- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York state’s Public Service Commission voted Thursday to proceed with plans to upgrade 156 miles of high-voltage power lines that make up the backbone of the state’s electrical transmission system from west to east and north to south.

Commission Chairwoman Audrey Zibelman said the upgrades will reduce grid congestion and result in lower electricity costs for the average customer. Construction isn’t expected to begin for at least a year.

But critics questioned the need for the upgrades as well as the environmental and scenic impacts of the project.

“Scenic Hudson is disappointed the PSC has decided to move ahead with this project despite its failure to meet tests of need, fairness and emissions reduction,” said Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan.

Business and labor groups praised the commission’s decision.

“These infrastructure investments have the potential to inject $1.6 billion into the upstate economy and create thousands of jobs,” said Heather Briccetti, president of The Business Council of New York. “Furthermore, these upgrades will allow current and future carbon neutral resources like nuclear and wind to connect to where the power is truly needed.”

Zibelman said the process leading up to Thursday’s vote was the most extensive the PSC has ever conducted, with 120 parties, 4,500 comments and documents submitted and 30 staff members assigned.

The commission limited the new transmission lines to replacement and upgrading of existing lines within existing rights of way, and adding new substations at several locations. It said the proposed project will provide $1.20 in benefits for every dollar it costs.

The transmission upgrade will have two primary segments. The first runs 91 miles from Oneida County through Herkimer, Montgomery and Schenectady counties, ending in Albany County. The second runs 51 miles from Rensselaer County through Columbia to Dutchess County. A related upgraded line runs 11 miles in Orange County.

The upgrade was called for as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Energy Highway Blueprint and is a key part of his strategy.

The independent operator of the state’s power grid will oversee selection of contractors.

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