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Another NY Agency Assails Columbia's Millennium

Another NY Agency Assails Columbia's Millennium

The New York State Reliability Council filed comments with FERC last week saying the proposed Millennium Pipeline's current route poses severe problems to the state's electrical grid. Columbia Gas Transmission, the main sponsor of the project, said it would work with the council to resolve the situation.

The issues arise in Millennium's desire to use the same corridor as the Con Edison Millwood-Sprain Brook 345 kV transmission lines. The agency told FERC this corridor "happens to be the most important and most critical electric power interconnection between the major load center of New York City and the rest of the eastern interconnection." It has six 345 kV high voltage transmission lines and a total thermal capacity of 5,000 MW.

The council said that a sudden loss of these circuits, caused by a gas explosion, would pose major problems for New York City electrical customers, such as a blackout. It also would endanger large generating plants in southeastern New York and Con Edison's Indian Point nuclear facility.

"We recognize that a gas explosion is an event which has very low probability," the council told FERC. "However, the potential consequences of such an event could be catastrophic. In our view, the health and safety of the citizens of New York would be unacceptably jeopardized."

The filing of these comments, however, was not an outright opposition to the project, the council added in the statement. It just disapproves of the current path. It is the second time a New York governmental body opposed the pipeline's route. In January, the New York Public Service Commission asked FERC not to award the proposed Millennium Pipeline final environmental clearance until an alternate route to an electric transmission right-of-way (ROW) in Westchester County is found for the project.

"The Reliability Council's objections mirror those of the NYPSC very closely," said Brent Archer, a Columbia spokesman. "It is important to note that the Millennium project has already undergone 20 to 25 route alterations as a result of objections from interested parties. In the case of each objection, we have sat down and listened to the issues, and then acted in the best interests of everyone concerned. With these comments about the ConEdison corridor, we will follow this same strategy." He added that the next probable step would be to form a working group that included representatives from all the parties involved in the ConEdison corridor objections.

The $650 million Millennium Pipeline project was already in severe danger before this filing. Its main sponsor, Columbia Energy Group, was recently purchased by NiSource. Gary Neale, NiSource CEO, has indicated that he favors a land-based route from Chicago to the Northeast utilizing NiSource's Crossroads pipeline rather than the Lake Erie crossing proposed by Millennium (see NGI, March 6).

Archer, however, said "we haven't changed our approach at all even with all the merger issues. The people working on the Millennium project have maintained the same level of intensity as they had before we joined NiSource. We will continue to work hard on the project and don't expect to hear otherwise."

The 442-mile Millennium Pipeline originally was scheduled for construction starting in 1999, with the balance of the project to be completed in 2000. However, the project never received a preliminary determination on non-environmental grounds from FERC and still has not received final environmental clearance. The line was expected to begin transporting 714 MMcf/d of gas from Chicago to the Northeast starting Nov. 1.

Columbia Gas Transmission is the project's developer, largest interest holder, and prospective operator. Other sponsors are TransCanada, Westcoast and MCN Energy.

John Norris

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