Transmission line project will deliver Canadian hydropower to NYC
By Zachary Matson
Approval of a key state contract Thursday means that construction could start this summer on a transmission line at the bottom of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River that would deliver Canadian hydropower to New York City.
Known as the Champlain Hudson Power Express project, CHPE, the transmission line would run under Lake Champlain for nearly 100 miles and under parts of Washington County roadways between Putnam and Whitehall. The total cable route from the Canadian border to a new converter station in Queens would stretch nearly 340 miles.
The Public Service Commission on a 5 to 2 vote Thursday adopted a 25-year contract to purchase billions of dollars in renewable energy credits from Hydro-Quebec, a Canadian utility connected to the provincial government, for delivering renewable energy to the city. The commission also approved a deal with a separate transmission line that would deliver renewable energy produced in the state from Delaware County to New York.
CHPE developers have said they would be prepared to move forward with construction once the state contract was finalized, eyeing a December 2025 target to energize the transmission line.
“These projects are transformative,” PSC Chair Rory Christian said at Thursday’s commission meeting.
Commissioners opposed to the project raised concerns that statewide cost increases to utility ratepayers to pay for the credits would hurt upstate economic development and fall disproportionately on areas that benefit least from the project.
“This is too costly to ratepayers and the commission has not taken… sufficient steps to adequately and completely ensure the issues embedded in this matter are more fully vetted,” Commissioner Diane Burman said.
The urgent need to shift away from fossil fuels in the face of climate change, though, carried the day. Just as some environmental groups have argued in support of the project, commissioners underscored the need to move as quickly as possible to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“I’m not comfortable with continuing to spend ratepayer money on the same dirty fossil fuel results if there is an alternative before us.”— Commissioner Tracey Edwards
The $4 billion CHPE transmission project includes a $117 million environmental trust fund to support restoration projects on Lake Champlain and other parts of the transmission’s route. Developers also negotiated agreements along the proposed route, seeking reduced tax payments over the next 30 years, while guaranteeing payments that local governments and school districts can expect. In Clinton, Essex and Washington counties, developers estimated a combined construction cost of nearly $700 million, agreeing to projected tax payments of $470 million in the three counties over the next three decades.
Financed by one of the world’s richest private equity firms, The Blackstone Group, the transmission line stirred debate in recent months among environmentalists, local officials and activists focused on eliminating the use of highly-polluting gas and oil plants in New York City.
The project’s supporters argue CHPE is critical to unwind New York’s reliance on fossil fuels and meet a 2040 target of emissions-free electricity mandate under the state’s new climate law. The project’s opponents denounced it as an environmental risk built on a legacy of mistreatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada – one that excludes New York energy producers.
Cable installation on Lake Champlain is scheduled for 2024, according to Donald Jessome, head of Transmission Developers Inc., the project’s lead developer.
Large barges carrying miles of spooled cable will inch down the Champlain, including in a long stretch in the Adirondack Park, at a pace of about 2 miles per day. Lake Champlain installation is expected to last five or six months. Road construction could cause traffic disruptions as early as this summer.
Underwater installation will stir up sediments and displace bottom-dwelling creatures, potentially harming food chains, but state and federal agencies have determined environmental impacts will be minimal or sufficiently mitigated. The CHPE line received state and federal permits in 2013 and 2014.
CHPE is projected to deliver about 10,000 gigawatt-hours of electricity each year, about 20 percent of the city’s massive energy needs. The line will also reduce the city’s reliance on fossil fuel plants used when energy demand peaks, plants that cause serious health problems in low-income neighborhoods.
The transmission line will draw from Hydro-Quebec’s sprawling network of impoundments and generating facilities, many of which lie in large forests over 500 miles north of Montreal. Some of the impoundments flooded Indigenous lands, and some Indigenous communities have spoken out against the CHPE project. The impoundments flooded vast areas of mature forests and wetlands in northern Quebec and exceed the size of the Adirondack Park in total combined surface area.
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