NYRI: A Good Example of Poor Energy Policy

The 2005 Energy Policy Act is known by some as being written by the energy lobby and by others as containing things down right goofy. One provision creates what are known as energy transmission corridors. Supposedly, the idea is to lower energy costs and increase security (is there anything that's done by the government these days that doesn't have the word security thrown in?) Here is a map of the draft Mid-Atlantic corridor. You will note that most of New York State is within the corridor with the exception of the southwestern portion and a chunk of the Adirondack Mountains.

Now I'm all for a reduction in energy costs, and specifically, I favor creation of sustainable energy generation, minimal and low impact distribution, and increased efficiency as ways of helping secure our energy structure. But the Act doesn't do that. Instead, it just makes things easy for chumps like NYRI (New York Regional Interconnection).

NYRI is a group of investors who plan on creating a 1.2 Gigawatt transmission line (+ and - 400,000 volts DC) connecting upstate New York with downstate New York. The line would cover approximately 190 miles between Marcy (near Utica) and New Windsor in Orange County, north of metro NYC. The plan is to use existing railroad right-of-ways along with eminent domain to erect 130 foot tall transmission towers along the route. The project is expected to cost more than 1.2 billion dollars. NYRI officials claim that there is a surplus of power in upstate NY and plan to siphon it off to the NYC area to lower their rates. You will find very little on the NYRI site regarding the history of the company, its officers, or its track record and experience on projects of this type. The Utica Observer Dispatch has determined that at least some of the backers are Canadian (nothing against Canadians, but I find it a little disturbing that foreign nationals would be using eminent domain to acquire property here).

It comes as no surprise that residents all along the line are up in arms over this project. The objections include:
1. An increase in local energy rates (this has even been verified by NYRI).
2. Environmental damage and degradation.
3. Community destruction (some communities will literally be cut in half by the towers).
4. Destruction of historic and cultural sites.
5. Visual blight.
6. Reduction in property values.

Remember, we're not talking about new power generation, we're talking about moving existing power from point A to point B. It is not as if the upstate region has an excess of cheap energy; the current rates are well above the national average. The trick is that NYRI has figured out that they can drain what the region does have, and essentially sell it downstate and make a profit. This does nothing to make a more secure, sustainable, environmentally responsible energy infrastructure. Besides the objections listed above, it is worth noting that as with any transmission system, there will be unavoidable losses along the line, thus less power will arrive at the Orange County terminal than was applied at the northern starting point just outside of Utica.

Although virtually all local and state politicians have come out against the project, including governor Spitzer, US Senator Schumer, US House Reps Arcuri and Hall, and perhaps dozens of mayors and town councilmen along the route, NYRI is pushing ahead, taking advantage of the Energy Policy Act's Energy Transmission Corridor provision to get what can be called favored treatment. What do I mean by favored treatment? Consider the following:

The federal government had to schedule meetings for public input on this project. Where were they scheduled? You might think that the people who would be directly impacted would have a say at a local venue. No. The first meeting was scheduled for New York City. The second was then scheduled for Rochester, NY. Now Rochester is a fine city, I lived and worked there for a while back in the 1970's, but it is over 130 miles west of Utica, the starting point and most northern and western point of the line. By car, Rochester is a good 2.5 hour drive from Utica, and several more hours for people living further down the line in towns such as Norwich, Deposit or Otisville. To add further insult, the date was not fixed until the last moment, approximately one and a half weeks prior* to the meeting, thus making it difficult for individuals and groups to plan ahead. Of course, the fact that the meeting will be held on a Tuesday evening makes it even more unlikely that the people directly affected by the power lines and 13 story tall towers will be able to attend. This, to me, is evidence of the desire to minimize public dissension and discussion in the official record, that is, to grease the skids.

Ultimately, the question has to be asked, why should one group of people be subjected to higher energy costs, visual blight, environmental degradation, etc., for a project that will do nothing to meet the goals of sustainable energy production, a reduction in energy imports, and reduced environmental impacts so that one company can make a profit?

*The meeting will be held at the Rochester Institute of Technology on Tuesday, June 12, 2007.

Full disclosure: Although I live in the town of Marcy, NY, the proposed line is entirely south of our residence and will not be within sight of our property. My disgust at this project has little if anything to do with my backyard, and a lot to do with the blatant disregard of the hundreds of thousands of people who live, work and travel along the proposed route, while doing precious little to truly help the energy situation in this country.

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Totally off topic, but:
20 - 30 million gallon oil spill near Newton creek .
It's a superb and frightening story from New York magazine about a discovery of pollution by one Basil Seggos. The Boston Marathon is routed across a bridge over Newton creek, and when I read about the Boston Marathon, I think of this blog.
(via: Common Ground )