A Remedy for False Security

by Rod Lenfest, President, Boundless Energy NE 

As I write this, New York has dodged two bullets in a row, and the third bullet – otherwise known as the next major snowstorm/icing event – is scheduled for delivery in the next several days, perhaps over this coming weekend.

Why a “bullet,” you ask?  Well, the truth lies in relatively recent history.  In the wake of the monster storm that hit the northeast in January 1998, predominantly focused in upstate New York, New England and Quebec, there was a major revision in the “icing standards” for high voltage power transmission systems.  Where previously the design standard required that transmission lines must be able to accommodate ¼ inch of ice buildup without failing, the new standard specified double that amount, requiring that at least ½ inch of ice could be withstood without failure occurring.

An additional one quarter inch of ice may not sound like very much, but when you add the weight of all of that ice over lines that stretch for 1,000 to 1,400 feet or more, in some cases, the weight can be considerable.  Add to that total the weight of the ice accumulated on the towers that support those lines and the results can be nothing less than catastrophic, as the photos below from the 1998 event amply demonstrate.

Quotes from the time include that the January ice storm of 1998 was “the worst ever in the experience of many people in upstate New York and northern New England, both in the amount of ice that accreted on trees and structures, and the extent of the storm.”1  Also known as the “Great Ice Storm of 1998,” it “caused massive damage to trees and electrical infrastructure in Canada, New York and Maine leading to widespread long-term power outages.

If you think this event was isolated2, consider the more recent events duly recorded in Wikipedia, such as the December 2005 North American ice storm, January 2007 North American ice storm, December 2013 North American ice storm, 2013–14 North American cold wave, and November 2014 North American cold wave events.

The N-1-1 analysis performed by the NYISO in considering the ability of New York’s bulk electric power system to deliver power under loss of equipment conditions considers which lines are the most critical, and then evaluates the ability to reconfigure the power system to accommodate the loss of the first, and then the second most critical elements in the system. Unfortunately, this procedure totally ignores the probabilistic likelihood that such an event might occur.  In other words, if the two most critical lines were all but falling down from disrepair, under one scenario, and brand new, thoroughly robust and able to withstand hurricane force winds and major icing, on the other, both would be evaluated by that criterion as equally reliable.
This is precisely the case with the two sets of 345 kV lines that run north and south along the east side of the Hudson River, roughly between Leeds and Pleasant Valley substations.  Each is a critical part of the infrastructure necessary to deliver power from upstate into the SENY (southeast New York) area including New York City and Long Island; the loss of either would be a significant loss to the system’s overall ability to keep the lights on downstate; and both have been “grandfathered” to allow their continued acceptance even though the higher ice standard has been in place for almost twenty years.

Why is this important for the citizens and rate payers of New York, as well as, secondarily, the Leeds Path West Project?  In a word – “Safety.”  During a “polar vortex” event which brings long duration sub-zero temperatures to our area, it will be absolutely essential that the electrical power stay on.  Loss of power under such circumstances could be devastating financially, but more importantly the loss of human life due to extended hypothermia is a very real possibility.  That same event that brings the low temperatures jeopardizing human life could well be the one responsible for the icing that takes down those critical transmission lines.
In its response to 1) the NYISO’s N-1-1 analysis of the first set of proposals in the AC Transmission Upgrade proceeding; 2) the “here today, gone tomorrow” presence and subsequent absence of the TOTS projects which were first proposed in this proceeding by the TRANSCO, and then subsequently removed from that proceeding; and, 3) the physical reality of the icing issues as noted above, Boundless Energy NE modified its Leeds Path West (LPW) proposal.  The revised plan includes the reconductoring and refurbishment of the Leeds-Pleasant Valley and Leeds-Athens-Pleasant Valley transmission lines to strengthen those lines and bring them up to current code, while at the same time significantly increasing their power transfer capability – all without changing their current physical appearance.  The reconductoring of the Leeds-Hurley route, and the roughly ten mile underground section from the Roseton to East Fishkill substations, remain from the original proposal as integral parts of the revised LPW plan.

The new LPW proposal delivers the requisite 1,000 MW UPNY-SENY sought by the PSC and fixes the long overdue upgrade to current icing standards along this critical corridor. This is accomplished through the use of advanced conductor technology, without requiring new rights-of-way, expanding the height and width “envelopes” of existing rights-of-way, and without adding tower and conductor density that can significantly modify the existing viewscape3.

In short, the revised Leeds Path West plan delivers the required power without overbuilding any “monster power lines”4 to deliver power well beyond that which is seen as currently required, and does so in a manner that is superior by virtually any objective standard.  Whether you look at overall probabilistic system reliability, project cost, environmental considerations, social acceptability criteria, or better yet, all of the above -- Leeds Path West is head and shoulders better than any other proposed alternative.  We hope you will agree. And we hope you will let the PSC, the NYISO, and your local and state political leaders, including Governor Cuomo, know of your conclusions.

If you have any questions, please feel free to respond here on the LeedsPathWest.com website, give us a call, or invite us to participate in any local forums you are planning.  We’ll be happy to address your questions and concerns.

1 http://www.erh.noaa.gov/btv/research/USCOE%20IceStorm98.pdf
2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013%E2%80%9314_North_American_cold_wave
3 A “viewscape” is all of the land and water seen from a given pointof reference.
4 http://nomonsterpowerlines.com/