Electric providers face concerned landowners as rehab of NY’s aging power lines begins
New York State Electric & Gas is running into initial resistance in its attempt to improve transmission lines traversing three central New York counties.
A battle is brewing across Broome, Cortland and Onondaga counties as property owners get early indications their land is being eyed for a new 345-kilovolt power line stretching from Lafayette in Onondaga County to Johnson City in Broome County.
Initial signs that their property is in play came from letters arriving in their mailboxes in January. Then the landmen — contractors designated by the project sponsor, NYSEG, to obtain signatures on two-page easement agreements — started arriving last month.
Knocks at the front door prompted action. Hour-long discussions with the contractors seeking easements led to a response that won’t please those seeking to modernize the state’s electric grid.
“We don’t know very much at all,” said Richard Edsell, one of the grassroots organizers of a group known as the Broome/Cortland/Onondaga (BCO) Forest, Farm & Home Preservation Alliance. “Right now, we are against the lines. We are against the easements.”
This is not the response NYSEG expected. Utilities and other operators of New York’s electrical infrastructure backbone are being encouraged to beef up the aging system that shows signs of wear.
The New York Independent System Operator, the independent organization responsible for the state’s electric grid, says 80 percent of the transmission infrastructure dates to before 1980, posing a capacity and maintenance risk to the system.
“New and upgraded transmission facilities will help address concerns about maintaining or replacing aging infrastructure,” stated a report on the state of the grid released Thursday.
Now, several electric grid bottlenecks across the state threaten NYISO’s ability to deliver power where it is needed when it is needed, particularly west of Utica and south of Albany into the lower Hudson Valley. Improvements to grid’s backbone will enhance the ability to provide downstate power from newly installed and planned sustainable power sources upstate.
Landowners, however, are wary even though the Public Service Commission is encouraging project sponsors to use existing rights-of-way rather than forging new paths through the state.
A small but growing group of landowners is trying to fight encroachment of the new transmission line, or at least get adequate payments from NYSEG for allowing their property to be used for a greater public good.
For now, the group is encouraging landowners along the route to hold off signing easement agreements until the full scope of the project is known. They believe that if the power line cannot be thwarted, they can at least negotiate higher compensation from NYSEG if they organize as a united front.
“Until you know what’s going on, don’t sign anything,” Elmira-based lawyer Chris Denton told a group of about 50 property owners gathered at the Town of Maine municipal offices on Monday. “A power line easement is a complex business transaction masquerading as a lottery ticket. This is not a simple deal.”
For now, the project is ill-defined. NYSEG is holding back on details. No application has been submitted to the state Public Service Commission for permission to build the line. And the state regulatory agency gets the final decision on whether the line is warranted and if the project sponsor can initiate eminent domain proceedings to secure land at “market rates.”