Money and Influence buys PSC

October 15: The following letter describes the power lines situation as it is unfolding behind the scenes in Albany. The proponents of the power lines are companies with powerful lobbying muscle and hundreds of millions in construction money at stake.

Open letter to Governor Cuomo from Will Yandik, Deputy Supervisor, Town of Livingston

For two years now we have pushed back against Gov. Cuomo’s Energy Highway, a plan to build 153 miles of new transmission lines from central NY through Columbia and Dutchess counties, because it could offer no proven need or value. What has become clear to us this month is that the Public Service Commission (PSC), the state regulatory agency charged with protecting the public’s interests on utility matters, recommends advancing a project that will harm Hudson Valley landowners and businesses and drain the pockets of ratepayers statewide.            

The original purpose of the Energy Highway was to relieve congestion on the region’s AC transmission lines for the 2-3 summer days when those lines are busy because of heavy air conditioner use downstate. Using publicly awarded money called intervenor funds, we hired London Economics International, a widely respected firm to vet the PSC’s assumptions. The independent firm and other consultants found conclusively that congestion on the grid is rapidly declining as electricity markets shift. Asking ratepayers to fork over $1+ billion to solve a problem that does not exist is economic madness.

We eagerly expected to present these findings at a technical conference that we worked hard to establish with PSC staff. However, the PSC has informed us that this conference will not be part of the formal record and before they heard or reviewed one detail of our reports, steamrolled a staff recommendation on Sept. 22 that gives the green light to one of the most expensive and impactful set of transmission projects.

Despite mollifying comments from PSC public relations staff, such actions send a clear signal to our communities that our input is not valued and it suggests that our experts never had a chance of influencing PSC staff. The conference amounts to a pat on the head.

The PSC …categorically removed compromises that both the PSC and community groups agreed had minimal impacts but could deliver the additional transmission capacity sought by the state. Underground line solutions advanced by Boundless Energy, for example, and alternatives such as reconductoring (retrofitting the same towers and installing more modern wires) were flatly rejected.

PSC staff can no longer make a credible argument that new transmission towers will improve congestion or lower ratepayers costs, and so they have invoked a completely new rationale for the project—one based on “public policy,” which is an Albany way of providing the utilities a blank check. The take away? We need new towers for whatever reason the PSC says so.

How could the same PSC that has worked with community groups in Ghent to find a compromise on transmission plans there, so completely shut out meaningful public input on the Energy Highway? Our sources close to the PSC routinely call this particular project “political,” by which we can only infer that somewhere it involves a foul trail of money and influence.

If the PSC changes the rationale for the Energy Highway midstream, shuts out innovative alternatives from competing developers and bars unflattering testimony from the record, how can we expect this taxpayer-supported agency to advocate for us?

It is a cop-out for our governor to claim that the PSC is an independent body and makes its own decisions. He appointed many of them and the buck stops on his desk. If Cuomo, as oft claimed, wishes to battle corruption and waste in this state, he can start with this project and demand its termination until the ratepayers of New York can be assured that we have a regulatory agency that follows the rules and serves the people.

Will Yandik is a member of the Smart Energy Coalition that has been battling the power line project.  He also is a farmer whose land would be impacted.