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Power woes

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As New York moves forward with recovering from Superstorm Sandy, it needs to look to the future when rebuilding its vital infrastructure.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s $42 billion estimate of recovery costs includes $9 billion in “mitigation and prevention” measures to prepare for future storms. He and New York’s congressional delegation will be lobbying Washington for federal assistance to rebuild the region’s transportation network, repair homes and reimburse local governments for their costs incurred by the devastating storm.

However, the storm has also shown the need to improve the state’s aging power grid with its limited transmission capacity. According to the governor’s office, the storm caused more than 2 million power outages. Weeks afterward, thousands of New Yorkers remain without power while crews work to reconstruct and put back in place a system that needs to be modernized, as former Gov. George Pataki pointed out in a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece.

“Superstorm Sandy exposed perhaps the greatest flaws underpinning the American way of life: insecure and unreliable electrical infrastructure,” he wrote.

Some of the flaws are obvious, such as the damage inflicted on above-ground power lines and poles by the wind and downed trees. The former governor recommends that electrical-distribution systems be buried, which would drastically reduce outages, recovery time and costs in repairing lines. Combined with other modern “self-healing transmission and electric-system technology,” it can limit the extent and length of power outages.

Mr. Pataki, who was defensive of the state system during a massive blackout in 2003 when he was governor, suggested upgrading the transmission system by increasing the use of high-voltage direct current that can be buried underground or underwater. Although not mentioned by him, the proposed Champlain Hudson Power Express would deliver 1,000 megwatts through direct-current lines under Lake Champlain and the Hudson River from Canada to New York City. Existing lines such as the 345-kilovolt transmission line from Massena to Marcy could be upgraded.

Other sources of power also need to be developed such as microturbines and cogeneration of heat and power, Mr. Pataki said.

However, he pointed out, the Federal Emergency Management Agency stands in the way of taking advantage of the opportunity to rebuild a better system. FEMA requires utilities receiving federal aid to replace equipment with the same “antiquated technology.” Rather than a common-sense approach of building for the future, federal aid will be spent to perpetuate an outdated system with its limitations and drawbacks that contributed to the present disaster. That will be money poorly spent.

Mr. Pataki ’s observations on the need to develop a 21st century electrical transmission system are not new. The need has been long recognized. It is time to start moving in that direction.

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