Tuesday, April 20, 2010

FERC to Re-categorize 138kV Lines - Watch Out Eastern Westchester and Rockland!

Here’s the next big problem for our environment that virtually nobody knows about: http://www.ferc.gov/news/news-releases/2010/2010-1/03-18-10-E-8.asp

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) right now is trying to re-categorize all transmission lines greater than 100kV as being federally-regulated “bulk transmission lines.” This would result in the complete denuding of transmission line ROWs in much greater quantities than utilities have done already. For instance, most of O&R’s transmission lines are 138kV (they also have some 69kV and 34kV lines). In the eastern part of Westchester, the transmission lines are also mainly 138kV. If these 138kV lines are re-categorized to “bulk” federal lines, then what Con Edison did to their 345kV lines in Westchester along the Sprain Brook Parkway – they and O&R will very likely do to the 138kV lines.

Not only will this proposed rule change cause significant harm to the environment and local properties, but it will ultimately result in higher costs for ratepayers without yielding additional benefits. As a reminder, 100% of the 200,000+/- customers in Westchester who lost power during the recent big storms were the result of tree contacts with distribution lines. Yes, there was one extensive outage in Florida in 2008 blamed on a 138kV line (http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1717878,00.html), but the cause of this failure was a substation fire and other equipment failures – it had absolutely nothing to do with any trees making contact with transmission lines! The underlying problem in this country is that the infrastructure is outdated, but the apparent “solution” will be for utilities to cut down millions of additional trees. This is simply crazy!

Note: Even though the 2003 outage is “blamed” on a tree falling onto a transmission line, no tree fell onto a line. Here, too, the problems that initiated the 2003 outage were system failures compounded by human failures (poor training and communications). Failure to maintain adequate vegetation clearances did compound the problem when sagging transmission lines (impacted by shifting voltages, due to the other outages) came into contact with trees directly below in the “wire zone.”

In essence, this new proposed regulation fails to “see the forest through the trees” and statistically will do little (or nothing) to prevent any outages in our area.

The comment period is only 45 days after publication in the Federal Register. The press announcement came out in March, so I assume it has been in the Federal Register already and the opportunity for input will soon be over.

- reported by Marvin Baum

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