National Grid Removes Eminent Domain From Its Plans

Apr 22, 2014

Credit Doc Searls, flickr

An energy company that is submitting a proposal to the New York State Public Service Commission for a major power line project appears to have allayed one major concern. And while community groups praise the utility’s move, they say they are not completely at ease, and have other worries.

There is an AC, or alternating current, transmission proceeding under way, and developers are working on proposals for high-voltage transmission line upgrades. One of the utility companies putting forth a proposal is National Grid. Here’s spokesman Patrick Stella.

“We’ve done some engineering now that really makes it, it makes it, it’s not a necessity now for us to do any land acquisition, which really takes eminent domain right out of the picture for this particular project,” Stella says.

Ned Sullivan is president of Poughkeepsie-based environmental group Scenic Hudson, part of the Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition.

“This is a very positive step forward,” says Sullivan.

He notes the initial announcement from National Grid about taking eminent domain off the table came via an article last week in a Columbia County-based newspaper, the Register-Star.  Ian Solomon heads up Farmers and Families for Claverack, a group of local residents that is also part of the Hudson Valley Smart Energy Coalition.

“We would just make sure to point out, lest anyone get too excited about it, that they’ve made a verbal commitment, but there really is no legal backing behind it,” notes Solomon. “And the language really still would allow them the freedom to go ahead and use it anytime they felt that there was a need.”

National Grid is one of several New York transmission owners forming a coalition known as Transco. Stella says that while the National Grid project is indeed part of Transco, taking eminent domain off the table applies only to National Grid’s 153-mile portion of the project, running from outside the Utica area to Pleasant Valley in Dutchess County. Again, here’s Scenic Hudson’s Sullivan.

“This is consistent with what Governor Cuomo has called for and the policy preference that the Public Service Commission has indicated will guide its review of these competitive proposals,” says Sullivan. “So we’re pleased that one of the companies has stepped forward and indicated that it will indeed comply with the governor’s policy preference as expressed by the Public Service Commission.”

Both Sullivan and Solomon say they are concerned about National Grid’s proposed tower design – some towers would be narrower than existing structures but, at 130 feet, would measure 40 feet higher. Solomon says that could negatively impact cultural tourism and historical resources.

“And when you have the possibility as we’ve just heard about of towers that will rise 50 feet above the tallest tree, it doesn’t become such a great place to get away to in the country anymore, and that takes dollars directly out of the economy” says Solomon.

Here’s National Grid’s Stella.

“And, as I said, we’re still continuing to do engineering, so we may be able to get those tower heights down, based on further engineering studies that we can do,” says Stella. “But, again, the project is to remove congestion and to try to add megawatts to the system. So to do that, in this particular case, in order to stay in the right of way, there are cases where we would have to put in a taller tower to accommodate that.”

Earlier this year, the Public Service Commission directed administrative law judges overseeing the proposed projects to establish a process by which competing developers could submit new or modified proposals that make greater use of existing transmission corridors. The PSC’s change followed Governor Andrew Cuomo’s call for expediting transmission projects that fall within existing rights of way. Such submissions would come in Part B of the proceeding, and the date for these submissions has yet to be announced. Stella says National Grid intends to stick with its initial 153-mile proposal. Solomon is wary.

“We don’t want to express mistrust,” Solomon says. “We don’t want to be adversarial, but we can’t let people be lulled into feeling that everything is safe and secure because of some really smart PR.”

Stella notes that eliminating the use of eminent domain, along with some other changes, came about in large part because of input from residents, lawmakers and regulators.