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Another Voice: New York must upgrade its energy transmission system to ensure efficiency

By Ted Skerpon

New York has a long-standing legacy of leadership in the electric industry that starts with Joseph Henry’s discovery of magnetic induction, Thomas Edison’s Pearl Street station and Nicola Tesla’s and George Westinghouse’s promise to harness the power of Niagara Falls. The Empire State was home to the first electrical grid and, as such, has some of the oldest transmission infrastructure in the country.

New York has been able to maintain its energy leadership position by implementing innovative wholesale power markets, by pursuing aggressive renewable energy and energy efficiency goals and by deploying new technologies. While these initiatives have provided benefits, the transmission infrastructure these elements are connected to have been greatly neglected.

More than 80 percent of New York’s high-voltage transmission lines went into service before 1980 and more than 4,700 circuit miles will require replacement within 30 years. Upstate has a diverse set of generation resources that include natural gas, nuclear, wind and water and, due to constraints on the existing transmission system, are limited in their ability to satisfy downstate demand.

According to the New York Independent System Operator, transmission congestion has cost New Yorkers an additional $9.2 billion since 2004. Upgrading New York’s aging transmission infrastructure will bolster the reliability of the system, tap upstate’s diversified generation resources and allow cheaper, cleaner, more efficient resources to satisfy downstate demand.

The New York Public Service Commission is embarking on a revolutionary effort to change the current utility paradigm. The Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) initiative is a sweeping and broad-based proposal to give customers more options with promised rate reductions through local distributed generators.

The primary foundation of REV is the ability to efficiently move electricity across the state to determine an accurate cost-benefit analysis for proposed local generators. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo jump-started this effort with the release of his Energy Highway Blueprint in 2012, which includes extensive analysis concluding, and agreeing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the U.S. Department of Energy and the New York utilities, that New York needs major transmission investment. It is imperative these investments occur for REV to flourish.

It makes sense to build a solid foundation with sound investment in New York’s electric transmission system to support the PSC in fulfilling its mission of “ensuring affordable, safe, secure, and reliable access to electricity,” with “effective competitive markets that benefit New York consumers.”

Ted Skerpon is the business manager of IBEW Local 97 and is chairman of the Statewide IBEW Utility Labor Council.