DELMAR — National Grid has asked to delay reintroducing a stalled proposal to build a substation at 109 Van Dyke Road near the Delmar Bypass Extension, next door to the Bethlehem Central School District’s bus garages and not far from Bethlehem High and Eagle Elementary schools. The substation would take electricity from existing power lines for distribution through the Delmar area and to Vista Technology Park in Slingerlands.
Instead of going back before the Zoning Board of Approvals this month, National Grid has asked for more time in order to review an independent study, requested by the ZBA and paid for by National Grid, that only became available in January. Representatives of the utility company hope to go back before the ZBA in April.
“We just got the report back in January,” said National Grid spokesperson Nate Stone. “So we need time to evaluate it and look it over. So that’s the reason we asked to switch to April.”
The study, which took almost two years to complete, is what held up the application after it was met with public opposition at ZBA meetings in November 2014 and March 2015. By unanimous approval of the five-member board, Power Engineers Consulting was hired to provide a technical analysis of the need for the substation, review National Grid’s assessment of potential alternative locations, and review environmental studies provided by National Grid of the Van Dyke Road location.
In 2015, eight residents spoke against construction of the substation proposed for that location and an Eagle Elementary student submitted a petition with 105 signatures opposing it. In addition, the board received 11 emails in opposition, three that conveyed concern, and just one in favor of the project.
Because the town zoning for that area does not permit a substation, National Grid has had to apply for a variance from the ZBA. Under state law, the standards for public utilities like National Grid are different from those for other projects because they are presumed to be operating in the public interest. To qualify for a variance, National Grid must demonstrate that 1.) The variance is needed for the utility to provide safe and adequate service to the public and 2). There are no other feasible sites for the substation.
The ten-page Powers report seems to generally back up the National Grid proposal, agreeing that “there is a need for upgrading the electrical infrastructure that provides power to the Town of Bethlehem community,” and that it “appears to meet the intent of the Town’s plans for future population growth, support for the increase in technology based businesses (specifically the Vista Technology Park), and consideration for environmental impacts, community character, and quality of life.”
Of the ten sites currently owned by National Grid that may have qualified as alternate sites along the transmission line, the consultant agreed that none were feasible locations for the proposed project. Of 15 additional sites, including one proffered by a town resident opposing the proposal, only one was deemed potentially feasible: the property that is currently home to a dog park and water tank near the Delmar Bypass. That location, however, presented a host of its own difficulties, which would add to the cost of construction and ultimately place the substation next to a public park rather than a school. Also, said Stone, the parcel of land is not large enough to accommodate the size of substation that is required.
“To provide the most up to date review” of National Grid’s application, the report requested further information from the company regarding: updated usage data and growth; photometric calculations for security lighting; and approved electromagnetic field (EMF) studies associated with the 115 kV transmission line and 13.8 kV distribution feeder circuits.
In addition, the consultant requested that National Grid provide validation that the existing calculations and associated values provided are applicable to the new line’s anticipated loading and/or maximum line rating.
Stone seemed unconcerned about electromagnetic fields. “Substations are designed to have zero EMF at the property line. That’s a standard that all substations have. It’s required by law.” He said National Grid would be able to present EMF findings in April, and that there had been some further discussion about releasing regular monitoring reports following construction to assuage any residential concerns.
If the Van Dyke proposal goes forward, National Grid plans to close and dismantle the Delmar substation, located off Adams Street next to the Albany County Rail Trail, as well as the Juniper substation, which lies to the north of Elm Avenue Park and south of the Delmar Bypass. Neither site is able to support the additional infrastructure needed for the project, Stone explained.
“The reality here is that it’s not a matter of if a substation is built, it’s a matter of where and when,” he said. ”We’re at capacity now, especially with the Vista Technology Park.” Vista has not grown as quickly as anticipated, he explained, but is quickly nearing a point where it will require an alternate source of power distribution.
“We’re still going through the report, so it’s too early to tell what might be changed,” said Stone. “There has been some discussion of improving optics by planting more trees.”