Washington County portion of Champlain Hudson Power Express about to drop
By Gwendolyn Craig
An international partnership planning to bury and submerge 339 miles of transmission line to deliver enough power for 1 million New York City homes broke ceremonial ground on Wednesday in rural Washington County.
The Champlain Hudson Power Express will deliver green energy from Hydro-Quebec in Canada to the city, planning to generate 1,260-megawatts of power. The entire line is expected to be finished in the spring of 2026.
State officials say the Quebec-to-Queens extension cord is a crucial project to meet the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act’s charge of producing 70% of the state’s power needs with renewable energy by 2030. It is expected to reduce the state’s carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons.
The first stretch of construction will begin in the town of Whitehall, the birthplace of the U.S. Navy. It is just outside of the Adirondack Park. Gov. Kathy Hochul praised the project before a crowd nestled into the Whitehall Armory, a castle-looking building recently turned into an athletic club.
“Today’s announcement demonstrates that there is a symbiotic relationship between upstate and downstate,” Hochul said. “Here we are in a place, the town of Whitehall, population 2,485. … They’ll bring power here today in this tiny community and many others like it, to a city of 8 million. That is the connection.”
It was a soggy, 42-degree day, but Hochul and project partners dug into a pile of dirt laid inside the athletic club for the ceremony. A host of state and local government leaders attended including Warren and Washington county legislators; state Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury; state Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh; state Assemblyman Matt Simpson, R-Horicon; state Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner, D-Round Lake; and former state Sen. Betty Little from Queensbury. Several state commissioners also joined in an event supported with a press release with 22 officials quoted.
The transmission line through Washington County will stretch about 17.6 miles between Putnam and Whitehall, according to the release. The project’s portion was recently approved by the state Public Service Commission.
The developer of the project is Transmission Developers. Josh Bagnato, vice president of project development, said his company still needs to go through the approval process with the state Public Service Commission for the environmental management and construction plan for the line at the bottom of Lake Champlain within the Adirondack Park. He told the Explorer some limited work on that stretch may begin in 2023 with the main cable construction underway in 2024.
Several staff of Transmission Developers noted the Adirondack Council’s newly announced support of the transmission line, sent in a news release on Monday. John Sheehan, the council’s communications director touted the benefits of importing hydro power from Quebec. “It would replace fossil fuel electricity currently generated in NYC with renewably sourced hydro power,” he said, adding that the project design should not harm the views or the environment in the Adirondack Park and Adirondack Forest Preserve.
“The plan calls for a direct-current cable at the bottom of Lake Champlain, rather than using an overland route, which could have caused more visual and environmental impacts,” Sheehan said.
On stage with Hochul on Wednesday was the Grand Chief Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer. Sky-Deer, the first female top leader of the Kahnawake Mohawk community in eastern Canada, said her people have a connection to New York City. She said her grandfather and his four brothers were iron workers and helped build the city’s skyline, including the former World Trade Center buildings. The transmission lines will be buried on Indigenous lands and Sky-Deer said she was looking forward to helping provide renewable energy to New York City.
Sky-Deer said in the past, Indigenous peoples’ lands and rights went unrecognized.
“When projects traverse our lands, a lot of times it’s just a buy-out,” Sky-Deer said. “But for us to truly be a partner in this and co-owners of the transmission line really changes the narrative, and the ability for people to see the merit and the ability for Indigenous people to be a part of the economy, to be a part of the solution.”
Sky-Deer pointed to historical disputes with Hydro-Quebec, the provider of hydroelectric power for the transmission line. The company had flooded other nations’ lands in the Quebec region, she said, and her community’s own land went through expropriations.
“There was some dirty business in the past,” Sky-Deer said, “but the thing is, we can’t always dwell on the negative. … We’re cognizant of things that have happened historically, but it doesn’t mean that we have to let it shape our future.”
Pierre Despars, executive vice president for Hydro-Quebec, focused on how the energy project will improve air quality for New York City communities. Hydro-Quebec is also a sponsor of the World University Games planned in the Adirondacks next year.
“The theme is ‘save winter,’” Despars said, “so very close to our heart as we think about the fight against climate change.”
Hochul told reporters she would be attending the World University Games, which start Jan. 12 in Lake Placid.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm was not at the Wednesday event, but in a statement called the Champlain Hudson Power Express “a powerful example of the infrastructure” that President Joseph Biden and Hochul are committed to developing.
Besides the environmental benefits, state officials said the line will generate $3.5 billion in direct economic benefits to the state, a $40 million Green Economy Fund to connect underserved communities with jobs and a $117 million Environmental Trust Fund to protect natural resources. Local governments and school districts along the length of the line, Hochul told reporters after the event, will see $1.4 billion in financial benefits.
Required project labor agreements are expected to be sealed in the next few months to back 1,400 jobs tied to more than 15 different local union chapters across 22 separate trades and totaling more than 3 million work hours, according to the news release. Operating Engineers, Laborers and Teamsters are working on the 147-mile upstate underground portions.
“It’s going to help so many communities along its route and the hours will ensure that our members have good paying jobs, will have health care and pensions,” said Michael Lyons, president of the Greater Capital Region Building Trades Council. “We look forward to working closely with the contractors that are going to be working on this project.”
The Explorer asked Hochul if she would be switching her focus to natural carbon sinks by signing the 30-by-30 bill. That is legislation passed by both the state Assembly and Senate supporting the preservation of 30% of New York’s lands and waters by 2030. The governor must sign it by the end of the year for it to become law.
“We have not had a chance to review it,” Hochul said. “Literally this was the most number of bills passed in the legislative session in at least 30 years, I would say. We have several hundred more to review, so it’s definitely been under consideration.”