beauty and productive farmland with potentially devastating impacts on property values and the economy. The PSC wants ratepayers to assume 90 percent of the lines' $1 billion construction cost and 80 percent of cost overruns, while utility developers are seeking a 12-percent return. Data compiled from the electric grid operator calls into question the need for the lines, considering other transmission and generating projects expected to come online. Gov. Cuomo should terminate the Energy Highway and allow all parties to concentrate on his promising REV initiative.
Capitalize a "Resilient New York Trust Fund": Thanks to legal settlements with banks and insurance companies, New York State has received a $4.5-billion windfall. Scenic Hudson and our environmental partners urge the governor to dedicate half of this money to establishing a permanent Resilient New York Trust Fund. It could provide grants and loans that support the governor's efforts to improve communities' long-term resilience in the face of expected climate change. Urgently needed investments--critical for sustaining economic development--could include protection and improvement of public water supply and wastewater systems, buyouts of flood-damaged coastal and riverine properties, conservation of productive farmland, and creating corridors of protected lands for species migration.
Gov. Cuomo has taken important and courageous steps to protect New York's irreplaceable natural resources and its citizens, placing him in the forefront of environmental leaders nationwide. By following through on these four actions, he can further cement his environmental legacy--and assure a healthy, prosperous future for all New Yorkers
President, Scenic Hudson
Cuomo's Regulatory Chief Sets Precedent for Protecting Environment and Ratepayers
Posted: 11/24/2014 12:21 pm EST Updated: 11/24/2014 12:22 pm EST
New York's Public Service Commission (PSC) recently rejected a proposal to build an energy-intensive and polluting desalination plant on the Hudson River, finding there is no near-term need for the facility to meet Rockland County's drinking water demands. Instead of moving ahead with this project--which would have withdrawn and processed 10 million gallons of brackish water from the Hudson each day and spewed 100,000 gallons of briny wastewater back into Haverstraw Bay, one of the river's prime fish habitats--the PSC directed the private water company seeking to construct the plant to investigate water conservation and other sustainable measures. The PSC also declined to authorize a $60-million ratepayer surcharge the water company sought to recoup its planning costs--before a single shovel hit the ground.
PSC Chair Audrey Zibelman, appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, showed through this decision that she has the courage to stand up to a major industrial company pursuing an ill-conceived project that fails to offer positive benefits and entails high costs, to ratepayers and the environment. This important ruling has implications for another decision facing the PSC--whether to green-light plans to build new high-voltage transmission lines through the Hudson Valley under Gov. Cuomo's Energy Highway initiative.
These lines, expected to rise up to 165 feet, are proposed to cross 25 towns in seven Hudson Valley counties, slicing through farms, homes, businesses, historic sites and spectacular views--the foundation of the region's rebounding economy. For the last year, the Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition--a broad-based group of elected officials, businesses and conservation organizations partnered with Scenic Hudson--has advocated for less expensive and more sustainable options to strengthen New York's power grid without damaging our region.
Gov. Cuomo has publicly acknowledged he understands our concerns about the lines' impacts on views, property values and the economy. In his 2014 State of the State address last January, he expressed a preference for having lines built within existing utility corridors. But in the year since, the PSC has failed to make this a requirement of any project that's ultimately approved.
Beyond these concerns, there's a more basic question: Is there a need for the new transmission lines?
Under the planning process of the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), which oversees the state's electric grid, there are three possible rationales to authorize energy projects--1) to improve the reliability of the grid; 2) to provide economic benefits; or 3) to meet a public policy goal. The proposed transmission lines fail on all three counts.
Let's explore them one by one:
First, reliability--or ensuring the lights stay on: The NYISO recently stated that New York's electrical grid meets reliability standards. According to its latest Needs Assessment, the earliest date more electric capacity might be required is 2022. And just last week, the NYISO withdrew its request for proposal for new projects to meet reliability criteria--issued less than two months ago--indicating the system has sufficient existing facilities.
Second reason, economic benefits: A major goal of the Energy Highway is to reduce electricity costs in New York City and the surrounding Metropolitan Area by increasing transmission capacity to relieve a "a bottleneck" that makes it expensive to carry power from central New York to downstate customers. But congestion costs--the price of meeting consumers' needs based on available electricity--have been decreasing for the last five years, a trend expected to continue. This means that annual expenses to operate and maintain the proposed $1.3-billion transmission lines would very likely be higher than the savings they generate. With ratepayers paying 90 percent of construction costs and 80 percent of cost overruns, the utility developers would be receiving a generous return on investment with almost no risk. Homeowners and businesses would pay the cost with no benefit.
Finally, public policy: There is no policy--no local, state or federal law--that justifies building new transmission lines through the Hudson Valley.
Dr. Gidon Eshel, a Bard College geophysics professor and an expert in data analysis and efficiency metrics, conducted his own, independent study this past summer. He relied on NYISO data and additional factors that could affect future energy demand, including climate change, demographic trends in energy use and different scenarios for continued operation of the Indian Point nuclear facility in Westchester County. Dr. Eshel concluded there is no need for the new transmission lines for more than two decades.
Gov. Cuomo and his PSC Chair have launched a parallel proceeding to the Energy Highway known as the Reforming the Energy Vision, an unprecedented plan to reward utilities that tap power sources close to customers and help them increase efficiency and reduce electricity demand, especially during peak periods. The Cuomo administration's "energy czar," Richard Kauffman, laid the groundwork for achieving this vision by establishing the NY Green Bank. It's attracting private financial partners to invest in clean energy projects, with the first seven projects to receive funding announced last month.
Just as Gov. Cuomo's PSC did the right thing in saying "no" to a desalination plant that would hurt ratepayers' pocketbooks and mar the environment, the PSC should steer the proposed new transmission lines toward the off-ramp of the Energy Highway. Sometime in 2015, the commission should reach important conclusions about the Reforming the Energy Vision--no doubt providing a plan for meeting New York's energy needs while protecting the beauty, integrity and economy of the Hudson Valley.
ANNANDALE – Bard College research professor of environmental science and physics Gidon Eshel, Ph.D., an independent geophysicist, spoke at Bard College earlier this month to showcase his findings that existing power lines can meet our region's peak electricity-demand needs well into the future.
The presentation was hosted by members of the Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition, a collaboration of community groups and officials partnered with Scenic Hudson in working to protect Hudson Valley communities from potential negative effects of new high-voltage power lines. The state's Public Service Commission is seeking to expand 150 miles of transmission lines that would pass through seven counties and 25 towns in the valley, ultimately reaching their destination in Dutchess County.
More than 250 people attended the presentation in the Bertelsmann Campus Center. Eshel told the group that existing infrastructure can handle downstate peak power loads until at least 2040. He devoted more than 350 hours over the summer to the research, analyzing data on mean and peak energy usage, electricity congestion, climate trends and regional demographics. His preliminary analyses have led him to three key variables determining downstate peak loads: total downstate population, annual maximum temperatures and population age distribution.
"There's simply no need for the proposed power lines at any time between now and 2040. The population rise in New York is not continuing at the pace that it has historically exhibited. In addition, the ratio of those ages 25 to 45 to those ages 45 to 70 has been steadily declining in recent decades, but this is expected to reverse in coming decades," Eshel said, according to a news release, "which is important because the young use less energy per capita than the middle aged. Even assuming no energy efficiency gains or renewable energy proliferation, you still see no need for this project."
A geophysicist with expertise in data analysis and efficiency metrics, Eshel took on the project as an independent researcher. His property could be affected by the proposed power lines, so he was motivated as a credentialed professional researcher to prepare a scientific analysis of the consumer-demand issue. While Eshel is not a member of the Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition, members of the coalition were at the presentation to provide information about the proposed high-voltage power lines and how citizens can be involved in the regulatory review process.
"The Energy Highway threatens the Hudson Valley's beauty and farmland with towering new transmission lines," Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan said in a news release. "Governor Cuomo has launched another initiative to reform New York's power grid through innovation and conservation. Gidon Eshel's compelling presentation shows new transmission lines are not needed. As a result, we can immediately begin the transition to a 21st-century energy system, putting New York in the national vanguard and saving the beauty and economy of the Hudson Valley."