A History of Innovation

Highlights of NYPA History Since 1931

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 1920s Governor 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 in a variety of benefits for the regions in which 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 Evolution
Generating and transmitting electricity in a safe, environmentally responsible manner is a top priority for the Power Authority. Using that electricity for economic development is equally important, and the reason why former 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 (Charge NY), and to bring solar power to schools (K-Solar), among many other achievements. As energy production and distribution evolves, NYPA will continue to lead NY into a cleaner, smarter energy future.

Through former Governor Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision initiative (REV), New York State has become a nationwide leader in evolving the infrastructure and business model of the energy industry. From smart generation & transmission to renewable energy, transportation and beyond NYPA is one of the key creators and implementers of REV initiatives. The aforementioned Charge NY, along with EVolve NY are prime examples.

Since the program’s inception, Charge NY has supported the installation of more than a hundred charging stations, revised regulations to simplify charging station ownership, and sponsored technology research. And through EVolve NY, NYPA has committed up to $250 million through 2025 - to invest in electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure, services, and consumer awareness efforts - with the goal of bringing fast, affordable and convenient DC Fast Charging across New York State.

Blazing the Path Forward
In the age of drones, AI, big data and predictive analytics, NYPA builds on its strong legacy of innovation on its path to becoming the nation's first end-to-end digital electric utility. By embracing the potential of emerging technology that digital transformation has already begun with the trifecta of NYPA’s signature Digital Energy Services: NY Energy Manager (NYEM), Advanced Grid Innovation Laboratory for Energy (AGILe Lab), and Integrated Smart Operations Center (iSOC).

NYPA also has a proud history of aiding those in need. In 2017, there was no population more in need of the expertise and leadership of the New York Power Authority than that of Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria hit on September 20, and within days, on September 22, NYPA arrived as part of the Restoration Team from New York ready to assist with the monumental task of restoring power and repairing damage to the electrical grid. NYPA’s commitment to stay until power was fully restored was unwavering. The videos and images captured during the restoration efforts speak to what that level of commitment meant to both the people of Puerto Rico and the people of NYPA.

Leading a contingent of more than 450 New York utility personnel, the Power Authority completed power restoration to more than 300,000 customers in the San Juan metro-area of Puerto Rico. NYPA continues to consult and assist Puerto Rico as part of New York's commitment to support the rebuild of the island's power grid.

The U.S. Virgin Islands' power systems were also heavily damaged when hurricanes Irma and Maria hit, and with assistance and guidance from NYPA the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (WAPA) is able to pursue the construction of a resilient power system able to withstand the impacts of acute weather events, including extreme weather resulting from climate change. Upgrading the island's generation, transmission and distribution systems will improve reliability and help reduce its reliance on fossil fuels by incorporating alternative energy resources such as wind and solar.

Puerto Rico Power Restoration Team

NYPA & Puerto Rico Power Restoration Team

Puerto Rico Power Restoration Team -- Catch all of NYPA's Puerto Rico videos on our Youtube Channel/Playlist

Creating the Utility of the Future, Today
The New York Power Authority and Urban Future Lab at New York University’s Tandon School of Engineering launched the NYPA Innovation Challenge in 2019 to connect early stage clean-tech startups to one of the most innovative utilities in the world, enabling next-gen technology demonstrations designed to rapidly scale across NYPA’s network of businesses and customers.

The NYPA Innovation Challenge will support advanced pilots of new technology and business models. As the power grid inevitably transforms and begins to work with more distributed energy resources (DERs) and grid edge solutions, NYPA will be seeking additional public and private partners with expertise in innovation, energy efficiency and clean energy generation.

Strength in Numbers
In 2019 NYPA was ranked by Forbes as one of the best mid-sized employers for the second year in a row, and was recognized as the first North American electric utility to earn the prestigious ISO 55001 International Asset Management Certification. NYPA’s assets include the people, equipment, systems and infrastructure that allow for the effective operation of our 16 power plants, including the flagship hydroelectric projects on the Niagara and St. Lawrence rivers, and 1,400 circuit miles of high-voltage transmission lines.

Working in partnership with JetBlue and the Port Authority of NY and NJ, 38 charging hubs with more than 100 charging ports were installed at JFK Airport's Terminal 5. The electrification of the JetBlue terminal was the first Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Voluntary Airport Low Emissions Program (VALE) project of its kind at JFK. It advances the goals of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, the most aggressive climate change law in the nation, which Governor Andrew Cuomo signed this year.

The new chargers directly support JetBlue in the electrification of its fleet of more than 100 baggage machines to full electric power. Making the conversion to electric power removed four million pounds of greenhouse gas from the atmosphere per year and reduced fuel use by 200,000 gallons, greatly improving energy efficiency and reducing both noise and air pollution. These improvements are part of Governor Cuomo’s JFK Vision Plan, initially unveiled in January 2017.

By March 2020 we entered unprecedented times when COVID-19 swept into New York State. NYPA took creative measures and implemented innovative solutions as we remained unwavering in our commitment to providing reliable power. Our efforts have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Wired Magazine, and Utility Dive, and we continue to get the word out about our “new normal.”

Safety Measures
The safety of our employees is a top priority. As the largest state-owned utility in the US, we have ramped up our pandemic response. While most of our 1,900+ employees can work remotely from the safety of their homes - and practice social distancing and follow Governor Andrew Cuomo’s guidelines and directives – our employees at the helm and in the control rooms at our power plants cannot telecommute. They have a highly specialized skill set, and for a time they were sequestered on-site working to assure that the electricity flows, with regular health screenings and deep cleanings routinely taking place.

NYPA was recognized for its resourceful use of technology in creating a successful work-from-home operation during the COVID-19 pandemic with a 2020 Technology Innovation Award from e.Republic, the nation’s only media and research company focused exclusively on state and local government.

The award was announced at the virtual 2020 Year in Review and Recognition Summit. The Special Districts Awards Program received nationwide submissions and recognized 45 districts that applied innovative technologies and leadership to their response and recovery efforts as they relate to COVID-19.

As we continue to navigate this situation, we do so with NYS and our customer needs in mind, and with the safety and security of our NYPA and Canal Corporation employees remaining the highest priority. And as New York Forward progresses and New York State rolls-out evolving statewide guidelines we remain committed to supporting our employees with a comprehensive 'Return to the Workplace' Guide, updated travel advisories and guidelines, free COVID-19 testing for employees at their work sites and much more to keep everyone safe and healthy.

90 and Going Strong!
On April 27, 2021 NYPA celebrated the 90th anniversary of Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the Power Authority Act into law in 1931. He called it the most important action taken during that year's legislative session. Saying at the time in a radio address, “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."

In 2021 we hit more than one milestone with the opening of the Energy Zone our newest Visitors Center located in Utica, NY. The John S. Dyson New York Energy Zone will introduce visitors to the dynamic world of electricity, past, present, and future, and New York State’s part in it. Interactive exhibits, a 3-D immersive movie experience, hands-on activities, videos and more meet visitors at every turn.

We introduced NYPA’s VISION2030 strategic plan, where we build on our legacy and continue our long tradition of giving power “back to the people,” leading the state’s grid to digitization and decarbonization. In addition to that we released our 2021-2025 Sustainability Plan, which serves as a roadmap to help bring our Environmental, Social Governance (ESG) ambition to life over the next five years; and our 2020 Sustainability Report—our first—which details our ESG performance and progress toward achieving the goals, strategies and targets outlined in our 2021-2025 Sustainability Plan. The report is a key element of the ESG foundational pillar of our VISION2030 strategic plan. It has been designed to respond to our stakeholders’ present and future expectations, communicate our ESG performance, and hold us accountable in leveraging sustainability for long-term value creation.