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Cuomo's "energy highway" slowly taking shape

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo says New York's aging power grid needs a major upgrade.

Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said one of his top priorities is to create an “energy highway” for New York State’s aging power grid.

So what exactly does that mean?

No one is quite sure yet.

The bottleneck

New York’s Capital Region is well known as a place where stuff can get stuck - whether it’s a bill that gets stalled in a committee at the Capitol, or cars piling up in traffic during the morning commute.

But the area around Albany is also known as a congestion spot for something invisible - the power that runs through the state’s electric grid.

When electricity from upstate moves toward power-hungry New York City, it gets clogged along the way.

The physical limitations of aging transmission lines and other power infrastructure is the main cause of congestion. It happens in places like Utica, Albany, and southward down the Hudson Valley.

“Let’s connect the dots”

In his State of the State address back in January, Cuomo said he wants to break the gridlock.

“We have supply of power in northern New York [and] Quebec,” said Cuomo. “We have power supply in western New York. We have a tremendous need for power in downstate New York. Let’s connect the dots.” 

The governor says he wants to do for the state’s power grid, what President Dwight Eisenhower did for America’s highway system.

It’s an ambitious goal - but the details remain vague. 

Slow motion

The state is currently looking for ideas from private companies. The Cuomo administration is asking for suggestions about policy changes, needed repairs and new construction - be it power plants or high-voltage transmission lines.

“If we want the state to develop - and we need the jobs and we need the businesses - we’re going to need the power,” Cuomo said in January. “And this is the way we’re gonna do it.”

But no one really knows how they’re gonna do it. Nearly five months after that speech, the planning stages are just getting underway.

Gil Quiniones heads the New York Power Authority (NYPA) and serves on the governor’s Energy Highway Task Force. Even he’s not sure how the plans will take shape yet.

“It’s too early to tell,” Quiniones said last week.

That’s because Cuomo’s energy highway isn’t really one grand idea. Instead, it’s likely to be a lot of projects, both big and small.

NYPA’s Quiniones says the idea is to build on existing rights of way. That means transmission lines could run along railroad tracks, the Hudson River, or even under the busy Thruway.

“It could be underground, underwater, or within the corridors where we already have existing energy infrastructure,” says Quiniones.

No more nuclear?

One big unknown is the future of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, which generates about a quarter of New York City’s electricity.

The licenses for its reactors will expire soon. And Cuomo wants to shut it down.

Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) chief, Joe Martens, who also sits on the Energy Highway Task Force, says the state needs to seek alternatives.

“This [energy highway] initiative is looking for ways to replace the power we can reasonably anticipate is going to be lost for whatever reason - whether it’s because Indian Point isn’t re-licensed or a plant just retires because it’s old,” says Martens.

Earlier this month, the energy task force held two forums in the New York City area, which attracted representatives from 320 different companies.  

Proposals from those companies are due to the task force by the end of May. The proposals will then be used to develop a broader action plan for the state.

Officials say that plan is expected to come out later this summer.

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