Recently, I vacationed in the U.S. Virgin Islands and spoke with local, hard-working residents in taxis, shops, and on the street. Although our conversations were many and varied, one issue kept coming up – energy. I was struck by this as my “day job” is to advocate for sound energy policy in New York.
The small island of St. Thomas had recently been left in the dark for nearly two days after a compressor problem caused a main generator to shut down. The Virgin Islanders I came across expressed their distress over the fact that not only could they barely afford electricity, but the service was also not reliable. The blackout was nothing new, nor did they expect it to be the last time they would be left without power for days.
St. Thomas is not alone. Late last year, a transmission wire trip-up led to widespread blackouts across most of San Diego. And we New Yorkers certainly won’t forget the 2003 northeast blackout that shut down New York City for more than half a day. Grid reliability is something we often take for granted until the power goes out.
New York is in a crucial period, during which important decisions must be made in order to address the state’s aging electrical transmission and generation infrastructure. Downstate transmission is overstressed. A combination of high demand and continuous output from generators running at near-full capacity create bottlenecks at key congestion points in Albany and Utica. At the same time, low-cost in-state generated power remains stranded in upstate and western New York, unable to get to the downstate region where demand is greatest.
To help policymakers and the public understand this important and often complex issue, the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance (New York AREA) released its latest issue brief, New York’s Transmission Challenges and Opportunities: An Overview. The issue brief details the condition of New York’s transmission infrastructure and the efforts currently underway to address the deficiencies in the system while preparing for the future rise in statewide demand for electricity.
One such effort is Governor Andrew Cuomo’s statewide initiative to determine the best way to enhance and build out New York’s transmission system. The governor understands that an efficient, upgraded transmission system will strengthen reliability and lead to greater electric affordability for ratepayers.
New York is at a crossroads. We must not allow dueling interests to derail our efforts to determine what is best for New York now and in the future. The right course of action by the state will lead us toward a future where we embrace and support our existing power sources, add new generation to meet expected growth in demand, and transform the state from a net consumer to a net producer of energy. The wrong course will place New Yorkers at the mercy of out-of –state interests, putting our own generators out of businesses, and sending vital New York jobs across the border.
Let’s hope, and work, to get it right.
About the Author: Rich Thomas is a resident of Mount Vernon and serves as Director of the New York Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, a.k.a. New York AREA. For additional information visit www.area-alliance.org.