Why is New York State considering upgrading its transmission lines?
The initiative is designed to ensure that New York's electric system meets New York’s demands for secure, cost-effective, and cleaner energy. Ensuring the efficient transmission of power by reducing congestion improves overall electric system operation and optimizes the use of existing assets in New York by allowing lower-cost and cleaner power to reach consumers. Investments in the transmission and distribution systems can reduce customer costs over the long-term, improve safety and reliability, and protect the environment while immediately creating jobs and economic development.
What is congestion?
The electric transmission system is designed to move electricity from power generators to “load centers,” such as cities and major metropolitan areas. Much like traffic congestion where there are too many cars on the road, energy “congestion” occurs when the demand for electricity to be delivered over a line, or group of lines, exceeds the capacity of the transmission facilities leading to a “bottleneck.” When this happens, the excess demand must be met using alternative sources, which are too often at significantly higher cost to consumers. In addition to cost concerns, reliance on those alternative sources, such as less efficient, dirtier generation facilities, may have undesirable environmental consequences.
Why is relieving electricity congestion desirable?
Relieving congestion and upgrading the transmission system may bring a number of benefits to New York's consumers. By relieving congestion and eliminating the existing bottlenecks, low-cost power generated in upstate New York, along with renewable energy such as wind, could be used to meet the needs of the entire state, and will help enhance system reliability, flexibility, and efficiency, all of which may reduce the costs of operating the system. Upgrading the system will provide a significant economic boost for upstate power producers by providing them greater access to the downstate market. Additional benefits include reducing environmental and health impacts through the use of cleaner fuels and reduced emissions, increasing diversity in electric generation supply, primarily renewable energy, providing long-term benefits in terms of job retention and growth, developing efficient new power sources at lower cost in upstate areas, and mitigating reliability problems that may arise with expected generator retirements.
Where are the bottleneck(s) located?
A major bottleneck in the New York transmission system has developed between the Mohawk Valley (Utica) and lower Hudson Valley areas. This congestion first appeared in the mid-1990s and has been increasing over the past 20 years as demand has grown. There are two major corridors of transmission lines between Utica and the lower Hudson Valley. The first starts at the Marcy substation (located between Rome and Utica) and runs to the New Scotland substation outside Albany. This corridor then follows both sides of the Hudson River down to the Fishkill area. The second corridor runs from the Marcy substation south to Delaware County and then on to Sullivan, Orange and Rockland counties.
How bad is New York’s congestion compared to other states?
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) studies have repeatedly identified congestion in New York as a national concern. DOE performs a congestion review of the national electric grid every three years. In its first report in 2006, DOE designated eastern New York and eastern PJM as one of only two areas in the country that are Critical Congestion Areas – it’s most severe designation. In the 2009 DOE study, “[t]he Department concluded that the Mid-Atlantic Critical Congestion Area (extending from mid-state New York down to mid-Virginia) continues to experience high levels of transmission congestion. The Department finds that the Mid-Atlantic area continues to exhibit major transmission congestion problems and should continue to be identified as a Critical Congestion Area.” The recently released draft of the 2012 study observes that three factors are the source of the congestion in the Northeast and the first cited is transmission constraints continue to restrict the delivery of power into load centers into central New York and the New York City and Long Island areas.
DOE also sponsored a study of the entire Eastern Interconnection that was concluded recently. The study looked at three possible futures for the electric grid: business as usual; a national carbon policy; and a regionally implemented national renewable policy. Common to all three futures was the need to resolve congestion in the Hudson Valley corridor.
How is transmission congestion being addressed?
In November 2012, the PSC instituted a proceeding to examine electric transmission system solutions to the congestion problem. The Commission also asked developers to submit potential projects for consideration along these two corridors. A mechanism for reviewing and evaluating the resulting submissions was proposed by staff in August 2014 and incorporates a public process to examine impacts on landowners, farms, historic properties, and the environment, as well as an analysis of its cost to consumers across the state.
Does the Commission’s REV proceeding negate the need for the AC transmission proceeding?
The REV proceeding is not designed to resolve congestion problems of this magnitude on the high voltage transmission system; it is designed to improve the efficiency of the distribution system. Both proceedings contribute towards making New York’s electric system more efficient and resilient.
What’s the current status of potential projects?
The Commission sought proposals from transmission owners and other developers proposing projects to increase the UPNY/SENY transfer capacity by approximately 1,000 MW. After an initial round of proposals was received that raised environmental siting concerns, the Commission called for revised proposals that would better utilize existing rights-of-way and better match the scale of proposed powerline structures to be in keeping with existing facilities already in the landscape.
On January 7, 2015, twenty one revised proposals were received from four entities: North America Transmission Corporation (NAT), the New York Transmission Owners (NYTOs), NextEra Energy Transmission New York, Inc. (NextEra), and Boundless Energy NE, LLC (Boundless). Thereafter, the Commission directed the Staff of the Department of Public Service (Trial Staff), with the assistance of the NYISO, to undertake a comparative evaluation of the project proposals.
Here are links to specific proposed projects:
Note that a new “umbrella” Case Number 13-E-0488 (replacing 12-T-0502) has been established for information common to all the individual proposed projects.
The PSC has appointed Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) to supervise the various cases.
Is this a particularly lengthy process? Is there any way to speed it up so that homeowners and property developers have more planning certainty?
Staff has proposed a process intended to result in a winnowing of the projects so that the need for the best project or projects can be tested in the robust Article VII process without wasteful litigation regarding inferior proposals. The proposed winnowing process is intended to also minimize the number of potentially affected communities and landowners that must participate in the administrative litigation process. On July 6, 2015, Staff submitted an interim report recommending that the number of proposals under consideration be reduced from 21 to seven.
When will more detail about specific, individual landowner and environmental impacts of a proposed project be available?
Much detailed information concerning the specific impacts of the projects is already available on-line at the Commission's website.
How will proposals be evaluated?
The Commission has proposed to evaluate the proposals to determine how well they meet certain threshold criteria. Following that evaluation, project applications will undergo an even more intense multi-agency public review and evaluation pursuant to Article VII of the Public Service Law, the statute that governs the siting of electric transmission facilities. The Article VII review will involve the Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Economic Development, the Secretary of State, the Department of Agriculture and Markets, and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, the impacted municipalities, and local environmental, commercial, planning and community/public interest groups and concerned members of the public.
Under Article VII, the PSC assesses the environmental impacts of proposed major transmission facilities, among other factors, and decides whether to grant, modify, or deny applications. It is important to note that although several projects are now participating in the proceeding, the Commission’s goal is to select the project or combination of projects that best resolves the congestion while minimizing environmental and landowner impacts and fulfilling the Article VII standards.
How will the costs be allocated between the lower Hudson Valley and New York?
The Commission has determined allocation factors such that about 90 percent of the costs are being allocated to customers in the downstate region and about 10% to upstate customers. Costs would be allocated between the lower Hudson Valley and New York based on the two areas’ relative share of congestion reduction benefits and electric demand.
Since this will benefit New York City consumers the most, why aren’t they paying most of the costs?
Under the cost allocation formula, New York City customers will bear the lion’s share of the costs.
What about consumer benefits?
Strengthening the cross-state transmission “highways” will likely help relieve flows over parallel local transmission “byways,” thereby freeing-up capability to serve local loads more efficiently. In addition, experience has shown that retirements of existing generators can result in increased local congestion and lead to both higher local energy costs and the need for local transmission upgrades. Relieving cross-state congestion will contribute to the relief of deleterious economic impacts on the upstate region due to local upstate congestion.
New transmission will also enhance flexibility for the siting and retention of generation facilities upstate, including renewable resources, which would further contribute to local economic development and property tax base stability, and will also help allow for the retirement of less economical generation by reducing impacts on reliability and the need for additional transmission reinforcements at a cost to upstate ratepayers.
How can the community get involved in the process?
Communities are strongly encouraged to become involved throughout the process, from the initial application phase and through the Article VII review.
Is there funding available to encourage and assist participation?
Yes. Under Article VII, developers of major transmission facilities provide funds that are available to eligible municipalities and other local parties to help defray costs for technical and legal experts to review the proposals, conduct relevant studies, and contribute to the proceedings. The funds, which are limited, will be available to eligible parties in both the scoping phase and the subsequent review of the applications.
How will the public be kept informed?
Developers have been strongly encouraged to engage with local governments and community groups in areas that may be impacted through public meetings and open houses, as well as other forms of communication. For its part, the PSC will make every effort to facilitate and encourage active and meaningful public participation throughout the entire process of considering potential infrastructure projects. The PSC will be hosting public meetings during the process. All documents filed in the proceeding, including comments and responses, are publicly available on the PSC’s website: http://www.dps.ny.gov/
When will the PSC select a project? When will actual construction begin? How long will it take before the transmission line is operational?
The comparative evaluation phase is expected to be completed before the end of 2015. There would then be a follow-on Article VII process that might reach its conclusion 18 to 30 months thereafter. The actual timing of the construction is up to the successful developer, but the public will be able to track the developer’s construction plans and milestone schedules as they are filed with the Commission.
Will public statement hearings be held?
In addition to public meetings to be held by DPS, and other public forums conducted by each developer, public statement hearings will be held during the Article VII process. The Commission’s Administrative Law Judges will set a hearing schedule once the applications are complete. The dates and locations will be announced once the schedule has been finalized.
Are these hearings an opportunity for DPS to consult outside experts? If not, when will outside experts be brought into the process?
During the evidentiary hearing process, the parties to an Article VII proceeding will be free to present any advice from outside experts at the hearings that they believe should be considered.
Where Can I Get Additional Information?
Additional information regarding the goals and the process, including instructions for applying for intervenor funds, can be found on the Alternating Current Transmission Upgrades page.