Activist state

State approves $4 billion power line between Lake Champlain and NYC

ALBANY — Approval of a key state contract on Thursday means construction could begin this summer on a transmission line at the bottom of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River that would supply Canadian hydroelectricity to New York.

Known as the Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) project, the transmission line would run under Lake Champlain for nearly 100 miles and under parts of Washington County highways between Putnam and Whitehall. The total cable run from the Canadian border to a new converter station in Queens is nearly 340 miles.

The State Civil Service Commission, in a 5-2 vote, on Thursday passed a 25-year contract to buy billions of dollars in renewable energy credits from Hydro-Quebec, a connected Canadian utility to the provincial government, to provide renewable energy to the city. The commission also approved an agreement with a separate transmission line that would supply in-state renewable energy from Delaware County to New York.

CHPE developers said they would be ready to move forward with construction once the state contract is finalized, eyeing a December 2025 target to energize the transmission line.

“These projects are transformative,” PSC Chairman Rory Christian said during Thursday’s committee meeting.

Commissioners opposed to the bill raised concerns that statewide cost increases for utility ratepayers to pay the credits would hurt upstate economic development and fall from disproportionately in areas that benefit least from the project.

‘It is too costly for taxpayers and the commission has not taken… sufficient steps to adequately and comprehensively ensure that the issues surrounding this case are better investigated,’ Commissioner Diane Burman said. .

The urgent need to move away from fossil fuels in the face of climate change has won out. Just as some environmental groups have argued in favor of the project, the commissioners have stressed the need to act as quickly as possible to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

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 route. The developers have also negotiated agreements along the proposed route, seeking to reduce tax payments over the next 30 years while securing the payments local governments and school districts can expect. In Clinton, Essex, and Washington counties, developers have estimated a combined construction cost of nearly $700 million, accepting projected tax payments of $470 million in the three counties over the next three decades.

Funded by one of the world’s wealthiest private equity firms, The Blackstone Group, the transmission line has sparked debate in recent months among environmentalists, local officials and activists focused on eliminating the use of highly polluting oil and gas plants in New York.

Proponents of the project say the CHPE is essential to reducing New York’s reliance on fossil fuels and meeting the 2040 goal of emission-free electricity mandated by the state’s new climate law. Opponents of the project have denounced it as an environmental risk built on a legacy of mistreatment of Indigenous peoples in Canada – a legacy that excludes New York’s energy producers.

Installation of the cable 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 coiled cable will descend the lake, including a long stretch in the Adirondacks Park, at a rate of approximately 2 miles per day. The installation of Lake Champlain is expected to take five or six months. Road construction could lead to traffic disruptions as early as this summer.

The underwater facility will stir up sediment and displace benthic creatures, which could harm food webs, but state and federal agencies have determined that environmental impacts will be minimal or sufficiently mitigated. The CHPE line received state and federal permits in 2013 and 2014.

CHPE is expected to provide about 10,000 gigawatt hours of electricity each year, or about 20% of the city’s huge energy needs. The line will also reduce the city’s reliance on fossil fuel power plants used during peak energy demand, plants that cause serious health problems in low-income neighborhoods.

The transmission line will rely on Hydro-Quebec’s extensive network of reservoirs and generating facilities, many of which are in large forests more than 500 miles north of Montreal. Some of the reservoirs have flooded Indigenous lands and some Indigenous communities have spoken out against the CHPE project. The impoundments have flooded vast areas of mature forests and wetlands in northern Quebec and exceed the size of the Adirondacks Park in combined total area.

This story originally appeared on the website of Adirondack Explorer, a non-profit news organization covering people and politics within the forest reserve.