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Transmission of Power
by Phil Wilcox
Electricity is a very boring subject—unless the lights go out. But jobs, on the other hand, are all anyone talks about these days, from the local councilman to our United States president.
How are electricity and major job in Western New York related? Some might recall a stalled clean coal project in the Town of Tonawanda a few years back that would have produced hundreds of jobs, a $1.5 billion investment into the region, and the potential to involve UB in using the technology to teach the rest of the world environmentally responsible coal use.
Earlier this year, AES Power Plant in Niagara County announced it was for sale due to an inability to even recover the fixed cost for generating electricity. Two other local power plants are struggling as well.
Most recently, a major offshore wind project was spiked that had the potential not only to lead the nation in this innovative renewable energy project but to create a massive hub for wind component manufacturing in the Great Lakes, located right where steel manufacturing has a long history in our region.
What is the common denominator for the energy jobs that are now threatened and the ones that got away? A condition that has occurred since deregulation called “transmission congestion.” Portions of transmission lines that cross New York State are very old, and cannot transport enough capacity to areas like New York City and Long Island, where demand is huge and prices much higher.
In fact, those areas are turning to importing power from other states, and another proposal supported by former Governor Pataki (who learned about our electric transmission flaws while governor) runs an exclusive extension cord from the New York City area all the way to Quebec to import 1.000 megawatts of power in a way that denies New York State generators a chance to compete. The Sierra Club calls this project a threat to existing generators and major impediment to New York State based renewable energy development. The just aborted offshore wind project is a perfect case in point!
We can sit by and watch more stalled energy proposals and perhaps watch local power plants close, or we can advocate for investment in transmission lines that US DOE and NY ISO studies have shown are not only critically needed but which could create at many as 100,000 New York State based energy jobs in direct transmission work, indirect material and vendor work and subsequent renewable energy jobs just like the one that we recently missed out on.
New York State must not lose its energy independence and become exposed to supply and price issues from imports, as other states look to import as well.
There are New York Public Service Commission-approved mechanisms for funding investment into transmission lines in a way that hold upstate ratepayers harmless and have the cost covered by downstate beneficiaries of reduced electric commodity costs.
Please ask your legislators to encourage our Governor to make this a priority before more jobs are lost—the upside will be huge for our local economy.
> Phil Wilcox, Pendleton
Wilcox is business representative for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 97
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