Cricket Valley Energy Center’s application for a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need for a project that involves a new 345-kV line should be granted, subject to certain conditions, New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Kevin Casutto said in his Jan. 11 recommended decision.
“I find that the transmission project proposed in this proceeding will serve the public interest, convenience and necessity and satisfies the other required statutory findings,” Casutto said. “The only objection to the proposal is the assertion that visual impacts of the project could be further mitigated by a different configuration of the proposed transmission facilities. … [T]he record does not support any viable, reasonable alternative to the proposed project.”
As noted in his filing, the PSC in 2013 granted a certificate of public convenience and necessity to Cricket Valley Energy Center to build the Cricket Valley Energy Center generation facility (the Energy Center), a combined-cycle, natural gas-powered, 1,000 MW generating facility in the Town of Dover, in western Dutchess County. As a condition of that certificate, Cricket Valley was obligated to design, engineer and build transmission facilities in support of the Energy Center in accordance with the New York ISO (NYISO) Class Year 2011 Facilities Study, or such later study as might become applicable, Casutto said.
Along with other alternatives, and with guidance from Consolidated Edison’s (NYSE:ED) Consolidated Edison Company of New York (Con Edison), Cricket Valley proposed the transmission project that is the subject of the proceeding to the NYISO as the means of connecting the Energy Center to the bulk electric system. Upon completing the project, Cricket Valley will convey ownership and operation of the proposed line to Con Edison, Casutto added.
Specifically, Cricket Valley proposes to build the new, approximately 14.6-mile line connecting the planned Energy Center to Con Edison’s Pleasant Valley substation, located in the Town of Pleasant Valley in eastern Dutchess County, he said. Cricket Valley would also reconductor an approximately 3.4-mile segment of the existing 345-kV Line 398, from the Energy Center, continuing east to the New York-Connecticut state line, in the Town of Dover, and build related improvements to the Pleasant Valley substation, including new protection and communication system upgrades that would be required within the existing control buildings at the substation, he said.
The NYISO selected the project as the system upgrade facility (SUF) necessary to allow the Energy Center to interconnect to the grid without adversely impacting the reliability, stability, operability or transfer limits of the system.
Casutto added that the proposed line would be routed within an existing right of way (ROW) in which a transmission line, Line 398, is already located. The proposed line would be built adjacent to Line 398, running parallel within the existing 250-feet-wide ROW from the Energy Center, in a generally westerly direction, through the Dutchess County towns of Dover, Union Vale, LaGrange and Pleasant Valley, Casutto said.
Because Line 398 is located 50 feet north of the 250-foot ROW center line, Cricket Valley proposed to build the new structures 50 feet south of the center line, leaving about 100 feet separating the two lines, he said, noting that no additional ROW will be required to accommodate the proposed line. Likewise, the plan to reconductor the portion of Line 398 running east from the Energy Center to the New York-Connecticut state line would take place within the existing ROW, he said. After passing into Connecticut, the existing transmission line continues to the Long Mountain substation in New Milford and eventually under Long Island Sound via the Norwalk Harbor-Northport Cable (NNC), he said.
The existing Line 398 structures are steel, lattice frame, transmission towers that average 99 feet in height, he said, adding that with the exception of three, shorter steel H-frame structures to be built near the Central Hudson substation in Pleasant Valley, the structures in the proposed line would be steel monopoles averaging 122 feet in height.
Casutto also said that Cricket Valley is awaiting a determination on this Article VII application before starting construction of the Energy Center.
He noted that Dutchess County/Cricket Valley Improvement Coalition (CVIC) (Dutchess/CVIC) contest the finding of need, arguing in their post-hearing briefs that alternatives to the project are available, including a reconductoring of the cross-sound NNC, that would render the construction of any new transmission facilities unnecessary.
Casutto said that to the extent Dutchess/CVIC are proposing the upgrade of the NNC as an independent alternative that would obviate the need for the project, that argument is untimely and unsupported by the record. Given the PSC’s decision to certify the Energy Center, and the lack of record support that an alternative exists that would obviate the need for the project, Casutto said he recommends that the PSC render a finding that the project is needed.
He also noted that with the exception of the adverse visual impacts identified by Dutchess/CVIC, the parties agree that adverse environmental impacts will be minimal and, to a great extent, temporary and of short duration, as they are construction related. The project contemplates using the existing Line
398 ROW, which contains a 345-kV transmission line that has been in place for more than 50 years, he said.
Use of the existing ROW and access points will avoid or minimize the disturbance of natural habitat and agricultural land to the maximum extent practicable, reduce costs, and avoid the disturbance of residential and commercial properties and activities, traffic, and emergency operations in populated areas.
“I recommend finding that the probable environmental impacts have been identified,” he said.
On land use, for instance, Casutto noted that the land surrounding the proposed ROW is used for various purposes, including residential and agricultural purposes. Since the project is sited within the existing Con Edison ROW, impacts to current land uses will be minimized, he said. Residences located adjacent to the ROW and dirvers on the local highways may experience short-term, temporary disturbance and inconvenience typically associated with construction activities, he said.
“This impact will be mitigated by the proposed certificate conditions which require Cricket Valley to notify adjacent residents regarding planned construction activities and schedule,” he said.
Among other things, Casutto also noted that Dutchess/CVIC identify three locations where the project’s potential visual impacts would be particularly jarring: Cady Recreation Park in Pleasant Valley, Pleasant Valley Recreation Park, and Smith Road in the Town of Union Vale.
Casutto said that Cricket Valley’s visual resource assessment of potential effects on visual resources within the proposed project area acknowledged that the new structures will be highly visible to users of both Cady and Pleasant Valley Recreational Parks, but explained that visitors of both parks already are in close proximity to other existing transmission structures.
Cricket Valley provided evidence that tree clearing will be minimal, given the use of the existing ROW, he said adding that although the additional line will introduce some visual impacts on the landscape, co-locating the proposed line along Line 398 structures within the existing ROW reduces the visual and other potential environmental impacts.
The PSC said on Jan. 11 that briefs on exceptions are due on Feb. 1, while briefs opposing exceptions are due on Feb. 16 (Case 13-T-0585).