IN his inaugural address, President Obama spoke of the need to build “the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.”
Great idea - but in New York City, for one, that also means updating some local laws, especially zoning.
For example, city law all but forces Con Ed to site electrical transformers in industrially-zoned land - areas that grow ever more scarce as the city continues to change.
Siting them almost anywhere else means going through a difficult, expensive and time-consuming process to get city approval. Yet “anywhere else” means the very residential and commercial neighborhoods the substations must serve.
Plus, the zoning code lets these substations sprawl, eating up potentially valuable real estate.
If you think of the electric grid as a highway system, the substations are the off ramps: The transformers reduce the high voltages of long-distance transmission to levels usable in homes and businesses.
New Yorks rules look back to a time when substations did indeed seem industrial. In the earliest days of electricity, transformers had to be close to generating stations, which buzzed, belched smoke and required waterfront access for adequate cooling.
Since no one lived nearby, substations were too often left unenclosed, their electrical equipment naked to the elements - and the eye.
Not that enclosed substations - alienating, windowless concrete or brick bunkers surrounded by chain link and razor wire - were much better. No one wanted such facilities in their residential or even commercial neighborhoods.
But new technologies make it possible to build good-looking substations pretty much anywhere. The equipment is quieter, cleaner and more compact than ever before. And advances in long-distance transmission long ago freed us of any need to locate transformers near waterfront generating stations.
Since 2006, Lower Manhattans 7 World Trade Center has offered New York City a single gleaming illustration of smart planning for power and land. A substation forms its base, making the office space above it that much more valuable for starting at the equivalent of the 11th floor rather than the second. (The old 7 WTC, destroyed in the 9/11 attack, was the citys previous sole case of an office building sharing land with a substation.)
Similar urban-design solutions - substations in the base or basement of office towers - abound in New Yorks competitor cities, such as London and Tokyo. They lie not only beneath office towers - but also under schools, temples, parks and plazas. A major substation hums below Leicester Square, a green space in the heart of Londons theater district.
If New York allowed substations in more neighborhoods, both low-rise and dense, it would get neighborly ones, and enough of them.
The city needs power, and it needs land. Removing the barrier to building electrical substations in residential and commercial areas would make more of both available.
The building of a nationwide grid presents the most significant opportunity in electrical distribution since Thomas Edison started up his Pearl Street power station and network in lower Manhattan in 1882. Now is the moment for New York - electrical distributions hometown - to update its obsolete regulations and lead the charge for more power delivered by more neighborly substations.
Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/growing_nyc_grid_6mcyjnKPDcWYofzhluVZoN