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Possible Modified Transmission Line Proposals Draw Cautious Praise

The New York State Public Service Commission recently allowed for project developers to submit new or modified proposals with regard to a major power line project. Some people who had raised concerns commend the PSC’s effort, but remain apprehensive.

The goal remains the same – developing at least 1,000 megawatts of new transmission capacity, but the means to get there could change. The Public Service Commission in February directed administrative law judges overseeing the proposed projects to establish a process by which competing developers could submit new or modified proposals that make greater use of existing transmission corridors. This means the PSC could mix and match proposals from different developers to reach the desired 1,000 megawatts. The PSC’s change comes after Governor Andrew Cuomo in his 2014 State-of-the-State address called for expediting transmission projects that fall within existing rights of way.

Ned Sullivan is president of Poughkeepsie-based environmental group Scenic Hudson, part of the Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition. The coalition includes citizens groups, municipalities in Columbia and Dutchess Counties, and the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck – all of which would potentially be impacted by the plans. Sullivan praises the PSC for its actions, but says there is still uncertainty for many.

“A dark cloud still hangs over property owners, whether they’re residents, or the Omega Institute, or other businesses, and farmers who own land in corridors – new corridors – that were previously proposed by the applicants,” Sullivan says.

He says the ruling to pave the way for modified proposals signifies the PSC has been listening to local concerns, yet he notes the PSC is encouraging — yet not requiring — that proposals stay within existing corridors.

“Our coalition continues to call on the PSC to give definitive instructions to the project applicants to stay within the corridors and to eliminate from consideration the prior proposals that are outside the footprint of existing rights of way,” Sullivan adds.

He says the PSC is examining four competing proposals to upgrade transmission lines that pass through 13 counties and 38 towns, including 24 in the Hudson Valley. Democratic Assemblymember Didi Barrett’s district includes portions of Dutchess and Columbia Counties. Barrett wrote to the PSC to let them know proposed high-voltage transmission line projects were already negatively impacting her district.

“So I wrote the letter to be sure that they understood that there was already significant economic and emotional impact on families who were really worried about eminent domain, where they were being challenged just to make normal family decisions. Do we expand our family room now that our kids have gotten older but, who knows, we may have a power line running through the middle of the space that we’re looking at building on,” says Barrett.

She mentions in her letter that one of the region’s economic engines — the Omega Institute — put expansion plans on hold after learning that one of the current proposals would run lines through its campus. A PSC spokesman says Barrett’s letter has been submitted as a public comment. Barrett holds out hope that the PSC can strike a balance between reaching its energy goal of upgrading lines to ease the bottleneck on the transmission system between Utica and New York City and preserving Hudson Valley communities. Her optimism stems from her interaction with PSC officials.

“I have found them to be really great to work with and responsive certainly during the process,” Barrett says. “The proof will be in the pudding, but everything they have been saying suggests that they don’t want to see our viewsheds and our farms destroyed and our land values diminished.”

John Maserjian is spokesman for the New York Transmission Owners, which includes Central Hudson, Con Edison, the New York Power Authority and others. He says the revision to the Alternating Current Transmission Upgrade proceeding by the PSC could have his group coming back to the table.

“We’re actually very encouraged by that ruling, and the New York Transmission Owners are collectively, or even individually, interested in submitting alternative proposals or modifying the project proposals that have already been submitted that are oriented towards maximizing the use of the existing right of ways,” Maserjian says.

The PSC spokesman underscores that the purpose of the AC transmission proceeding is to foster upgrades to an aging infrastructure and address congestion problems that cost electric customers across the state hundreds of millions of dollars in excess electricity costs annually.

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