By Margaret Wentworth and Richard Marshall
The hot topic of new high-voltage power lines running through the Hudson Valley has cooled only slightly after a Public Service Commission ruling indefinitely delayed a key deadline in the process.
On Jan. 17, state PSC administrative law judges Michelle Phillips and David Prestemon ruled that the deadline for submitting initial and reactive comments on five proposals to build the transmission lines (four of which affect the east side of the Hudson) would be postponed indefinitely.
Their ruling followed a notice by the PSC on Jan. 14 making two key points: that there would be a new proceeding initiated in first-quarter 2014 and that the commission, “in light of policy objectives designed to avoid landowner and environmental impacts,” will consider whether modifications to the existing proceedings are needed.
According to documents filed with the PSC, three of the proposals — put forward by National Grid/Central Hudson, North American Transmission, and NextEra Energy — would build new 345-kilovolt overhead lines — some on 100-foot-high towers — through eight counties, including Dutchess and Columbia, affecting more than 30 towns, including Milan and Clinton. The documents show that these plans may include the widening of existing right-of-ways by as much as 150 feet at various points on the 150-mile-plus route from an Oneida County substation to either Pleasant Valley or Orange or Rockland County.
A fourth proposal, by Boundless Energy, affects only the west side of the Hudson and the fifth would upgrade existing lines in Greene and Ulster Counties, crossing into southern Dutchess County from Orange County via underground lines. Boundless Energy’s application is the only one of the five that would not require widening any existing right of ways.
The proposals came out of a request of the Energy Highway Task Force, created by Cuomo in 2012, to produce a “blueprint” to improve the state’s overall energy infrastructure and particularly relieve congestion in the transmission of energy from upstate to downstate. The PSC then solicited proposals for constructing transmission lines with at least 1000-megawatt capacity to be added to the existing corridor, which already has two 345Kv lines and four 115Kv lines where it travels through Milan and Clinton.
The PSC had originally laid out a review process that could have taken up to two years, while several proposals were compared and public feedback considered. However, in his recent State of the State address, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called for accelerated review of transmission proposals that would run through existing right-of-ways or state-owned land, but not for those that require taking private lands through eminent domain.
Those statements, followed by the PSC’s actions, give local residents more time to consider the potential impact of the proposals.
Milan Councilwoman Marion Mathison told the Observer the delay isn’t completely welcome. “It is good news in that the PSC seems to be responding to comments and requests to move this project toward the governor’s preferred strategy of staying inside the [right of way] and with a 10-month schedule rather than a five-year outlook. [But] it is a concern because of the potential for delaying a process that is already damaging residents and towns,” she said.
Meanwhile, the proposals have come under intense scrutiny in the Town of Clinton, where they were the focus of the town board’s Jan. 14 meeting.
“I’ve been to, at a minimum, one and up to three meetings a week for the last two months on this stuff, and I still haven’t gone to them all — it’s impossible,” said Town Supervisor Ray Oberly.
Arthur DePasqua, planning board liaison to the Clinton town board power line committee, said, “It’s kind of at a critical stage now, where hopefully all parties on both sides of the river are now going to get together and form a union against this.”
At the meeting, Greg Quinn, spokesperson for No Monster Power Lines and Clinton Concerned Citizens, the two Clinton citizen groups opposing the lines, announced that a coalition of towns and communities on the east side of the Hudson has already formed. The group is expected to decide on a name this week.
Its members include the towns of Clinton, Milan and Pleasant Valley, Friends and Farmers of Claverack, Friends and Farmers of Livingston, Winnakee Land Trust, Dutchess Land Conservancy, Columbia Land Conservancy, the Omega Institute, and Olana.
Quinn said the groups have a specific goal of “keeping [any new transmission lines] within the 3D footprint, taking no land by eminent domain, raising no more high towers, putting down no more new lines, and putting new lines on existing towers.”
Joel Tyner, Dutchess County Legislator for Clinton and Rhinebeck, is advocating for the Boundless Energy plan, which he told the Clinton meeting “solves the electricity congestion bottleneck elegantly, efficiently, just by re-cabling with graphite composite cable from Leeds in Greene County to Hurley Avenue in Kingston.”
Oberly has also publicly endorsed the Boundless Energy plan.
Clinton will host another public forum on the power lines on January 30 at 5:30pm at Town Hall.
Meanwhile, the administrative law judges awarded $30,000 each to Clinton Concerned Citizens and Friends and Farmers of Livingston in “intervenor” funds, which are designed to help defray the costs of commenting parties.
Those awards followed three on Dec. 20 from the PSC, which gave intervenor funding of $40,000 to the town of Milan for attorney and engineer fees; $50,000 to Dutchess County to be used to retain an energy consultant; and $25,000 to the nonprofit Scenic Hudson organization for staff time spent on analyzing the proposals.