Property in Franklin, Clinton and St. Lawrence counties could be seized in the interest of national security if the land is where a federal commission says power lines should go.
The initiative is meant to improve the delivery of electricity to populated areas along the Eastern Seaboard.
And it is designed to prevent the kind of wide-spread, rolling blackouts and power interruptions that California experienced — situations that experts predict will start in New York and other eastern states in 2011 unless system upgrades are made.
But opponents, such as the Sierra Club and historic-preservation groups, contend that state and local governments would be stripped of the power to control what occurs within their boundaries under the plan and that host communities and land owners would get little compensation.
Anyone interested in expressing views about the plan can submit comments to the U.S. Department of Energy until Friday, July 6.
U.S. Rep. John McHugh (R-Pierrepont Manor) is co-sponsor of three bills in the House of Representatives that would amend parts and rescind portions of the federal policy that granted such broad powers to protect property owners from intrusion.
To comply with the National Energy Policy Act of 2005 to improve electrical-delivery systems in the U.S., the Department of Energy commissioned a study to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the current system and offer solutions.
The study concluded that an answer would be to establish national corridors to link places that could increase their power-production capacity to places that need more power.
Those corridors would be in effect for 12 years.
In April, the Energy Department presented a draft proposal to establish two National Interest Electric Transmission areas.
The Southwest Area National Interest Corridor would include California, Arizona and Nevada.
And the Mid-Atlantic Area National Interest Corridor would include the District of Columbia, eight states including New York — specifically Franklin, Clinton and St. Lawrence counties.
Two factors that make the North Country areas of interest for increased power production are the hydropower-production system operated by the New York Power Authority at the St. Lawrence-Franklin Delano Roosevelt Power Project in Massena and the construction and planned development of wind-energy farms in northwest Clinton and eastern Franklin County.
Losing local voice?
Under the proposal, the final say in where power facilities and transmission lines would be built for these corridors would go to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
But critics say states and local governments lose their voice in the process to a group of commission members who are not elected yet but will determine if, how and when property can be taken.
The Energy Department also wants the Regulatory Commission to have the authority to overrule states when an application for a new transmission facility is denied.
According to its Web site, the department states “if an applicant does not receive approval from a state to site a proposed new transmission facility within a national corridor, FERC may consider whether to issue a permit and to authorize the construction of the facility.”
A right-of-way permit obtained from a federal district court would “empower the project developer to exercise the right of eminent domain to acquire necessary property rights to build the facilities.”
Critics say that is an end run around the law.
Power project in works
Another branch of the issue is the proposed construction of a $1.26 billion power project from Marcy in Central New York to New Windsor in Orange County.
The New York Regional Interconnection is an Albany-based corporation that would build a high voltage, direct current power line to span 190 miles across southern New York.
It includes 400 kilovolt power lines, two converter substations and two transmission stations that would link with the New York Independent System Operator network.
There would also be $13.5 million in upgrades made to two existing substations to generate 1,200 megawatts of power to feed the New York bulk-power system.
Estimates are that the system would save consumers $11.7 billion over 20 years statewide.
The Regional Interconnection plan would also provide the same eminent-domain powers to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that the energy-transmission corridor does.
Backers hope to begin construction in 2008 and have the power project operational by 2011.
It has been in the planning stages since 2004, when Gov. George Pataki was in office, but Gov. Eliot Spitzer has said he will not approve such a project.
Questioning the process
McHugh is co-sponsoring three bills that either repeal sections of the Energy Act of 2005 or amend parts to eliminate eminent-domain privileges for Regulatory Commission members.
The bills, HR 809, HR 810 and HR 829, have each been forwarded to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce for action.
“Letter writing still means something around here, and it still is an effective way to bring about change,” said his press secretary, Matt Lavoie.
That’s why McHugh fired off letters to Department of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman John Dingell of Michigan and Peter Visclosky, chairman of Energy and Water Development.
“It’s the process he’s questioning, not the policy,” Lavoie said. “It’s not a question of the technology, but he is deeply concerned about the attempt to circumvent state’s rights and the permit process.”
He said the congressman “has been at the forefront of renewable-energy initiatives and finding alternatives to dependence on oil.
“The problem he has is with the process,” Lavoie said. “He is not against energy companies, but the process exists for a reason.”
In the Bodman letter, McHugh and the other co-sponsors point out that 50 million Americans spread out across 117,000 miles will be impacted by the Energy Department’s decision.
They said holding just seven public meetings “in the middle of the work week simply does not accommodate the rights of American citizens to have their voice heard by federal officials.”
The sponsors asked for the deadline for comments to be extended another 30 days so additional public meetings can be held.
The letter to Dingell, the co-sponsors state that the corridors are “setting the wheels in motion to allow federal siting of new transmission lines to shore up an archaic transmission grid.”
They argue that the law does not address or encourage alternative-energy sources, management of electricity demand or other factors.
The group urged Dingell’s committee to consider adding a new transmission grid to its deliberations as it develops a policy on climate change and alternative-energy solutions.
McHugh’s co-sponsored letter to Visclosky declared the energy-transmission corridor flawed and that any corridor designations should be delayed.
Open for public comment
A 60-day public-comment period for both the New York Regional Interconnection and the energy-transmission corridors proposal ends July 6.
Three meetings were initially held to allow public comment before a panel of Department of Energy officials, but they were held in Washington, D.C., San Diego, Calif., and New York City.
After an outcry from members of Congress, who said those impacted the most by the plans were not able to attend meetings hundreds of miles away, four more meetings were added.
The closest to northern New York was held in Rochester last week while the others were scheduled later this month in Pittsburgh, Pa., Las Vegas, Nev., and Phoenix, Ariz.
Written comments can be submitted through the National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor Web site at [http://nietc.anl.gov/] or mailed to The Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, OE-20, U.S. Department of Energy, 1000 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C., 20585.
By Denise A. Raymo