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September 24, 2003

PSC, ISO officials review energy issues highlighted by blackout

The August 14 blackout reinforces the need for improvements to New York’s electricity generating capacity and transmission systems, a top official from New York’s Independent System Operator (ISO) has told The Business Council.

In particular, New York State needs to find a way to encourage investments in transmission upgrades, add more generating capacity, and replace its expired plant-siting law to facilitate the siting of generating facilities, Garry Brown, vice president for strategic development at the Independent System Operator said Sept. 18 at The Business Council’s Annual Meeting.

William Flynn, chairman of the state Public Service Commission (PSC), also addressed energy issues at the Annual Meeting in remarks Sept. 19. Both speakers highlighted issues in light of the August 14-15 blackout.

Flynn and Brown both reviewed the state of New York’s energy systems in the moments before the late-afternoon blackout August 14. An unprecedented surge of power into the state from west of New York prompted the outage.

Both credited the work of utilities, generators, and their workers for heroic efforts to restore power.

“Thirty hours is an awfully long time for the electricity to be out, but 30 hours is a remarkably short time to bring the system back,” Brown said.

Flynn rejected the notion that deregulation is to blame for the event, noting that the blackout was apparently rooted in transmission ills out of state, and that transmission in New York State remains regulated. He also noted that a decline in transmission investments in New York State began long before deregulation began, and reflects other factors. In 1988, New York invested $304 million in transmission projects. In 1994, it was less than half that, $116 million.

Even though there is no evidence that transmission failures in New York played a role in the August 14 blackout, the event has put a spotlight on transmission issues here, Brown said.

He said New York's last major major transmission upgrade was in 1988, and that the ISO hopes to work with market participants on common obstacles to transmission projects — typically, the same “thorny issues” involving how things are built and who pays.

Other recommendations that emerged in these presentations include: