N.Y. Utility Local Fights Imported Power, Advocates for Jobs and Growth
February 27, 2012
Leaders and members of Syracuse, N.Y., Local 97 didn’t raise the white flag when a private development company announced plans to build a power transmission line from Quebec to supply the huge appetite for electrical consumers and businesses in New York City, bypassing their jurisdiction, And they didn’t lose spirit when a former N.Y. governor jumped on the importation bandwagon.
Through a multi-pronged campaign of door-to-door education and lobbying, Local 97, working in partnership with the state’s IBEW utility council (representing 15,000 IBEW members), has highlighted the danger to the state’s economic future and energy independence that would result from a short-sighted reliance upon imported power. Now, even Gov. Andrew Cuomo is heeding the campaign’s message.
Phil Wilcox, Local 97 business representative, appointed to work full-time on the campaign by Business Manager Ted Skerpon, has worked to simplify complex issues, educating the public and many legislators, on the long-term power needs of the state and Western New York, which supplies “downstream energy” to New York City.
A critical condition called “transmission congestion,” says Wilcox, has existed for decades in New York and is getting worse. The congestion, he says is due to a combination of factors, but primarily aging transmission lines and the results of deregulation which divided entities that generate energy from those that are responsible for transmission. Wilcox told The Observer:
Local 97 referenced a study done by the Brattle Group that projects up to 100,000 new state jobs being created if the state’s New York State Power Authority, the largest non-profit utility in the U.S., is given the support to upgrade its 60-year-old transmission line from Utica, N.Y. to points north as well as N.Y.-based transmission utilities from Utica and Albany south to overcome congestion and better supply New York City.
The jobs saved would include those of workers at NRG coal-generated power plants, organized by Local 97. NRG has invested $300 million in environmental improvements to keep the plants compliant with Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Local 97 has made major concessions to keep the plants—that once employed 1,000 workers, but have dwindled to 200—on “life support,” says Wilcox. But an ill-conceived importation plan and a failure to upgrade state transmission lines could doom the facilities and the $460 million a year that the local’s research says they contribute to the local economy when combined with a third IBEW-organized facility in Western New York.
Hopes were lifted when Gov. Cuomo announced in his 2012 State of the State Address, his intent to support a $2 billion New York State Electric Transmission Superhighway. The IBEW New York State Utility Council states:
While a piece of Cuomo’s plan involves buying power from Quebec, the governor has underscored his support for continued generation at state facilities, says Wilcox, who, in an op-ed in the Buffalo News, reported on the role of former N.Y. Gov. George Pataki, who is lobbying for the Canadian energy company. Wilcox says:
Local 97 and the IBEW Utility Council are making their voices heard as hearings are scheduled in the state senate to consider whether to ask the utility regulators to approve Governor Cuomo’s plan or the 355-mile high-voltage, direct-current Champlain Hudson Power Express Inc., the transmission line proposed by Transmission Developers Inc. that would run from Canada to the U.S. border , then under Lake Champlain and the Hudson River into New York City.