New York PSC: More review needed on Rochester Area Reliability Project’s agricultural impacts

New York state regulators on Aug. 15 ordered further review of the agricultural impacts of a proposed substation to be built on a Monroe County farm as part of Rochester Gas and Electric’s (RG&E) proposed Rochester Area Reliability Project.

The state Public Service Commission also noted that it granted in April a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need to RG&E to build the project, which RG&E estimates will cost about $254m, in order to ensure and increase reliable electricity service in the region and to accommodate its growth and economic development in the future.

The project calls for the construction of about 21 miles of new 115-kV transmission lines, reconstruction of two miles of an existing 115-kV line, a new 1.9-mile 345-kV line, a new 345-kV/115-kV substation, and the improvement of three existing substations, in the towns of Chili, Gates and Henrietta and city of Rochester in Monroe County.

Without the new facilities, the system’s ability to meet customers’ electricity needs could be compromised in the event of unexpected equipment failure or other factors affecting electricity delivery, the PSC added.

However, members of the Krenzer family, who own farmland affected by the project, and the town of Chili, filed petitions for rehearing and raised questions concerning the impacts of a substation location on agricultural land uses.

According to the order, on April 17, the day before the PSC session to consider the matter, the Krenzers, not then parties to the proceeding, submitted a letter challenging the siting of Station 255 and appurtenant portions of the transmission line. The Krenzers claimed the placement will make farming impossible on large portions of their land.

In the certificate order, the PSC said that in light of the participation of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, for instance, in the negotiation and execution of the joint proposal, impacts on agricultural lands and wetlands had been addressed, concluding that the Krenzers’ objections were untimely for consideration of certification.

In their petition for rehearing, the Krenzers assert that the construction of the project on their land will affect about 675 acres and that the construction of the access road to Station 255 and of Circuits 940 and 941 will take 325 farmland acres – roughly half their land – out of production.

Among other things, the PSC added that it is undisputed that RG&E complied with its legal obligation to provide notice of the application by publication, and that notice was legally sufficient in this case.

The PSC is concerned about the suggestions in the Krenzers’ petition and supporting documents that the joint proposal and its recommendation of an alternative site as the final site of the Station 255 may not reflect a complete assessment of the substation’s impacts on agricultural land. “While the affidavits and letters submitted by RG&E show that there was communication between RG&E and the Krenzers, there is ambiguity regarding the results of that communication,” the PSC added.

The PSC said in its statement that its decision sends the case back to the parties to examine the impacts of the substation location on the Krenzers’ farming activities. Also, the PSC will appoint an administrative law judge to work with the parties in an effort to find a consensus solution while still meeting Rochester residents’ electric reliability needs. The judge will report back to the PSC on the results of the parties’ efforts within 30 days, the PSC added.

According to the order, the certificate order is neither modified nor stayed and RG&E should expeditiously continue to prepare its environmental management and construction plan (EM&CP) filing in compliance with the certificate order, in light of the reliability need for this project.

RG&E responds

A spokesperson for Iberdrola USA, of which RG&E is a subsidiary, told TransmissionHub on Aug. 19 that the 30-day additional review will affect the company’s filing the EM&CP, which is the next scheduled step in the permitting process.

“We are currently focused on working with all concerned parties to successfully complete the mediation process as laid out by the [state] PSC,” the spokesperson said. “RG&E will need to evaluate the extent to which any alternative proposed during this review would extend the project schedule.”

Currently RG&E plans to begin construction of the project in the summer of 2014 and expects to energize it the spring of 2016.

“The review process itself won’t significantly impact the cost of the project,” the spokesperson added. “However, RG&E will need to evaluate the extent to which any alternative proposed during the review would affect the project cost.”

Iberdrola USA is a subsidiary of Iberdrola S.A.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 2850 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 14 years. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines. She can be reached at clinares@endeavorb2b.com.