Powering Strong Communities

NYPA Forum Details Ingredients for Moving Large Transmission Projects Forward

New York stakeholders detailed some of the strategies that have helped them move transmission projects forward in the state during a recent online forum sponsored by the New York Power Authority (NYPA).

The forum, Collaborating To Get It Done: How New York State Is Expanding Transmission for Its Clean Energy Economy, brought together transmission stakeholders, including NYPA, the New York Independent System Operator, GridWise Alliance, and a dairy farmer from upstate New York.

A recent report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found institutional and structural barriers that are preventing hundreds of gigawatts of clean energy from coming online due to interconnection issues. Average interconnection costs for recent transmission projects have nearly doubled relative to historical costs from 2000 through 2018, LBNL found. New York State, meanwhile, is building more transmission than it has in 40 years and is upgrading or building hundreds of miles of transmission lines.

Three elements underpin NYPA’s success with transmission projects, “having people in the field with a local understanding,” building on that understanding, and “taking a long-term view,” Phil Toia, president of NYPA Development, said at the event.

“We know those areas,” whether it is vegetation management or asset management, “we do what we say we are going to do” and that helps with the regulatory and permitting aspects of a project, Toia said.

Toia said he has seen more transmission development over the past couple of years than he has in the past 30.

Earlier this month, NYPA, with National Grid NY, began construction on the Smart Path Connect transmission project that is rebuilding and strengthening about 100 miles of power lines in the state’s North Country and Mohawk Valley. NYPA is also working on the Smart Path project that entails the rebuilding of the Moses-to-Adirondack transmission lines.

Work also began in December on the 339-mile Champlain Hudson Power Express transmission line being developed by Transmission Developers Inc.

The Champlain Hudson Power Express and the Clean Path NY project, which is being developed by NYPA and Forward Power, a joint venture of Invenergy and energyRe, are the largest transmission developments in New York State in the last 50 years, NYPA said.

In addition, NYPA and LS Power New York are developing the Central East Energy Connect project that calls for the rebuilding and expansion of nearly 100 miles of historically heavily congested transmission lines in the Utica-Albany corridor.

New York Transco's New York Energy Solution calls for the rebuilding of approximately 54 miles of transmission lines in the Hudson Valley, a project that is already underway, and NextEra Energy Transmission New York recently completed and energized the approximately 20-mile Empire State Line Project in Western New York. All told, New York's transmission investments total nearly 1,000 miles of new and upgraded projects.

NYPA has also collaborated  with TransCo to submit a set of solutions dubbed Propel NY Energy to the NYISO’s solicitation for proposals for connecting new offshore wind resources to the Southeastern New York power grid. A decision on those proposals is expected in the first part of next year.

“Originally we were rebuilding old lines,” now “we are starting to look at the next phase” and at projects that are larger and more complex, Toia said. “There is always a balance in trying to get as much out of our existing resources and building new projects.”

“Interconnection is an important issue and a challenging one,” Emilie Nelson, executive vice president of the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), said during the forum. “In many areas, we have established an effective approach, but there is room for improvement.”

Extensive investment in transmission resources is going to be necessary to deliver the renewable energy needed to meet New York State’s climate goals, Nelson said. That can be seen particularly in the imbalance between the upstate and downstate resource mix in the state. Zero emission resources make up about 90 percent of upstate electricity production while fossil fuels generate up to 89 percent of downstate electricity production.

In addition, between 111 gigawatts (GW) and 124 GW of renewable generation will need to be added to the NYISO grid by 2040 to meet New York’s goal of having an emissions free grid.

In that context, “we need to find better ways” to understand core reliability issues and “to efficiently evaluate and finalize and allow these projects to move forward,” Nelson said. One of the keys, she said is communication and figuring out how to have the parties involved effectively engage on the issues. “We absolutely need these transmission projects and supply resources to materialize.”

One of the key constituents in those discussions are landowners and, particularly in upstate New York, farmers. “You are never going to find a farmer who is going to say, ‘oh, yeah, build a tower on my land,’” Jon Greenwood, founder of Greenwood Dairy.

A farmer’s biggest concern is where the towers are going to be located because they can present impediments to planting and sowing operations, Greenwood said.

Cash offers based on appraised land values are often “not really indicative of the value of the land to our operation,” Greenwood said. A developer could pay 90 percent of the value of the land, “but it doesn’t really compensate. No one would voluntarily pay that kind of money to put an obstruction in their field.”

Anything that can be done to avoid placing a transmission tower on crop land or placing them in the least obstructive way will help smooth the path and help the developer win farmers’ cooperation, Greenwood said.

Greenwood recommended that transmission planners engage with farm owners early in the process and ask the owner’s advice on issues such as where would be the best, least obstructive location for tower access roads. He also said that monopoles are “a big improvement” over the more conventional four-legged towers that are harder to maneuver around.

“The best thing for a farmer is to work with the powers that be from the get go,” Greenwood said. For instance, a developer should ask a farmer where he would like the lines to come in rather than just using the right of way. “Communication in the key,” Greenwood said.