Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A Cure for Congestion . . . Ditching the Grid

The dreaded (by Upstate NY) NATIONAL ELECTRIC TRANSMISSION CONGESTION STUDY was released today by the U.S. Dept of Energy. As expected, it shows southeastern New York (NY City, Long Island, lower Hudson Valley) and southward along the coast to the Washington, DC area as "one continuous congestion area" that will require billions of dollars in transmission, generation and demand-side resources to protect grid reliability and ensure the area's economic vitality. The study notes that NY State depends on oil and gas for 35% of its power production (while the US average is 21%), and that power moves across the state from the northwest to the southeast and that all such flows must pass through a central set of transmission facilities located between western and downstate NY. [Could they be talking about Marcy?].

Being a Federal Study, other pathways for power into the NY Metropolitan area are also examined, including from New Jersey and up the Delaware River. There is currently under construction the "Neptune" Line that will move electricity from New Jersey into Long Island, easing LI's needs but creating problems for New Jersey. The study recognizes that some "parties" are looking into routing through New Jersey as a way of accessing "low -cost" generators in the Midwest to support NYC, but that it could increase wholesale power prices in New Jersey and elsewhere. (This sounds like the effect that NYRI would have on Upstate, but this effect on Upstate does not appear to be recognized by the study, with Upstate somehow being invisible within New York State.) The study notes that improved transmission lines would allow access to cheap Canadian hydropower and windpower.

As Fault Lines previously noted, part of Long Island's problem is the fact that it was unwilling to allow, and had the political muscle to prevent, the Shoreham Nuclear plant from opening even though it was built at a cost of billions. Now, because of that region's economic importance to the Federal Government (i.e.,politics) the Mid-West and Upstate New York may have to tolerate higher electric prices to keep Long Island in power inspite of the fact that people living in these other regions do not have Long Island incomes. The study ignores the fact that we are not beneficiaries of the same economy.

A cure for congestion is more power generation closer to where it is needed. While Long Island and New York State politicians may have created part of the problem by shuttering Shoreham, there are some Long Islanders who may have come up with a solution using fuel cell technology.

Verizon (VZ, no fly-by-night outfit) has been using fuel cells to power one of its facilities in Garden City, generating electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen atoms, giving off water and heat (which could also be used) as byproducts. Seven fuel cells generate power for a 292,000-square-foot facility that provides telephone and data services to some 35,000 customers on Long Island. VZ wanted control over its own power supply. While expensive to deploy (which cost could be reduced if done in volume), VZ's cost savings of $680K from its new facility far exceeded its predicted savings of $250K. The facility is also good for the environment and decreases dependence on foreign sources of fuel.

Instead of more large scale transmission facilities and large scale generation facilities (with large scale impacts) as presumed by the Federal Study, a more decentralized system (like the internet) using fuel cell technology might make more sense and be more secure. Those old enough will remember that there were no major blackouts until large regions became interconnected into a grid. (The first time that it happened in the early 60s was quite shocking -and it was the first time most heard about the "grid.") Municipalities might now consider their own power systems using fuel cell technology, giving them greater control over their economic futures and security -- like VZ is striving for.

Of course, if a lot of people followed VZ's lead, the obvious losers would be the big power generators and transmission facility operators. These interests are already plugged into the state and federal policymakers' circuits and are being heard. They are the ones setting energy policy, and naturally they will favor themselves. But there are alternatives that are starting to prove themselves now, and the key is for people to demand them.

The high electric prices on LI gave VZ the incentive to develop the new technology that could be used elsewhere. The Federal Plan to take from one region to give to another through national interest electric transmission corridors only preserves the status quo among generators and operators, removing the financial incentive for change and wedding everyone to 20th century practices and 20th century companies.

Maybe that is the Federal Plan's real intent because the current players are the ones who will most benefit from it.

Controlling demand is another way of relieving congestion. This is where government (state and local) needs to take responsibility. "Growth" for one region isn't "good" when it burdens neighboring regions or limits their growth. "Growth" is of no benefit to the people of a region if its infrastructure is already operating at capacity -- but it will benefit certain business interests. Unfortunately, it is politically easier to take from those who are outnumbered than to provide for oneself.


NYCO said...

I really am starting to believe that communities, even whole cities, upstate are simply regarded as Injuns who can eventually be pushed or bought off their land. What the powers that be want is land for second homes, for power lines, and of course they will want to sell Upstate's water too (at a pretty profit) when it gets to that point. The people living here are immaterial, just as the Iroquois were back in the day. In the 1790s the Iroquois were not developing their land "properly," so they had to go, by hook or crook. Just like upstate New York communities are not "properly" using the land now, in the view of the colonizers.

I'm not optimistic that upstate New York communities can avoid the fate of the Iroquois. Perhaps the fate is even worse. At least the Iroquois had treaties with the U.S. that are still intact and give them a small leverage. As U.S. citizens, ironically non-Indian upstate New Yorkers are facing the same essential removal process but basically the government can do whatever it wants to us because we are its subjects.

Ironic that while we're struggling to avoid de facto "removal" (through economic means) by our own government, the Iroquois and other indigenous peoples of the world are only now just getting the attention they have long sought from the United Nations.

Strikeslip said...

I believe what we see playing out now between populous Downstate and the relatively sparsely populated Upstate was forseen by our Founding Fathers when they chose to have the House of Reps based on population and the Senate based on geography: each state would have some control over its own destiny.

The "Founding Fathers" of our state saw things the same way, but, for some reason, the US Supreme Court in the 1960s did not. As a result, our state Senate became reapportioned on the basis of population. To me, that was the beginning of the "end" to Upstate.