By Ted Skerpon
New York's power grid is aging and congested – and technology has outpaced the state's ability to keep up. The effect is higher electricity costs, dirtier air and limited access to clean energy sources and jobs. As we transition to fall, people statewide are reflecting on how strained the electric system was during the hottest days of the summer.
With some sections nearly 80 years old, New York's aged power grid just barely meets energy needs in the state's highest need regions and is overly stressed. But state leaders continue to drag their feet instead of seizing an opportunity to provide abundant, clean, affordable energy and jobs by upgrading our transmission system. Such private investments in transmission will pave the way for new high-tech businesses and support an economic revival upstate where jobs are needed most.
Among the experts, there is no debate about the need for such a project. Just last month, staff from the Public Service Commissionreleased a report that declared a public need for improved transmission infrastructure. In doing so, they joined Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the New York Independent System Operator – which manages the grid – and the Energy Highway Task Force, which included experts from the New York Power Authority, Department of Environmental Conservation, Empire State Development and NYSERDA who have all previously called for improvements to our aging transmission.
Expanding the capacity of the energy grid and alleviating this well-documented congestion would open the door for more clean energy projects – including Upstate wind farms – to come online. This brings the promise of a more resilient grid that will provide clean, affordable energy to communities around New York for years to come.
Pushback to this plan has come from a small group of people who argue that upgrading our outdated transmission system will alter the physical landscape. But these concerns are ill-informed and don't stand up to the facts. The transmission system can and -- as the PSC recommended -- should be built within the existing footprint of the current infrastructure and at a comparable height. In many cases, the number of towers will even be reduced. By increasing clean energy alternatives, transmission line upgrades will actually benefit New York's environment.
This project is a win-win for New York, offering an opportunity to make us more resilient and sustainable, in addition to creating badly needed jobs; as many as 11,000 in communities in and around the state that are desperate for them. This is not just investment in our economy, its investment in our communities, which will help to kick-start the economy Upstate and provide reliable energy that is needed to attract high-tech industries to settle in New York and serve as the backbone of the new economy.
Opponents of the plan seem to be content with a transmission system that's outdated, getting older and is just barely "good enough''; but, when has just good enough ever been acceptable to New York? With every heat wave or extreme weather event, demands on our energy system increase. Upgrading our transmission system will ensure all communities have power at times when they are most in need. This is a not a luxury – it is a necessity.
New York doesn't have to settle for an ailing, aged and unsustainable energy system. Policymakers have the opportunity to define their legacy. Tell them you support upgrading the transmission system to power New York with clean, affordable energy that will revitalize the upstate economy and make New York resilient well into the future.
Ted Skerpon is the president and business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 97, in Syracuse, and chairman of the NYS IBEW Utility Labor Council. He is a member of the Power NY Coalition, which is advocating for updating the state power grid.