Thursday, September 17, 2015
In the Fall of 2011, the NYS IBEW Utility Labor Council initiated a “Call to Action” regarding the need to invest in the NYS transmission system, as numerous reports and studies on both safety and reliability threats for customers and NYS ratepayers suffering from billions of dollars in “congestion fees” were regularly released by US DOE, FERC and others including the NYISO.
The urgency was realized by the IBEW as awareness set in that NYS was looking to support a 1000 MW extension cord from Quebec to NY City to accommodate an ever growing power demand, while upstate NY power generators were feeling the pinch from low natural gas prices and “transmission congestion” bottlenecks. AES, owners of two upstate power plants, went bankrupt, and special labor contracts were reached in efforts to make the NRG Huntley and Dunkirk Power plants more competitive.
Leadership emerged out of Albany as Gov. Cuomo created an “Energy Highway Task Force”, and an “Energy Highway Blueprint” was rolled out in 2012, including support for renewable energy, dedicated investment into the aforementioned NYS electric transmission system, and other critical energy items.
Speculation takes over 3 years later, as the transmission investment has faced one delay after another. The initial delay was to accommodate a small but vocal group within the Hudson Valley that wanted neither traditional generation nor transmission investment – even if it remained within existing transmission rights of way. The groups there wanted local wind and solar and nothing else.
The delay resulted in FERC and the NYISO creating a new “capacity zone” rate increase, affirming that something had to give in a region that had faced blackout scenarios repeatedly; if transmission projects were not moving, then the capacity zone rate increase would stimulate local power generation. The generation that emerged to satisfy critical load demand was resurrecting a scrapped coal plant to operate on natural gas, rather than wind or solar. The well -intended NIMBY’s that fought transmission investment achieved a rate increase for their region and increased GHG in NYS.
The delays and continued financial challenges for upstate power generators finally raised the white flag from NRG as recent announcement of plans to shutter both Huntley and Dunkirk power plants shocked host community tax revenues and will devastate as many as 146 employee families.
While environmental groups rejoice, the transmission delays have also caused stress at the zero GHG Ginna nuclear facility near Rochester, and signs of other non-fossil power generation struggles continue to emerge, and the transmission delay also stifles the market for upstate renewable energy projects in ideal upstate geographic regions, simply waiting on price signals that transmission investment will deliver.
Without transmission investment, it is impossible for NYS to reach REV objectives, nor ambitious new emission reduction targets. Further, retired NYS power generators will very likely be replaced by power imports from places like Pennsylvania and a grid with a high density of coal burners. While the NYS emission report card will look impressive, the lunacy of importing even dirtier power from a non-RGGI state is hypocritical at best, and threatens the NYS energy economy and our energy independence. And a dangerous over-reliance on natural gas for both heating and electric generation will prove unwise.
We call again on NYS leaders to end delays on transmission and advance sound NYS energy policies.
Ted Skerpon, President and Business Manager, IBEW Local 97