Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Who is NYRI?

The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has found NYRI's powerline application deficient. According to DEC, it inadequately addressed visual assessment, alternatives (more burial in more places, different routes), details, and endangered species. (For more info, read DEC's letter posted by Ralph at UAD)

Here is another deficiency: The NYRI application does not tell us WHO NYRI IS, a fact that was not missed by an astute observer (who makes some other good points). Who controls the NYRI corporation? Who are its major shareholders? What is their track record for other endeavors?

It is necessary for the Public Service Commission to obtain this information in order to ensure that persons who are unsuitable to carry out responsibilities under the State's permits, certificates or licenses are not authorized to do so. The courts have acknowledged that the environmental compliance history of a permit applicant is relevant to the granting of a permit. Matter of Bio-Tech Mills Inc. v. Williams, 105 A.D. 2d 301 (3d Dept., 1985), aff'd, 65 N.Y. 2d 855 (1985). Logically, compliance with any rule or regulation (not just environmental) would be relevant. Will the applicant be a good citizen or be a troublemaker that will cost tax dollars to monitor? DEC has a long standing policy of obtaining detailed information on applicants. It is not clear that the PSC has anything similar, but it should.

The public has a right to know who is NYRI.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Windmills, Powerlines and Government Policy ...

Windmills proposed for Jordanville are whipping up debate according to the OD. Farmers can't be blamed for wanting them. Growing crops is a risky business given the vagaries of the weather. Windmills will give them another way of making money from their land. Windmills are also a good way to wean us off foreign oil, and they are non-polluting. They would contribute to New York State achieving its goal of 20% of our energy from renewable sources.

Neighbors who won't benefit directly from the windmills, however, are concerned over what they would do to the landscape, and other effects. They can't be blamed either. It's one thing to want renewable energy, but quite another to have to look every day at how it is made. To them, windmills would be a nuisance -- and, like other nuisances, should be regulated by law. The law recognizes that what one does on one's property can adversely affect others, and, for that reason may be regulated. Much of modern environmental law evolved from the common law of nuisance.

What may be a nuisance to one person (a purple house for example) may be a thing of beauty to another. There is a certain amount of subjectiveness to the determination, and perceived benefits will play into this determination. If a windfarm generates cheap power for its community, that community will be less likely to consider the windfarm to be a nuisance. If a neighbor receives a direct benefit from a windmill, he or she will be less likely to complain about it.

Not mentioned in the OD article is how the proposed NYRI powerline will play into the windmill debate. Powerlines are the means by which windmill power will be brought to market. Since NYRI will enable area farmers to sell their power to the NYC area market, more than just the windmills' neighbors will be affected by wind power: namely, all those living along the powerline route. Compounding things, the powerline will likely spawn even more windfarms. If unchecked, one can imagine the entire upstate landscape covered with windmills, with every ampere of power sent over NYRI's line to downstate, while downstate abandons its old powerplants and fails to build new ones. The disparity between the upstate and downstate economies will ensure that if market forces are left to rule, Upstate will get all the negative impacts and Downstate will get all the benefits because the money and political power is Downstate.

If New York State is taken as a whole, it may make sense to let the market forces take over since, in theory, that would result in the greatest efficiency. However, New York State is not a "whole." Upstate and Downstate economies are different. The Upstate economy was literally built on cheap power -- hydropower -- which led to an economy based on manufacturing. Downstate, removed from the sources of hydropower, evolved in a manner less dependent on same.

State policies, controlled by politics and aided by new transmission technologies, have encouraged sharing power between Up and Downstate, lessening the impact of the high demand Downstate, and elevating prices Upstate. The result is that Upstate over the years lost its cheap hydropower advantage over other parts of the country with similar economies ... and its manufacturing base withered along with its economy.

If everything is left to a state-wide marketplace, Upstate will die -- not because Upstate is inherently different than, say, Virginia, but because Upstate's resources will be dedicated to Downstate use. The marketplace appears to be the trend in state policy. PSC law sweeps away local regulation of what occurs in (and what is considered a nuisance by) local jurisdictions and makes decisions from a statewide perspective. Essentially, state policy based strictly on the marketplace will pit one group of people against another. If you believe that government should be there as a referee, to keep one group from taking unfair advantage of another, then state policy is way off the mark.

Policies can be different from what they are. The State could, if it wanted, recognize that localities closer to resources should have the benefit of those resources. It has long been recognized that the State is obliged to ensure that water supplies which are more available for use by one community are not absorbed by another. Syracuse v Gibbs, 283 NY 275 (1940). Why shouldn't this concept apply to water power . . . or wind power . . . or locally generated power of any sort? Pairing resources with communities would lessen conflicts, lessen the liklihood of negative impacts unaccompanied by benefits, and lessen the perception of nuisance. It should be a matter of policy that those who suffer the consequences should be the ones who reap the benefits, and not otherwise.

If Upstate communities are protected from having their local resources absorbed by other communities, Downstate would be encouraged to generate more of its own power, there would be less need for NYRI, and, perhaps, Upstate's economy would be better. At least Upstate would have greater means to control its own destiny.

Our legislators may make NYRI out as the villain, but they are the ones who have made the State policy that encouraged NYRI to happen.

. . . Ask them what will they be doing about changing state policy.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Mohawk River Flooding

Fault Lines, friends and neighbors are airing out their basements after things got a bit wet from yesterday's deluge. But Dan from Upstream reminds us of just how lucky we are with some impressive aerial photos from last month's floods in Montgomery County.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Illegal Gifts of Taxpayers' Money

How many times does Mr. Carucci get to "rework" his deal with the Taxpayers of the City of Utica?

Article VIII of the State Constitution §1 provides:

"No county, city, town, village or school district shall give or loan any money or property to or in aid of any individual, or private corporation or association, or private undertaking, or become directly or indirectly the owner of stock in, or bonds of, any private corporation or association . . . "

Arguably there was a public benefit to the original deal struck between the City and Carucci et al to keep the deal from being an unconstitutional gift of taxpayer money. The Hotel Utica was symbolically too valuable a property to the citizens of Utica to remain shuttered as it had been . . . and to their credit, Carucci and crew really have done a marvelous job in returning this jewel to Utica's crown.

But when is a Deal "a Deal?"

How is the drop in interest from 3.4% to 2.4% justified, particularly at a time when the cost of borrowing is rising?

If the deal is going to be "reworked," it has to be at the prevailing interest rate, or the City should get some new "consideration" from Carucci to support changing the contract. Neither is the case. The City will collect a smaller finance charge and have to wait 15 years longer to get its money back. In the long run, the Taxpayers will wind up with less . . . and THAT'S WHAT MAKES THIS "REWORKING" WRONG.

So, what's the deal? The "same old same old" in New York: Nothing more than a public official using taxpayers' money to confer an illegal gift on someone who is "well connected." Haven't we had enough?

CNY Underground also has some comments on this.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Potpourri: NYRI, School Taxes, Independence Day

Via NYCO we found an editorial IN FAVOR OF the NYRI powerline (scroll down to "Power Play"). Too bad the folks at the Daily News didn't mention the decommissioned Shoreham LI nuke plant, the anticipated closure of two downstate conventional generating plants mentioned in the NYRI application as part justification for their line, or the proposal to shut down the Indian Point nuke plant. We guess in NYC its OK to beg off of the mess/risks of power generation when there is allegedly a surplus of clean upstate power one only needs a line to plug into.

Meanwhile Mayor Julian thinks he has found a way to beat NYRI: by claiming the railroad's contract with NYRI for use of their right of way is illegal. Some cursory research tells us that this plan will get nowhere. Case notes under §17 of the Railroad Law (which gives RRs the right to condemn property) indicate a situation where it was OK for a Railroad to condemn land, build a tunnel under it, and then lease the overlying land for apartment house purposes. Kip v New York C. R. Co. (1931) 140 Misc 62 affd 236 AD 654, affd 260 NY 692. There doesn't seem to be much difference between the RR leasing over head land for an apartment house and the RR leasing the over head air and part of its right of way for powerlines. Hopefully Fault Lines is wrong on this one.

Boilermaker weekend is fast approaching and one of our star runners will be none other than governor-apparent Eliot Sptizer. Hey, let's give him a warm Utica welcome with some "What's your stand on NYRI?" signs.

In the Annoyance Department this week we have an editorial about easing our school taxes with alternative ways of raising money. Here's another suggestion: SPEND LESS.

Also annoying was this cheerful piece on how our country abused the Cherokee. There is always someone who will rain on our parade.

Hope you all had a great 4th!