Region Lacks Plan for Power
By Roger Witherspoon
The Journal News (Westchester County, NY)
June 9, 2002 Sunday
Parts of nation generate excess electricity, but prospects dim for getting supply
transmitted to area
The Journal News
Power plants in the 13 states around New York and in Canada are producing
thousands of megawatts of excess electricity that can't be tapped here because of an
inadequate transmission network that restricts how different systems share energy.
The constraints in transmitting electricity would make it difficult for regions such as
Westchester County and New York City to make up for the loss of any major power
suppliers over the next few years, particularly during peak usage periods. That
means the state would have difficulty absorbing the loss of the Indian Point nuclear
power plants in Buchanan, which can produce up to 2,000 megawatts to serve about
2 million homes, and which opponents have been clamoring to have shut down since
"With the electricity system, it's not just 'Can you get the power?' but 'Can you get
the power to where it is needed?'" said Ken Klapp of the New York Independent
System Operator, or ISO, which controls the state's power grid. "You may be able to
get some power from New England, but you can't necessarily replace all that power."
Yet the power is out there, waiting to be tapped, which is why federal regulators
have proposed a potential solution that could ease transmission bottlenecks
throughout the nation. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees
power supplies, last year asked regional independent system operators to consider
merging where possible, enabling power producers to more easily share their
The Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Maryland system, which currently serves 25 million
people, is planning to merge with the Midwest and Southwest ISOs, adding 22 states
and the Canadian province of Manitoba to a seamless power market.
Later this month, the ISOs in New York, with 19 million customers, and New
England, serving 6.5 million people in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New
Hampshire, Rhode Island and Maine, will send a formal proposal to FERC to merge
those two systems. They also propose the creation of a regional transmission
organization, or RTO, which would own and improve the entire transmission network.
Until now, there was little reason for individual companies to improve the capabilities
of the state's power grid, said Steven Sullivan of the New York ISO.
"What's the incentive for Niagara Mohawk to do something with their system just
because the people downstate want that power?" he said. "With the RTO, we can
identify those areas where the system is most constrained and develop solutions for
that. There will be one company managing the distribution of electricity, and that will
be their sole function."
The solution won't come quickly, however. While planning for improvements to the
region's transmission system would proceed as part of the formal merger process
and could be completed in a year or two, it could take up to four years to complete
the merger and the establishment of an RTO, Sullivan said. The plan would have to
be approved by FERC, the individual state public utility commissions, and the utilities
"The New York ISO has a study due out this fall which looks at all the transmission
issues in the state, and where upgrades are most needed and what the cost savings
would be," he said. "That is the first step towards improving the system."
The ability of the region to forgo Indian Point, power operators say, would depend on
improvements in the transmission network, the effectiveness of conservation
measures and the willingness of new power providers to enter the market.
"There may be developers who see some benefit in (Indian Point) closing," Klapp
said. "If you lose 2,000 megawatts, there will be a strong demand for power in that
The limited ability of geographic neighbors to share electricity stems from the current
nature of the nation's deregulated power markets.
Each region of the country is served by its own independent system operator,
networks that were developed in the late 1990s to oversee each region's energy
market and to send power where it is needed over the power grids.
Transmission lines, however, are owned by individual power companies, such as
Consolidated Edison, which were built to serve their own customers. As a result, a
region's power grid is not a seamless network but a collection of smaller power
systems linked together by transmission lines.
In theory, that should not pose problems. But the links between the smaller grids
have limits as to how much electricity they can hold, just as electric sockets in a
home will overheat if too many cords are plugged into them.
"Electricity functions like water in a backyard pool," Sullivan said. "If you drop a
bucket of water into one side and walk around to the other side and take out a
bucket, the net result is no change in the pool's water level. You haven't taken out
the same molecules, and it doesn't matter.
"Electricity should work the same way - you put some in, and can take it out
In reality, the limits in the transmission system cut that theoretical pool into several
little ones connected by straws. Electricity from Westchester to New York City has to
go through a substation in Yonkers, for example, with a capacity of 1,200 megawatts
on two transmission lines, one of which is currently broken.
"We don't know where the electricity from Indian Point really goes," Sullivan said,
"except that it goes into the system. You can have 10,000 megawatts sitting in
Westchester, but you cannot get it into the city. A lot of Indian Point's electricity
probably goes to the city, but the rest of it gets clogged at the substation (in
Among the independent system operators with excess energy, the Pennsylvania/New
Jersey/Maryland network - which serves seven mid-Atlantic states and Washington,
D.C. - is the world's largest wholesale electricity market and the third-largest power
grid after France and Tokyo. That network, spokesman Ray Dotter said, projects a
surplus this summer of 1,300 megawatts, which is expected to balloon to 7,000
megawatts in 2005.
But only four of the network's 12 transmission lines into New York state come to
Rockland County and eastern New York, and at most they can transmit about 2,000
megawatts, Dotter said. None of these lines go directly from New Jersey into New
New England currently has an excess generating capacity of about 6,000 megawatts,
and expects that figure to swell to 9,000 megawatts by 2005, according to Ellen
Foley, spokeswoman for the New England ISO. But the region has only eight
transmission lines to New York, capable of carrying about 1,600 megawatts.
An additional transmission line is currently being laid across Long Island Sound, but
it will provide only another 250 megawatts of electricity to the region by the end of
Canada now has nearly 4,000 megawatts of electricity it sends to New York through
its plants near Niagara Falls and Quebec. But only half that power can reach West-
chester and New York City through the state's transmission system.
New York itself is divided between west and east. The eastern portion, which includes
Indian Point, runs north up the Hudson Valley to Albany, west to Utica, then north to
the St. Regis Mohawk reservation on the St. Lawrence River. Sullivan said only about
2,000 megawatts can be sent to the state's eastern section, regardless of demand,
because the major transmission lines have to go through one limited transmission
"You have three nuclear plants in Oswego, hydroelectric plants from Quebec, and
power coming from Ontario," Sullivan said. "That electricity all physically wants to go
to the eastern part of the state where the demand is. But you have four major power
lines going into two. That is like a superhighway going onto a two-lane road, and
that is where the traffic backs up. We can have an abundance of power in the
western part of the state, and an abundance of demand in the Hudson Valley to New
York City. But we cannot get it there."
New York is not the only state that has problems with transmission limits. Maine and
Rhode Island, for example, still are not fully integrated into New England's regional
"We have locked-in power generation, especially in Maine," said Foley of the New
England ISO. "We can't tap their energy on high demand days and we have had to
just let it sit there. They would like to be able to send it to an area of high demand."
There have been times, she said, when Maine let its power plants sit idle and bought
cheaper power from Canada.
The Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Maryland ISO, meanwhile, though geographically
close, has no power lines going into New York City.
"We weren't thinking about power trading when these transmission lines were built
30 years ago," said Dotter, that network's spokesman. "It would not have made
economic sense then to put power lines under (the Hudson River). It may well make
The need for more transmission lines and a better transmission system may be
obvious, but the solution is difficult to achieve. Sullivan said proposed transmission
lines draw far more opposition from affected communities than proposed new power
"It is difficult to site a power plant," he said, "and it is more difficult to site
transmission lines. Despite the fact that science has shown that electromagnetic
waves around transmission lines do not pose health risks, many people still have the
perception that they do, and therefore they do not want the power lines anywhere
Reach Roger Witherspoon at firstname.lastname@example.org or 914-696-8566.