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NYC scheme to protect grid against 100-year storms

By: Dave Baxter |

A $17-billion strategy has been unveiled to protect New York State’s energy infrastructure and other critical systems from what its governor has dubbed “100-year storms”.

The plans are an attempt to transform the city and state’s energy supplies and infrastructure as well as the transport network, coastal protection and warning systems, and defend them against extreme weather events.

Chaos came to the city in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy led to the flooding of the subway system, the closure of the New York Stock Exchange, electricity blackouts and the destruction of many homes and vehicles. The cost of the damage has been estimated as running into many billions of dollars.

There are now plans to improve the state’s current electrical system, create ten community-based power systems which are independent from the main grid, dubbed “microgrids”, and create a strategic fuel reserve and back-up power systems on critical routes.

Microgrids can operate in tandem with existing power supplies in normal conditions, but will disconnect and work independently during an emergency.

Across the main grid, around 500 miles of overhead primary wire will be moved underground, a new outage response system will be set up and activities such as trimming trees near power lines will be expanded.

There are also plans to replace and repair older bridges at risk of flooding and build new natural infrastructure to protect New York’s coastline from flooding, as well as training residents to respond to emergencies.

On announcing the plans, New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo warned of a “new reality” where events such as Hurricane Sandy threaten New York on a more frequent basis. “We are getting hit by 100-year storms every couple of years. We have to wake up to that new reality by completely reimagining our state to be ready for any future disaster,” he said. “Our plan completely transforms the way we build and protect our infrastructure, safeguard our energy supply, prepare our citizens and first responders, and provide fuel and electricity.”

More recently, the governor has announced more than $4million in awards to researchers who can develop ways to make the electrical grid more resilient. This could include adding clean energy to the grid, boosting its general performance or lowering the cost of delivering power to consumers.

Richard Kauffman, who chairs the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, which is funding the projects, said: “These technologically advanced projects will further the state’s efforts to modernise the electric grid and reduce the cost of delivering power in New York State.

“By fostering innovative smart grid projects today, the state will help New Yorkers meet the energy and resiliency needs of tomorrow.”

But the changes are not entirely unopposed. Republicans on the New York State Senate have warned that the funding for Cuomo’s plans should be more closely scrutinised.

The report reads: “Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state was expending $1.4billion a year to help move New York State to a renewable energy future and rapidly grow the state’s green economy.

“Although these goals are undeniably laudable, the resources that are being used all come from ‘off-budget’ spending and ratepayer charges exempt from legislative oversight, and without regard for the legislature’s historic and constitutionally sanctioned policy-determining functions.”

New York has suffered a total of nine presidentially declared disasters in the three years since the current governor took office.