USDA approves plan for RG&E electric reliability project

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has approved an alternative plan submitted by Rochester Gas & Electric (RG&E) for its proposed Rochester Area Reliability Project, resolving certain landowner concerns, according to a Sept. 25 statement from U.S. Senator Charles Schumer’s office.

Under the plan, RG&E would build the new transmission lines next to existing New York Power Authority (NYPA) power lines, instead of under the original plan, which would have had the lines “zig-zag across a wide swath of the fourth-generation Krenzer Farm or through other Town of Chili and Town of Henrietta properties,” according to TransmissionHub.

According to a November 2013 New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) order, in their petition for rehearing, the Krenzers asserted that the construction of the project will affect about 675 acres of their land and argued that other alternative locations for Substation 255 proposed by RG&E in its original application would have been preferable because of the relative ease of building access roads to those sites and the avoidance of active farmland.

The project calls for the construction of about 21 miles of new 115-kV line. It also entails rebuilding two miles of an existing 115-kV line, building a new 1.9-mile, 345-kV line and a new 345-kV/115-kV substation, as well as improving three existing substations in the New York towns of Chili, Gates and Henrietta and the city of Rochester in Monroe, County, N.Y. The project also includes new system upgrades in existing control buildings.

According to Schumer’s statement, the senator in July called on the USDA to approve a key part of the plan so that the company would not have to build the required new power lines across the family farm. Schumer originally launched his push last year by calling on RG&E and its parent company to consider an alternative siting and alignment of a new 11-acre electrical substation and transmission lines after the company released a plan to build the substation on the Krenzer Farm and then build new power lines in a zig-zag alignment that would cut across the Krenzer Family farm and potentially force them out of business, according to the statement.

Following Schumer’s call, the PSC ordered RG&E to consider alternatives to placing the power lines and the required new 11-acre substation across the Krenzer’s family farm land. One of the options included running the new lines across other properties in Chili and Henrietta, to which many residents objected.

Another option, in which the power lines would run adjacent to the existing NYPA lines across a USDA Conservation Area, was widely supported by town homeowners and the Krenzer family, the statement added.

Schumer backed that option as well, and called on the USDA to swiftly review and approve the company’s easement modification. The PSC is currently evaluating whether to order the 11-acre substation to be built on the Krenzer farm or on an alternative non-farm site in Henrietta, according to the statement, which also noted that the senator is urging the PSC to find a non-farm site for the substation.

“This plan enables us to protect local properties, the fourth-generation Krenzer Family Farm, and RG&E’s plan to boost Rochester’s electric capacity all at the same time – it is a true win-win-win,” Schumer said in the statement. “Allowing the lines to run through the USDA’s land will not only keep businesses up and running and residents happy, but it will also increase Rochester’s energy capacity in a way that is beneficial to all in Monroe County.”

Marie Krenzer said in the statement that Schumer's “involvement demonstrates the art of the possible – showing that meeting the state's energy needs doesn't have to come at the expense of agriculture and family farming. We are hopeful the Public Service Commission will see it that way too."

A company spokesperson told TransmissionHub on Sept. 26 that RG&E expects to receive approval from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a division of the USDA, to modify a federal conservation easement and expand an existing transmission line corridor located in Chili. That approval provides state regulators with an alternative route to site new transmission lines for the proposed $254m project. Running those lines through the conservation easement instead of active farmland would significantly reduce the project's impact on agricultural operations in the area, the spokesperson added.

Mark Lynch, president of RG&E and New York State Electric & Gas, both subsidiaries of Iberdrola USA, said that the company is pleased that the NRCS approved its request quickly. The company "will review it thoroughly when we receive it," he said.

Lynch also said that the company thanks Schumer and others for their help securing the project modification.

The spokesperson said that RG&E will begin construction work on part of the project on or about Oct. 6, with on modifications at three existing substations.

On when the project is expected to enter service, the spokesperson said that it depends on when the PSC makes its decision as to where to locate the new 345/115-kV substation (255).

"RG&E now estimates that if the commission confirms the already certified Alternative Site 7 as the location for Station 255, it will take us 30 months from the date of the order to [place] the project in service," the spokesperson said. "If the commission selects another location for Station 255, RG&E estimates it will take approximately 37 months from the date of the order to [place] the project in service, depending on conditions at the new location."

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