NYPA's Innovation Timeline
Highlights of NYPA History Since 1932
The New York Power Authority has a long and proud history. As an early experiment in public power, it served as a model for federal initiatives such as the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Bonneville Power Administration. Today, the Power Authority produces some of the cheapest electricity in North America, helping to drive New York's economic revival while its efforts to promote efficient use of energy and to develop new, environmentally-friendly power sources continue to break new ground and to draw national and international attention.
"Benefit of the People"
The first seeds of a power authority were planted by New York Governor Charles Evans Hughes (later Chief Justice of the United States), who in 1907 declared that the state's undeveloped waterpower "should be preserved and held for the benefit of the people and should not be surrendered to private interests." Planning for public ownership began, but a proposal eventually foundered in the Legislature because of its high cost.
In 1914, Theodore Roosevelt, former governor and president, warned against "waterpower barons" seeking a monopoly on New York's natural resources. Throughout much of the 1920sGovernor Alfred E. Smith called for hydropower development by a state authority, but his efforts failed to win approval in the Legislature.
Ultimately, Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt gained public and legislative support for a Power Authority "to give back to the people the waterpower which is theirs.” On April 27, 1931, Roosevelt signed the Power Authority Act into law, calling it the most important action taken during that year's legislative session. "It is my earnest hope that this is the forerunner of cheaper electricity for the homes and farms and small business people of the state," the governor said in a radio speech.
But 23 years were to pass before construction began on the St. Lawrence power project. The delay was caused principally by navigation interests' opposition to the St. Lawrence Seaway, which was developed concurrently with the power project. The solution was found in the International Joint Commission (IJC), formed to resolve disputes over use of the St. Lawrence and other waterways along the U.S.-Canadian border. In 1952, the IJC granted permits to the Power Authority and a neighboring Canadian utility, Ontario Hydro (now Ontario Power Generation), to build a power project spanning the international border.
The Construction Army
By 1954, all approvals were in place, and Robert Moses, New York's "Master Builder," who had been designated by Governor Thomas E. Dewey as Power Authority chairman, was ready to go to work. In cooperation with Ontario Hydro, a construction army transformed millions of tons of concrete, stone and steel into a power-producing marvel. The Power Authority's 800,000 kilowatt (kw) share of the facility is today known as the St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project. An accelerated construction schedule led to the start of electricity production in July 1958 and delivery of full power a year later, two years ahead of the original schedule.
As work on the St. Lawrence River proceeded, the Power Authority prepared for an even more complex project on the lower Niagara River, about five miles downstream from Niagara Falls. As at St. Lawrence, a variety of interests vied for the rights to large-scale hydroelectric development in the early 1950s. On June 7, 1956, the dispute came to a sudden and dramatic end when a rockslide destroyed the area's largest privately owned hydroelectric plant, severely limiting the availability of low-cost power in the region. The time for debate was over. With tens of thousands of industrial jobs endangered, Congress passed the Niagara Redevelopment Act in 1957, paving the way for the Power Authority to obtain a license and begin construction by March 1958.
The 2,400,000-kw Niagara Power Project was the largest hydropower complex in the Western World when it began operating in January 1961, less than three years after construction began. President John F. Kennedy, who joined three former presidents: Dwight D. Eisenhower, Harry S. Truman and Herbert Hoover in sending congratulations, called the Niagara project "an outstanding engineering achievement" and an "example to the world of North American efficiency and determination."
The Second Generation
Low-cost power from the two giant hydroelectric projects flowed to upstate consumers and to factories providing thousands of jobs. But with most of New York's hydroelectric potential already developed, attention shifted to new sources of energy to meet increasing needs. In this climate, the Power Authority's second generation of power projects emerged.
In 1967, Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller organized a panel to study the state's power needs. The committee recommended, among other things, that the Power Authority be permitted to build nuclear and pumped storage hydroelectric plants. In 1969, construction began on the Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Project (1,040,000 kw), in the Catskill Mountains, and the James A. FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant (820,000 kw) on the shores of Lake Ontario, near Oswego.
In 1972, Governor Rockefeller and the Legislature responded to an emerging energy shortfall by giving NYPA the go-ahead to build generating plants to power downstate subways and commuter trains. Then came the 1973 Mideast oil embargo and a four-fold increase in oil prices. To help Con Edison weather the crisis, Governor Malcolm Wilson and the Legislature in 1974 directed the Power Authority to buy, complete and operate two power plants the private utility was building. The arrangement called for the Power Authority to sell most of the plants' output to government agencies in New York City and Westchester County.
In response to increasing oil prices in the 1970s, the Power Authority looked to Canada for abundant and inexpensive electricity supplies. The Power Authority completed a new transmission line, at 765 kilovolts (kv) the most powerful in the state, in 1978. The line begins at the Canadian border, near Massena, and extends 155 miles to Marcy, near Utica, home of the Power Authority’s Energy Control Center. Also in the late 1970s, the Power Authority began a program to develop small hydroelectric facilities around the state. Five plants, with a combined capacity of 29,596 kw, are now in operation. In the 1980s, the Power Authority undertook other transmission projects, notably the 345-kv Marcy-South line, which stretches 207 miles from Marcy to Dutchess County, and the 345-kv underground/underwater Sound Cable, bringing economical electricity to Long Island.
Attention to Infrastructure
As the electric utility industry moved away from monopolies and toward competition, the Power Authority helped to facilitate the transition in cooperation with New York State's investor-owned utilities. In November 2000, the Power Authority sold its Indian Point 3 and James A. FitzPatrick nuclear plants to Entergy Corporation for $967 million. The sale represented the highest purchase price of a nuclear asset in the history of the nuclear power industry and was the largest privatization of New York State assets.
As the 20th century was drawing to a close, the Power Authority refocused its attention on its large hydropower projects, ensuring that reliable supplies of clean, low-cost power would be available for many years to come. The original 50-year federal licenses for both the St. Lawrence-FDR and the Niagara projects were due to expire in 2003 and 2007. And NYPA developed a multi-year plan to upgrade and modernize the generating units at Niagara and St. Lawrence-FDR.
NYPA took a cooperative, inclusive approach to the relicensing process, resulting a variety of benefits for the regions the power projects are located: environmental enhancements, recreational improvements, new dedicated power allocations for economic development and monetary payments to host communities for specific municipal purposes.
At the same time, NYPA continued its role as steward of New York’s largest hydropower resources, making a $1.4 billion investment over a 15-year period in the Niagara project’s main power dam and auxiliary generating facility, in the St. Lawrence-FDR Power Project and in the Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Project.
Energy's Next Evolution
Generating and transmitting electricity in a safe, environmentally benign manner is a top priority for the Power Authority. Using that electricity for economic development is equally important, and the reason why Governor Andrew M. Cuomo authorized NYPA to administer his ReCharge New York program, which provides lower-cost power to eligible businesses and not-for-profit corporations that commit to creating and retaining jobs while making capital investments at their facilities. Allocations, which come from 910-MW block of electricity that is 50 percent hydropower and 50 percent market power, began flowing on July 1, 2012.
Since 2010, NYPA has led ambitious programs to reduce energy consumption at state buildings, to create an electric vehicle infrastructure in NY state, and to bring solar power to schools, among many other achievements. As energy production and distribution evolves, NYPA will continue to lead NY into a cleaner, smarter energy future.