Sunday, March 18, 2007

Bigger Than NYRI

"Bait-and-Switch" might have come to the minds of some people when reading Friday's news that the PSC will require NYRI to analyze use of the Marcy South power line route as an alternative to its own proposed route. The thought of 14-story towers and lines passing through quiet neighborhoods and heavily populated areas in the City of Utica, Village of NY Mills, and Town of New Hartford is so repugnant to so many that a routing through Herkimer County might bring a sense of relief -- and melt some of the opposition to the project. One wonders if this was the "real" plan because NYRI in its original application offered to consider the most northern part of the Marcy South route as an alternative to going through the heavily populated areas of Oneida County.

"The Straw Man" is the proposal to run the power line down the Thruway. We're not sure exactly where this idea originated, but it was discussed by a lot of candidates during the last election both locally and at the other end of the proposed line, as well as US Sen. Schumer. (If only politicians would not shoot from the hip like this.) With so many politicians talking about a Thruway alternative, it took on the appearance of being an "acceptable" alternative. Instead of promulgating criteria (such as "avoiding populated areas to the maximum extent practicable") and having NYRI develop the alternative route to meet the criteria, PSC went with the politicians' choice of the Thruway: a "convenient" alternative that can be "studied," but which has no real chance of being selected because it would pass by and affect even more people than the proposed route. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of NYS geography (hardly taught in school anymore) knows this. Unfortunately, PSC Staff and NYRI 3/15/07 stipulated that PSC will not require study of any other alternatives except those specifically listed in their stipulation (i.e., PSC will not require NYRI to consider a route "avoiding populated areas to the maximum extent practicable"). After PSC's "Dog and Pony" show, the Thruway will be discarded because next to it, NYRI's routes will actually look "good."

Crumbling the Coalition? A lot seems to be happening that potentially could crumble the coalition against NYRI. The desire of some Herkimer County and other Upstate landowners and municipalities to develop wind power that would benefit from NYRI could eliminate opposition from that segment. Choosing the Marcy South alternative locally could blunt opposition in Oneida County. Putting the lines underground in certain locations could make other opposition go away. Studying a "Thruway" alternative could financially exhaust those remaining. If NYRI satisfies enough "special interests," then the "special interests" represented by NYRI will win the day. I'm sure that to our politicians, this would be Standard Operating Procedure. Letting special interests play off against each other until a victor emerges is the way our government operates every day. It is also lazy government and is what has turned Upstate NY into an economic wasteland. There are no leaders with foresight anymore (except, possibly, Mr. Spitzer, but it is too early to tell). Our career politicians are only interested in what will get them reelected, not the long term consequences of their actions.

Bigger than NYRI.
If the coalition against NYRI focuses on what is really at stake, it won't allow itself to be played off against each other . . . and what is at stake is much bigger than preventing a particular power line from passing through particular communities. Upstate's very survival is threatened not by NYRI, but by governments (State and National) allowing market forces to place the interests of populated geographic areas over those that are less populated. The country's Founding Fathers understood how market forces would not respect the less powerful regions, and sought to ensure that each State's perspective would have to be dealt with. They did this by giving each state the same number of Senators. We previously blogged about the root cause of Upstate's demise: reapportionment of the State Senate. The Upstate perspective was thereafter lost. Now Upstate is further threatened by a Federal Government that has forgotten that its powers are limited under the Constitution, and that its States are sovereign over their own territories. "National interests" now trump local. So while a Federal Government sees the national interest in keeping its financial capital growing with cheap electricity, it overlooks the fact that the regions expected to supply the electricity have much lower incomes and will not be able to afford the increased costs to them that will result. Westchester's mean family income is $142,233 compared to Oneida County's $59,982. Thus, it is only natural that Westchester would pay more for power -- the law of supply and demand -- too many dollars chasing too few kilowatts. When things become too expensive for Downstate, growth will stop and go elsewhere -- perhaps Upstate. What is wrong with that? The Federal government, however, wants to tinker with the natural progression, and artificially stick Upstate into the same energy market as Downstate via the power line. Given the current differences in income, Upstate will lose.

Now it is electricity. Next it will be water. Something else later.

Everyone has a right to survive. Both State and Federal governments need to ensure that their policies do not sacrifice one region for another.