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Locked into the grid

High-security control center in East Greenbush monitors state’s energy flow

Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer speaks during the New York Independent System Operators Control Center grand opening celebration in East Greenbush on Tuesday morning.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer speaks during the New York Independent System Operators Control Center grand opening celebration in East Greenbush on Tuesday morning.

— With its barriers and checkpoints, omnipresent suit-clad security and ID and even fingerprint scanners, this is among the most secure facilities in the Capital Region. It’s only after navigating this protective gauntlet that you enter a control room that conjures a planetarium-meets-NASA mission control, with a touch of “Tron” thrown in for added measure.

This is the brain of the power grid, an amphitheater of sorts monitoring supply and flow and markets throughout New York, surrounding states and Canada.

Normally, visitors are not privy to the New York Independent System Operators’ new $38 million primary control center. As “critical energy infrastructure,” this NYISO installation is designed to be impregnable because of its importance: keeping power flowing through the state’s 11,000 miles of transmission lines.

But the curtain was briefly pulled back Tuesday, as the facility that opened in December was dedicated by local, state and federal officials. Media, with restrictions (escorted at all times, no photos of the building’s exterior, no cellphone photos inside) were allowed a glimpse into the state-of-the-art technology used to monitor and maintain energy from Long Island to Niagara Falls.

The glowing video wall, at 2,300 square feet the largest of its kind in North America, can process more than 3,000 status points at a time. System conditions can be relayed to this control room at astonishing speed — 60 times per second, or 5.2 million times per day.

As Cheryl LaFleur, acting chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said, “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile.”

“New York has been a leader in adopting new technologies,” she added.

The East Greenbush facility, one of the largest employers in Rensselaer County with 540 workers, supplants the control center in Guilderland, which will stay online as a backup. In fact, for Tuesday’s dedication of the new Rensselaer County facility (the complex straddles both East and North Greenbush), the Guilderland control room temporarily took over monitoring operations. The display on the massive East Greenbush video wall, showing flows of power from generators across the state, was static. There were no flashing alarms this day warning of disruptions.

The 64,000-square-foot facility allows six operators working 12-hour shifts to visually monitor every aspect of the grid via the wall of intersecting lights, gauges, lines and maps that provide real-time readings on everything from weather to usage and disruptions. By better controlling the flow of supply to meet various levels of demand, and being able to monitor the energy market closely, the control center is expected to result in $200 million in annual energy savings. An example: Renewable energy supplies are now assessed and utilized in a more economic manner by managing wind forecasts, meteorological conditions and generation.

The Guilderland facility opened in 1969. Since 1960, electric use in the state has tripled. Renewable energy from solar and wind have been added to the mix. New York Public Service Commission Chair Audrey Zibelman noted the electric industry is now more complex, and “managing the power grid is like flying an airplane that can never land.”

Officials believe that had a facility such as the one in East Greenbush been in place, the massive blackouts of 1965 and 2003 could have been diverted, since there would have been real-time updates

“We know how important NYISO’s focus on a reliable power grid really is,” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said during the dedication. “We are much better prepared to prevent the crippling blackouts we’ve seen in the past from ever happening again.”

Soon enough, presentations ended and dignitaries, guests and media were signed out, escorted out. By Tuesday night operations would resume here behind sentried doors.

 
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