New chief of NYPA says grid needs an update

ALBANY, NEW YORK - With an aging power transmission grid, New York needs to improve its ability to move electricity from its generation sources to the places that need it. Since taking the reins of the New York Power Authority in mid-October, Richard M. Kessel has made transmission upgrades a top priority.

During a recent interview, Mr. Kessel identified the two main transmission issues as congestion and capacity. Both can be addressed either by replacing or adding transmission capability.

"I think transmission is the key to dealing with all of the power challenges in New York state," he said. "We do have congestion and bottlenecks in various parts of state that make it difficult to move power around the state."

He compared the state's transmission grid to the human circulatory system.

"Think of it like a human body — there are lots of veins, but not all of them go through the heart," Mr. Kessel said. "We have to look at how we can extend transmission to relieve bottlenecks."

The main line carrying power south from Massena has been in service for five decades. Revamping or replacing it with a stronger, longer line could enable New York to import more hydroelectric power from Canada.

"What NYPA needs to do is bring the transmission grid into the 21st century," Mr. Kessel said. "A key part of that is going to be to construct transmission lines to bring resources from Canada into upstate New York and the rest of the state."

When Gov. David A. Paterson traveled to Montreal for the fourth Quebec-New York Economic Summit on November 17, Mr. Kessel went along for a meeting with officials from Hydro-Quebec. Mr. Kessel wanted to talk about negotiating a deal to purchase 1,000 megawatts from Hydro-Quebec, which generates electricity via an extensive network of dams throughout the province, selling what it doesn't use to neighboring provinces and states.

"Clearly, they have excess hydropower in Canada," Mr. Kessel said. "We'd be crazy not to try to get it, because New England will get it."

He plans to meet with Hydro-Quebec again in January.

Energy cost and environmental friendliness are also important factors in looking to the north for power sources.

"Bringing in renewable power to New York has as much to do with generation as to move forward with renewable energy that could be lower priced," Mr. Kessel said. "If we can access hydro from Canada that is cost-effective, we are going to be able to provide clean and cheaper power, particularly in places upstate where economy is struggling."

He mentioned Watertown, Ogdensburg and Massena as communities that could benefit from cheaper power.

Last year, 28 percent of the power generated in New York came from nuclear power plants, while 17 percent came from hydro, 14 percent from coal-fired plants and less than 1 percent from wind, according to load and capacity data published by the New York Independent System Operator, which operates the state's power grid.

NYISO spokesman Ken Klapp said 25 percent of New York's power was generated at plants that can burn either natural gas or oil, with 13 percent from natural gas-only plants and about 1 percent from oil-only plants. These, he said, are the two most expensive options for power generation, though prices have declined somewhat from their recent peaks.

In addition to Canadian electricity, power from other states could be tapped to satisfy New York's growing energy appetite.

Mr. Kessel headed the Long Island Power Authority from 1989 to 2007, except for the years 1995 to 1997. During his tenure, he oversaw the laying of underwater power lines to supply Long Island with 1,000 megawatts of cheap power generated out of state. One runs beneath Long Island Sound from Connecticut, while the other runs under the Atlantic Ocean from New Jersey.

More such underwater lines could be in the offing. Among the possibilities, Mr. Kessel said, are a line from Ontario to Western New York and a second line from New Jersey to New York.

"We're going to look at all possibilities," he said.

Mr. Klapp, the NYISO spokesman, said that while his organization has no authority to mandate where power plants or transmission lines will be built, it does encourage keeping rates as low as possible when formulating its annual plans.

"We propose market-based solutions in which the costs are borne by the developer rather than the customer," Mr. Klapp said. The other option is the "regulated" or "backstop" solution, under which the Public Service Commission must approve passing the costs to ratepayers.

"The underwater lines are more costly from a construction and material standpoint but there are no backyards to go through and no siting issues," he said, noting that the undersea lines from Connecticut and New Jersey were built on the market-based model.

By contrast, the proposed New York Regional Interconnect power line, which would carry electricity from a substation near Utica to Orange County, is a backstop solution. NYISO originally identified a need for such a line in the event that no private developer was willing to assume the costs. The idea has faced widespread opposition along the proposed route.

"I understand the concerns on the NYRI line," Mr. Kessel said. "We need to explore the whole system."

But due to seasonal fluctuations in regional power demand, he said, "At some point, we'll need a line from upstate to downstate to carry power both ways."


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