New York Regional Interconnect (NYRI), a private company, is trying to build a 190-mile high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line from upstate New York to just outside New York City. In August 2008, the New York Public Service Commission (NYPSC) approved an NYRI application to move the project forward into the public hearing phase. This phase is now taking place at various locations around the state and being attended by concerned parties.

Public hearings are required by regulation and often bring out good ideas but also many not-in-my-backyard concerns. The conflict arises from the fact that no new transmission lines have been built between upstate and downstate New York in more than 20 years. Meanwhile, southern New York and northern New Jersey’s demand for electricity has grown and is projected to grow an average of 1.5 percent per year despite all the conservation measures being implemented.

The Department of Energy (DOE) has resorted to designating the area part of its Mid-Atlantic Area National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor (NIETC). In short, this means if state, county, municipal, utility and private interests cannot resolve the situation, DOE may step in and use federal eminent domain to acquire private property.

If approved, the $1.6 billion NYRI project will be the first major step in decades toward the expansion and modernization of state’s electricity transmission system. HVDC has been used in New York before, but it has been limited to short underwater crossings. This proposed 1,200-MW line is well-suited for long-run, point-to-point transmission with minimal line loss. It is too expensive to build DC-to-AC converter stations along the route, but as NYRI said, it is intended as a “superhighway” to deliver electricity from under-utilized, lower-cost conventional and renewable generation sources to a market of high demand. There is a lot of clean hydroelectric and wind energy potential in upstate New York and Canada. More wind farms are being built everyday, especially in locations around Lake Ontario, which take advantage of the Great Lakes wind corridor.

The proposed HVDC transmission line would be installed on overhead towers along existing railroad tracks. According to NYRI, the project will create more than 300 jobs and will not cost taxpayers anything. The project is projected to generate more than $37.2 million in annual tax payments to municipalities and school districts along the route. In addition, a study commissioned by NYRI shows the line will relieve costly electrical congestion by 2018, thereby lowering wholesale rates by 5.7 percent.

Supporters hope this particular transmission-line debate can be resolved amicably to the satisfaction of all concerned parties before DOE steps in. The New York metropolitan area has seen its share of brownouts and blackouts in recent years. Many feel something must be done to support the growing energy needs, but in these circumstances, vocal opponents are generally present. Most importantly for the electrical contractor, however, is the sure prospect of major electrical construction projects in the future, federally enforced or otherwise.