This Op-Ed originally appeared in The Albany Times Union.
America has an infrastructure problem. In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country a D+ and estimated that $3.6 trillion in investment is needed by 2020 in order to revitalize infrastructure around the country. Here in New York, we share many of these same problems, and when it comes to our ailing bridges, highways and railways, there is no funding available to make critical upgrades.
However, when it comes to the state's power grid — which is hindering both our ability to remain economically competitive and further develop environmentally friendly, renewable energy — there is a solution. Industry is proposing to invest in infrastructure and just needs state leaders to give the go-ahead.
With an energy transmission system that is 80 years old in some places, New York is in no position to meet its long-term energy needs, particularly downstate, where demand is highest without new investment. The grid is congested and lacks the capacity to efficiently transfer energy to where it is needed. Put simply, there aren't enough lanes on the highway to move all of the traffic.
For a number of years New York's official position, including under Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has been that this bottleneck needed to be cleared by upgrading our transmission system. That can be done without using any taxpayer dollars, or disruption to local residents and the environment — all we need is the Public Service Commission to say yes. Recently, a broad coalition, made up of local elected officials, business and economic development groups, labor, environmental organizations, and everyday New Yorkers, have voiced their strong support for moving forward with these upgrades.
The current grid not only inhibits the ability of existing providers to effectively supply power, but it also prevents the establishment of additional sources of renewable energy. Because of its limited capacity, a cap on the number of renewable energy developments is in place, and as many as 20 sustainable wind projects are on hold indefinitely, denying upstate economies needed boosts and New Yorkers of cleaner energy.
The delays are hurting our pocketbooks, too. Over the past 10 years, grid congestion has led to an $8.5 billion increase in energy prices, affecting consumers throughout the state. Upgrading the state's power grid would address these costs in a number of ways. It would be fully funded by private investment, and could create up to 11,000 jobs while infusing as much as $1.6 billion into regional economies. These updates to the grid would also increase total system capacity, allowing upstate power producers to grow their businesses, particularly in renewable energy.
Upgrading our infrastructure has impacts statewide, and we need to upgrade our transmission lines, in order to tap into more renewable energy sources. This is an opportunity to see the private sector make a critical investment into our infrastructure. This would help us foster our economic development initiatives at the county, while being mindful of our rural footprint. This is an opportunity to put us in a better position to reduce the energy burden on residents, while seeing significant positive activity, such as jobs and revenue.
While there are concerns about the effect these upgrades might have on upstate New York's agricultural and tourism industries, it is possible to make these upgrades while remaining mindful of our rural character. The upgrades can be built within the footprint of the existing transmission infrastructure and at the same heights. In many cases, upgrading this aged infrastructure will reduce the number of towers or lower their height, maintaining the beauty the state is known for. In addition, proposals make use of new cutting edge technology, supporting a more streamlined on-the-ground system that compliments, rather than mars, the local landscape.
New York needs to fix its ailing energy infrastructure. To continue the status quo would prevent thousands of New Yorkers from getting back to work, forgoing billions in potential revenue and savings, and stunting sustainable energy development. For New York to remain an economic power and for upstate counties to grow stronger requires the literal power to drive it.
Matthew L. Ossenfort is the Montgomery County executive.