Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Update: FERC proposes to define all lines above 100kV as "bulk" - Provide Your Feedback Now!

News Release: March 18, 2010
Docket No: RM09-18-000

FERC proposes to define transmission facilities subject to reliability standards

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) acted today to protect the reliability of the nation’s bulk power system with a proposal to standardize the definition of transmission facilities subject to mandatory reliability standards.

Today’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NOPR) directs the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) to include all electric transmission facilities of 100 kilovolts (kV) or more in its definition of what constitutes the “bulk electric system” subject to mandatory reliability standards under the Energy Policy Act of 2005. NERC is the Commission-certified national electric reliability organization.

The proposal generally conforms to the current definition of the bulk electric system recognized by NERC and seven of the eight regional reliability entities around the country. It would eliminate the discretion that regional entities have to define the transmission facilities that comprise their “bulk electric systems,” but allow regional councils to seek NERC and Commission approval if they wish to make variations from the 100 kV standard.

“Consumers and the economy depend on smooth operation of a reliable bulk power grid with consistent standards from coast to coast and from cities to rural areas,” FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said. “But without this step, FERC cannot fulfill Congress’ intent to protect the bulk electric system.”

The Commission also notes there is a strong technical justification for a standard 100 kV threshold: Facilities rated at 115 kV and 138 kV have either caused or contributed to significant bulk electric system disturbances and cascading outages. The Feb. 26, 2008, Florida blackout originated from a fault at a facility connected to the 138 kV transmission system and resulted in the loss of 24 transmission lines and 4,300 megawatts of generation associated with 13 power plants and disrupted electric service to more than 3 million customers for several hours.

Comments on the NOPR are due 45 days after publication in the Federal Register.

Clearly, re-categorization of transmission lines of 100kV or greater as being “critical/bulk” will have a significant impact on Rockland and parts of Westchester (and the rest of the country), if utilities use this as another excuse for cost-saving clear cutting vegetation management at the expense of the environment and property owners.

The filing deadline for comments on the proposed NOPR (Notice of Proposed Rule Making) is Monday, May 10, 2010. Comments can be filed electronically at and photos/documents of up to 50Mb can be added.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

PSC Documents re: Case 10-E-0155 - updated!

PSC Order Instituting Proceedings

Notice to Invite Comments

Transcript of Commission session approving the opening of the case - start reading PDF at page 30. It is interesting that the Commissioners believe the main issue is that of the need for better public education.

From the PSC's Notice filing:

Comments are invited on the following questions:

1. Do the programs used by State utilities for transmission ROW vegetation management conform to industry best practices?

2. At what point, at what height, or under what circumstances should the trees be removed from the transmission ROW in order to protect the safety and reliability of the transmission system?

3. Are alternate or supplemental practices available which would reduce the environmental or aesthetic impacts of transmission ROW vegetation management without compromising transmission system safety or reliability?

4. If supplemental vegetation management practices are preferred by a community through which transmission ROW passes, how should the community preference for such practices be demonstrated? How should the costs of such practices be distributed to or divided among the utility which owns the transmission line, the ratepayers for that utility, the users of the transmission line, the community through which the transmission line passes, and the owners of properties adjacent to the transmission line?

5. In what ways can a utility mitigate the impact of its transmission ROW management practices without sacrificing electric system safety and reliability?

6. Are there cost effective strategies available to utilities to mitigate the aesthetic impacts of transmission ROW management?

7. Is cleanup after utility ROW management activities adequate?

8. What type of notifications regarding vegetation management do utilities currently employ? What type of notification by utilities would be most effective for landowners who live adjacent to a ROW prior to utility transmission ROW vegetation management work (for example: phone call, letter, newspaper, other)? When and how frequently should such notice be provided? Should others, besides adjacent property owners, be notified? What information should be provided in such notices?

9. Apart from such notices, what information should utilities provide to the owners of property adjacent to utility transmission ROW to suggest strategies or practices a landowner may use to protect his or her land from the aesthetic impacts of transmission ROW maintenance, and at what intervals and through whatshould this information be provided?

Comments on PSC letter to Legislator Kaplowitz

Dear Ms. Brilling:

I live adjacent to Con Edison's Catskill Aqueduct ROW in Hartsdale. Directly on the other side of that formerly wooded ROW upon which a 100% reliable high voltage transmission line runs, is the Sprain Brook Parkway. I am currently in receipt of your letter to Legislator, Michael B. Kaplowitz, dated March 17, 2010 that was in response to his Mach 2, 2010 submittal of Resolution 26-2010 regarding a moratorium on clear cutting activities.

I find several of the statements in your letter deeply disturbing, as I'm sure anyone who lives adjacent to the transmission ROW would. In your letter, you refer to the Vantage Report (10/24/07), saying that "tree-trimming and vegetation are among the most important elements of any utility's reliability program..." From this statement, I can't imagine that you actually read the report to which you referred. I have read it, and tree-trimming is one of the last elements to which Vantage refers. And, what the report does say about tree-trimming primarily focuses on distribution line maintenance. Further, the recommendations that were made to Con Edison in Section A. Tree Trimming Practices and Performance of Chapter VII, RELIABILTY, as well as in the Summary section of the report were not at all what was actually carried out in reality along the transmission lines. This includes, "proactively contacting landowners prior to trimming; increased diret communication with community leaders; and new written material available on tree maintenance. What little of each of these performance indicators were done, were done with a great deal of dishonesty and in a misleading nature."

We received a post card from Con Edison about "maintenance." Since we found the overly aggressive 2007 cutting that was unnecessarily done (as the line was already 100% reliable) to have a severely negative impact on our lives (excessive highway noise, view, pollution, disruption of wildlife, cutting in wetland areas, and the list goes on and on), we contacted them to inquire what exactly was being done. We were repeatedly told, "We are cutting down undesirable species of trees that could, in their lifetime, come into contact with the lines." When ask about the topic of clear cutting, we were repeatedly told point blank, "We are NOT clear cutting," until the last tree was felled. Con Edison continues to stand by this ridiculous statement in defense of that "maintenance" when anybody with eyes can see that not one bit of vegetation was left where there trees stood.

In addition, a deep layer of wood chips was left behind that varies from inches to feet deep along this ROW. This is in direct violation of their agreement with the DEP. Since the clear-cutting (which supposedly didn't even happen), we were told that the chips had to be spread to less than inches. Since December, we look at these piles of chips and an unobstructed one-mile stretch of the Sprain Brook Parkway as our only view from our windows and yard. We used to look at nothing but trees, shrubs, and green. This is increasingly upsetting as all other areas are turning green. The vast expanse of wood chips remains beige and gray, except where they were blown in the water - the chips are now black and rotting in those areas.

The DEP guidelines for Con Ed's wood chipping clearly states, "Chips depth should not exceed 3" in depth. Chips must not be places within 50' of reservoirs, drainages, perennial or intermittent streams, or in the drainage ditch alongside the aqueduct..." Behind my property, this guideline was abhorrently violated. There are drainages and streams all along this area. The area is a wetland and on steep slope.

You reference to FERC is moot, as Con Edison is exempt from these guidelines. As you know, this is because of their historically reliable power transmission.

Your letter also states that, "Staff will also review Con Edison's ROW management plan to ensure that the appropriate attention remains focused on, among other things, aesthetics and environmental protection." Please be clear that the visual aesthetics are just the tip of the iceberg as to how our lives were affected by this massive destruction.

Eleven years ago, we bought this tiny little house (less than 1000 square feet) and made the outside area our oasis. We spent every bit of free time, our hard labor, and two small inheritances that I received on beautifying it and making it our "livingroom." We were surrounded by trees, we could not see the highway, and the sounds of the highway were so non-invasive that I didn't even notice them during the six visits I took to this property before purchasing it.

We now hear the highway in every room of the house with all of the windows closed. Even if we could get used to looking at the highway or if we could plant a visual barrier, it is so loud when we're outside that one cannot have a conversation without either standing within a couple of feet of the other person or raising one's voice. The pollution issue is tremendous to us, as we are now breathing unfiltered unobstructed air directly from a roadway with accommodates 93,000 cars a day. Would you want to breath that air every day?

We have suffered countless effects of having lost our entire wind barrier on this very windy terrain - I'm not even including the damage suffered from the last two winter storms where just about everybody suffered some sort of damage. If you would like a list of the damages, I would be happy to forward that to you. But, just so you get an idea of what I'm talking about, we had roof shingles blown off our house in November within about a week after the clear cutting and three sections of our metal pool fence (which has been bolted onto the pool for ten years) were ripped off the pool's edge. Several of our trees, which grew within the environment that had been there for decades, came down within one month of the clear cutting and fell on our neighbor's property.

Due to the position of the highway and our house on our property, we can see the highway from all four sides of our house - every window provides us with the relentless flashing lights at night that whizz across walls and the ceilings. I'm sure I don't need to point out the devastation to our property value, as well as the tremendous loss of natural habitat. There is no report and survey with which we have been provided that said this was necessary - only that it was within Con Ed's right. I, as well as countless others whose lives have changed, feel they have gone far beyond the scope of their"rights."

You letter also states, "Relative to recent vegetation management activities that have been completed, our staff will continue to work with affected entities, to develop and implement plans to mitigate those impacts where appropriate." I appreciate that sentiment, and I hope it will carry through. As of today, Sunday, April 18, we have been subject to the auditory and visual assault, unnecessary wind damage and an overall unacceptable life at home. It has been five months, and so far not one aspect has been "mitigated." I am tired and stressed beyond words. I have a full-time job as a teacher, a part-time job as a musician, and this has become a constant battle for me - both living on this property and fighting, writing, pleading to get some remediation. You and the Con Edison's representatives are getting a salary for your participation in this. I get headaches and lost sleep for mine.

One of the reasons that I am writing to you is that it is crucial that discussion about Con Edison's trimming activities be separated into the two different facets - that of distribution lines and that of transmission lines. They are two completely different entities with different requirements for reliability. It is annoying and insulting to those of us whose lives have been taken over by this horror to continue to hear about "reliability" and "the blackout of 2003" when we have read the reports and know what they say. And, we know that what was done behind our property, though may have been within Con Edison's scope of rights, should NEVER EVER have happened the way it did.

Please consider this letter a petition to reconsider Case 04-E-0822 as soon as possible, as well as institute Resolution 26-2010 until this can be done.

Also, please let me know when the PSC will "mitigate those impacts," as I have not been able to open a window or enjoy my property, for which I pay taxes and Con Edison utility bills and for which I have rights, for months - even on the couple of days that were quite warm. While most of those who have yards were outside enjoying them, I had to get in my car and get away from my property so I could enjoy the day.

Lastly, I think it is so important for everyone who is dealing with the situation to see the "worst-case scenario" that is resultant from Con Edison's recent clear cutting. Our property is just that. Everyday, we are dealing with and living with every single possible negative effect that could have been resultant from Con Edison's questionable "maintenance." I invite you and anyone else that you feel would benefit from a visit to come to my home and see what we are living with, both inside and outside of our house. I would be happy to provide coffee and refreshments for all visitors.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Kristina Cascone-Bracken
Hartsdale, NY

Comments on NERC Standard FAC-003-2 (draft)

FERC to Re-categorize 138kV Lines - Watch Out Eastern Westchester and Rockland!

Here’s the next big problem for our environment that virtually nobody knows about:

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) right now is trying to re-categorize all transmission lines greater than 100kV as being federally-regulated “bulk transmission lines.” This would result in the complete denuding of transmission line ROWs in much greater quantities than utilities have done already. For instance, most of O&R’s transmission lines are 138kV (they also have some 69kV and 34kV lines). In the eastern part of Westchester, the transmission lines are also mainly 138kV. If these 138kV lines are re-categorized to “bulk” federal lines, then what Con Edison did to their 345kV lines in Westchester along the Sprain Brook Parkway – they and O&R will very likely do to the 138kV lines.

Not only will this proposed rule change cause significant harm to the environment and local properties, but it will ultimately result in higher costs for ratepayers without yielding additional benefits. As a reminder, 100% of the 200,000+/- customers in Westchester who lost power during the recent big storms were the result of tree contacts with distribution lines. Yes, there was one extensive outage in Florida in 2008 blamed on a 138kV line (,8599,1717878,00.html), but the cause of this failure was a substation fire and other equipment failures – it had absolutely nothing to do with any trees making contact with transmission lines! The underlying problem in this country is that the infrastructure is outdated, but the apparent “solution” will be for utilities to cut down millions of additional trees. This is simply crazy!

Note: Even though the 2003 outage is “blamed” on a tree falling onto a transmission line, no tree fell onto a line. Here, too, the problems that initiated the 2003 outage were system failures compounded by human failures (poor training and communications). Failure to maintain adequate vegetation clearances did compound the problem when sagging transmission lines (impacted by shifting voltages, due to the other outages) came into contact with trees directly below in the “wire zone.”

In essence, this new proposed regulation fails to “see the forest through the trees” and statistically will do little (or nothing) to prevent any outages in our area.

The comment period is only 45 days after publication in the Federal Register. The press announcement came out in March, so I assume it has been in the Federal Register already and the opportunity for input will soon be over.

- reported by Marvin Baum

Monday, April 19, 2010

PSC to Take Comments by Phone

The PSC will take comments via a toll-free telephone number — 800-335-2120 — and callers should reference the agency's case number, 10-E-0155.

Friday, April 16, 2010

PSC: Public Comments Sought on Utility Vegetation Management

The following press release was sent out by the PSC yesterday: The PSC is opening up its Vegetation Management guidelines for transmission lines to public review and comment. This is the main goal of the LORAX Transmission Line Clear Cut Moratorium resolution (in conjunction with a temporary cessation of in-process Con Edison clear cutting while the rules undergo review). It would seem that collectively, our letters, lobbying, public meetings, resolutions and legislative initiative have succeeded. Now the even tougher job begins...


Public Service Commission 
    Garry A. Brown, Chairman 

Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12223 
Further Details: James Denn | 518.474.7080       10035/10-E-0155 
— Public Comments Sought on Utility Vegetation Management —  

Albany, NY—04/15/10—The New York State Public Service Commission (Commission) today commenced a proceeding to consider electric utility transmission right-of-way (ROW) management practices. As a result of its decision, the Commission will seek comments on the implementation of utility ROW management practices and the contribution of ROW management to the safety and reliability of the state’s electric transmission system. In addition, comments will be sought on the balancing needed to be achieved by these utility practices of the concerns of ratepayers, neighboring property owners, the public, and other interested parties.

“Maintaining the highest degree of electric system reliability for the benefit of New York’s customers is among the most important of our responsibilities,” said Commission Chairman Garry Brown. “Reliability of the electric system depends upon the safe and effective transmission of electric power from the source of its generation. Effective right-of-way management is an essential component of system reliability. However, we must ensure this is being done in the best possible manner.”

The Commission’s policy regarding ROW management established requirements for utilities’ ROW maintenance programs and ensured adequate record keeping and reporting by the utilities. In addition, the federal Energy Policy Act imposes additional mandatory and enforceable reliability standards for utility ROW maintenance.

In recent months, members of the public and elected officials have expressed concern with respect to the ROW vegetation management practices used by utilities to implement the above- described regulatory scheme along their transmission rights-of-way. These concerns have largely focused on the trimming and removal of trees and other vegetation by utilities in their transmission rights-of-way. Those objecting to the utilities’ practices cite the unwanted aesthetic impacts associated with the utilities’ ROW work, as well as noise, erosion and decreased property value as potential results. Expressions of concern have taken many forms including individual complaints to this department, letters from public officials, municipal resolutions and proposed state legislation.

In view of the widespread importance of transmission ROW management and the concerns that have been expressed regarding vegetation management, comments will be sought from the public and elected representatives, municipal resolutions and proposed legislation, to determine whether changes to our ROW management policy are needed to ensure that the transmission system in our state will continue to be operated in a safe, effective and environmentally compatible manner.

In addition to the submission of comments, public hearings at which persons who would rather comment orally may do so, are being considered. After consideration of the materials developed as comments or reply comments or through the public statement hearings, Staff will report back to the Commission summarizing and evaluating the information provided and making recommendations, if further Commission action is needed.

Interested parties are invited to file their comments electronically by June 16, 2010, and these comments will be made available to all interested persons through the Department’s website at Any party wishing to respond or reply to a comment made by another party may do so through reply comments which are to be filed electronically by July 6, 2010. Electronic filing for comments and reply comments may be completed by e-mailing the filing, under the above case number to

The Commission’s decision today, when issued, may be obtained by going to the Commission Documents section of the Commission’s Web site at and entering Case Number 10-E-0155 in the input box labeled “Search for Case/Matter Number.” Many libraries offer free Internet access. Commission orders may also be obtained from the Commission’s Files Office, 14th floor, Three Empire State Plaza, Albany, NY 12223 (518-474-2500).

Friday, April 9, 2010

Video of Yorktown Cable Show on Con Ed Clear Cutting

YouTube posting of the March 12th cable video interview with Mark Gilliland (representing LORAX) and Gerrie Curral (for Sierra Club) on the "30 Minutes" show hosted by Dan Lefkowitz. Note that there is a silent lead-in (approximately 45 seconds long - on Part 1) until Dan begins to announce the show.

Direct links:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Response to John Bank's April 1st JN Opinion Piece

Con ED insists that the aggressive “trimmings”on the ROW, is mandated by the Public Service Commission to insure reliability. Yet what I learned after doing some reading is that Con Edison has systemic managerial, infrastructure and procedural issues that impede system readiness and operating reliability. There will always be trees, tree contact and outages. It would seem that the key to "electrical reliability" lays in the emergency response systems, not in eliminating every tree.

The U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force: Final Report on Implementation of Recommendations states that there were a number of causes for the 2003 blackout. While it was initially triggered in Ohio by conductors coming into contact with tree limbs, it stated that these trees were in direct contact with power lines and had not been adequately managed.

The report further states that “Inadequate reactive supply was a factor in most of the events.” and “the assumed contribution of dynamic reactive output of system generators was greater than the generators actually produced, resulting in more significant voltage problems.” In other words the backup generators were not adequate to handle the amperage load or voltage needed. A lack of coordination of System Protection Programs(relays tripping), inadequate communication between Utilities, and lack of "training of operating personnel in dealing with severe system disturbances" were also noted in the report as causes for the blackout.

In his Letter to the Editor, Mr. Banks, states “An independent report followed, indicating the most important element of any utility's electric reliability is a tree-trimming and vegetation-management program, which, the report noted, is especially true here.”

I read the report that Mr. Banks refers to. It was prepared by Vantage Consulting issued on October 24, 2007, and if memory serves me the majority of the report clearly demonstrated Con Ed's lack of understanding of it's own internal short fallings when it comes to emergency response. In fact, if I remember correctly, it suggests that Con Ed did not and still may not have a structured master plan and strategy for reliability and emergency preparedness. The report calls for reorganization, training, new personnel when necessary and much, much more.

In a letter dated March 26, 2010, Steven Blow Records Access Officer of the Public Service Commission, stated that “in general, the transmission system reliability is near 100 percent.” Moreover he states that “with respect to outages due to vegetation, the utilities are required, pursuant to ordering clause 8 of the Commission's Order in Case 04-E-0822 (issued June 20, 2005), to file an annual report (by March 31) of any vegetation-related outages. Con Edison has reported that such an outage occurred in 2008 near the Wheelabrator generating station in Peekskill.” After reading the report, the data suggests to me that the transmission system had 100 percent reliability prior to the PSC’s Enhanced Vegetation Management plan was implemented. The tree in Peekskill grew off the ROW and perhaps if the trees had not been clear cut, they would have broken the fall and prevented the tree from touching the wires.

In a Yonkers Town hall meeting last Thursday evening, the most important moment for me was when David Morrell from the Public Service Commission, clearly stated that the PSC does not mandate Clear Cutting. Moreover, I learned that the diagram that Con Ed has posted on it’s web site is not the model for your ROW vegetation management plan. This seems very deceptive. I also learned, that there are no guidelines, clearly stating distances from the towers or the heights of trees. It would seem, Con Ed is left to maintain the ROW in a very subjective way. It was very clear to all of us that the scorching activity was a cost cutting measure for Con Ed.


Amy Kupferberg
Hartsdale, NY

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Vegetation Management Guidelines from NJ & CT

Here is interesting reading concerning NJ's guidelines for vegetation management along transmission line ROWs. This has numerous diagrams (provided by the Rairitan Sierra Club) which clearly show the limits imposed by NERC/FERC regulations, as well as a more nuanced "tiered management" approach which looks at the simple geometry of risk (in terms of tree location, required clearances and wire heights.)

Here is another guideline from Northern Utilities serving CT and New England. Although more stringent, it also shows a "tiered management" approach - allowing Dogwoods and other low growing tree species to exist outside of the wire clearance zones.

Media Coverage - update

Bloomberg News released a report on the clear cutting situation in Westchester. Read the March 31,2010 posting entitled "Powers Lines Replace Pines as Tree Cuts Wreck Westchester Views" by Elizabeth Stanton.

For another take - Con Ed's official line - can be read in the Journal News Opinion section online at: In this piece, John Banks, VP of Government Affairs, tows the party line about tree removal. Unfortunately, he also blithely mixes issues relating to transmission lines and distribution lines, thereby helping to continue to confuse public understanding and debate about the issues.

A comment posted by one reader states it clearly:

The public needs to remember that Mr. Banks is essentailly a public relations person for Con Edison. It is not unusual for Con Ed's PR folk to blur the issues. Transmission line issues differ significantly from distribution line issues. The distribution lines are where the outages are occurring. Very isolated events can occur infrequently on the transmssion lines due to acts of God such as a tornado or the recent severe storm. That does not justify the extent of environmental damage done by Con Ed in Westchester on the tranmission lines. Tens of thousands of non-threatening trees and bushes were removed because it was cheapest in the long run for Con Ed. It was done with the blessing of the PSC which is skewed in favor of utilties. The big problem now is to get Con Ed to correct all the damage that it has been caused by the transmssion line clear cutting. Con Ed has many more distribution line problems including old poorly maintained lines and equipment that fail in storms.

Charlie Spiegel of Yonkers wrote this letter to Con Ed's John Banks after attending the Yonkers public meeting last week (Thursday, March 25, 2010)... In it, he asks a lot of important questions including asking for more data and querying about the criteria used to define "priority zones" and "incompatible species" of trees. This is a big pdf file (1.4Mb) so it will load a little slowly. It contains his original attachments referenced during the Thursday meeting, as well.

Collecting Transmission Line Clear Cut Incident Reports

from an email received yesterday:

Please put out the word that we need all who are/have been impacted by the clearcutting along transmission lines ROW to document the damage/losses whatever they may be. With the current continued rain, damage continues.

We need pictures, verbal description, appraisals showing losses: aesthetics, wetland impacts, flooding, soil erosion, noise, property devaluation, soon as possible.

Please act to collect and catalogue of what will turn out to be volumuminous.

Tom Abinanti

As requested, LORAX will be collecting this material for inclusion by location, date, type of problem, etc.

If you have sent materials (descriptions, letters, photos) previously, now is the time to update any of that.

Forward materials to Please edit the subject line to include the phrase "Incident Report".

Please forward this note to anyone in your email contact list who may be impacted by the clear cutting along the transmission lines.


Date:               Monday, April 5, 2010 at 3:00 PM

The County Board’s Environment Committee will discuss Westchester County’s Pilot Adaptive Deer Management Program (PADMP), conducted last fall at two county parks.

The Committee will review program implementation and results with Westchester County Parks, Recreation and Conservation Department representatives.

Interested persons are encouraged to attend.

Please contact Christopher Crane with questions at (914) 995-2104 or

Location:      McPoland Conference Room, County Board of Legislators
Michaelian Office Building - 8th Floor
                        148 Martine Avenue, White Plains