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Another Voice: State must upgrade power transmission lines

By Michael D. Lutz

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Energy Highway Blueprint was completed in 2012, with a large part of the plan turning into state PSC docket 12-0502 – upgrading aged, congested transmission lines that are a threat to safety and reliability and prevent abundant, environmentally compliant, cost-effective upstate power from lowering rates in areas of great demand downstate.

Three years later, there is still no steel in the ground or new conductors in the air.

What’s worse, the only plan moving at the moment is a plan to run a 1,000-megawatt extension cord from Quebec to New York City, bypassing competitive opportunities for instate power generators. I don’t think this was one of the grand promises of electric deregulation.

Meanwhile, the list of struggling upstate power generators has grown worse, causing enormous anxiety for employees and their families and communities fearful of tax revenues being gutted due to unnecessary retirements of power plants denied the opportunity for full market access.

The latest energy initiative, Reforming the Energy Vision, or REV, seeks to introduce tariff-supported small “distributed generation” into our electric grid. This concept only has merit if the transmission system is upgraded and fully optimizes existing power generation, and then cost-effectively fills remaining gaps with distributed generation. The priority is in upgrading transmission or REV simply won’t work.

The Somerset Power Plant in Niagara County provides 103 jobs and contributes more than $5 million annually in property taxes, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and state fees.

This does not include monies spent locally by the plant for services and supplies, contractors and the salaries of the employees to support their families who live in the area – monies that are spent locally in support of many businesses.

Of interest to note, the Energy Highway Blueprint also provides for communities to apply for support from the state to account for lost tax revenues in the event of a retired power plant.

While the precedent is already there is Massachusetts, where Salem is receiving $5 million per year for five years due to a retiring power plant, why would we want to further burden state taxpayers until we provide these critical power plant employers and tax generators a fair chance to compete?

New York State must stop delaying the transmission upgrades before horrendous consequences reverberate through upstate with thousands of high-value jobs and millions in tax revenues being lost, and power rates impacted in a negative way.

Michael D. Lutz is business manager/financial secretary for IBEW Local Union 10.