BAD LUCK A rock ledge prevented cable from being burried full depth.

The fierce political fight over an underwater power cable between New Haven, Conn., and Shoreham, N.Y., is shaping up as a symbol of the Bush administration’s push to assert more federal authority over key interstate transmission upgrades that are blocked by states.

On Aug. 15, the Long Island Power Authority used the $130 million Cross-Sound Cable to import power to help restore its system, which had been knocked out two days earlier by the massive Northeastern blackout. The 24-mile, 330-Mw line jointly owned by TransEnergie U.S., a subsidiary of Canadian utility Hydro-Québec and Connecticut utility UIL Holdings, was completed in May 2002, but this was the first time it had been energized.

Cable operations had been delayed 14 months by initial engineering mistakes and fierce political opposition to the line in Connecticut. The logjam was broken when the U.S. Dept. of Energy issued a temporary order Aug. 13 allowing the New York and New England system operators to use the cable for emergency purposes through Sept. 1, 2003, overriding a Connecticut hold on operations.

LIPA received up to 300 Mw of power over the line for three days until its generation was restored. But it is unclear what DOE will do beyond Sept. 1 and whether the cable will ever be allowed to operate under normal conditions.

The Cross-Sound project had been bitterly opposed in Connecticut, starting in 2001 when the Connecticut Siting Council first rejected a route that went through valuable oyster beds in New Haven harbor. It then approved a substitute plan using a shipping channel.

State legislators tried to block the project in April 2002, but Gov. John Rowland (R) intervened to allow the line to be built. He said that its state permit predated the legislative action.

During cable laying in late May 2002 managed by contractor ABB Power T&D, the line was placed over a rocky ledge that Cross-Sound failed to detect during testing and which it says was not on any charts. As a result of this, about 400 yd of cable was not buried to the required depth of 6 ft below harbor bottom. "It was sheer bad luck," says Rita Bowlby, spokeswoman for Cross-Sound.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has direct authority over the channel, ruled that the cable still could operate without causing any environmental or shipping hazard. But the Connecticut Dept. of Environmental Protection, under intense political pressure, prohibited operation. It said the line was not in compliance with its permit. DEP also ruled that a state moratorium on new projects under Long Island Sound prohibited any remediation work until at least late 2004. A Cross-Sound suit to allow interim use of the line until the repairs were made was thrown out by a state court in April 2003.

Cross-Sound officials say blasting would be needed to fix the problem and they doubt the state would ever allow it. They claim the best approach is to operate the cable as is.

According to LIPA Chairman Richard Kessel, the successful use of the line in the emergency shows there is no negative environmental impact and no further excuse to keep the line shut down.

New York politicians led by Gov. George Pataki (R) have chimed in, charging that the whole problem is being caused by "parochial politics" in Connecticut. They are pressuring DOE to continue its current emergency order because further grid problems are likely.

Connecticut state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal (D) says DOE acted correctly to open the line during the emergency. But he is demanding that it allow the line only to be used under such conditions and says he will sue to protect the state’s environmental "sovereignty."

Because of the Cross-Sound fight, Connecticut toughened its power line siting rules in 2003 and any new line under the Sound will face a bigger fight.