ALBANY — New York's ambitious green energy goals are facing tall challenges due to a lack of transmission lines needed to move electricity from the upstate region to the power hungry metropolis of New York City.
That is one of the conclusions in the annual report of the New York Independent System Operator (ISO), which manages the power grid across the state and works to ensure the reliability of the network of transmission systems.
New York's goal of getting at least 50 percent of its energy from clean, renewable sources by 2030 "will be jeopardized because energy delivery from renewable resources to downstate load centers will be constrained," the grid manager suggested.
The snapshot of the state's power resources offered a tale of two regions, with power to downstate mainly being generated from the burning of fossil fuels, while upstate chiefly relies on hydro, nuclear and increasing levels of wind energy.
New York's power system moves electricity over 11,173 circuit miles of high-voltage transmission lines. More than 80 percent of the network came into service before 1980, according to the report.
Key trends facing the grid include public policy initiatives addressing global climate change, with policymakers striving to slash greenhouse gas emissions by increasing reliance on "intermittent" sources, such as wind and solar, as well as energy storage technology that can hold power generated by green sources.
While the report does not discuss the regional skirmishes that have resulted from the siting of new transmission lines in the upstate region, the history of infrastructure projects suggests such battles are inevitable.
Large scale power line projects have too often been on imposed on upstate regions, with downstate reaping the bulk of the benefits, state Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, said after reviewing the ISO report.
"I don't want to see upstate be a thoroughfare for transmission lines from upstate to downstate," Seward said. "It will scar our landscape, without any benefit to upstaters."
He said sending that power downstate has had an upward pressure on electricity prices for upstate.
"They ought to be looking at generating the electricity closer to where it is needed," Seward said. "That would be my preference rather than building more transmission lines."
Richard Berkley, director of the consumer advocacy group Public Utility Law Project of New York, said the report makes a strong case that New York needs to upgrade its antiquated transmission system, noting it was not designed for a time when solar and wind projects are being connected to the grid.
One benefit of modernizing the grid, Berkley said, would be the creation of "a lot of well paying jobs, as the construction unions would get a lot of work," he said. But the cost of improving the grid will likely fall on ratepayers, he acknowledged.
"The question will be: how are you going to keep it affordable for people who are barely making it now?" Berkley said.
Planning for New York City's future energy mix is joined with plans to expand transmission in the upstate region. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last month that the city would buy carbon-free electricity from the Champlain Hudson Power Express, a hydroelectric line project slated to be completed in 2025.
Running under Lake Champlain before heading into the Hudson Valley, it was first proposed in 2008. The nation's largest city has a goal of an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.
More transmission capability is needed to keep electricity being generated with wind from being lost through the constraints of the current system, Richard Dewey, vice president of the ISO told reporters in a conference call.
Siting approvals are now being sought from state regulators for transmission projects to carry hydroelectric power from western and central New York to the downstate region, and more power lines will be needed beyond those systems, Dewey explained.
Dewey, asked about the consequences if New York's grid is not expanded, said: "We will probably be inhibited in the ability to achieve the renewable goals we've laid out. It will mean a longer term and bigger dependence on downstate fuel units. It will mean we will be limited in the number of new projects that can be added to the system."
He added there could also be an increase in energy prices.
The ISO report noted that New York experienced its highest demand for electricity last year at about 5 p.m. on August 29.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at email@example.com