It’s nice not to be talking about imports from Canada in terms of oil this time. The U.S. Department of Energy has approved the final environmental impact statement for the 336-mile, 1000-megawatt Champlain Hudson Power Express transmission line across the U.S.-Canada border near Champlain, New York, extending to New York City. The high-voltage direct current line, mostly underwater, will use Canada hydro to shave 2-3% off New York City’s power bills and provide needed additional electric capacity.
Assuming final permits are granted, the CHPE line will run under Lake Champlain and the Hudson, Harlem, and East Rivers. Overland, it will follow railroad and roadway rights-of-way (see map). The Canada hydro line will comprise two transmission cables, ancillary aboveground cooling stations, and a new converter station in Queens, New York, that will interconnect with the city’s electrical grid at two points. Commercial operation is expected in 2017.
Savings and benefits for New York
Albany-based Transmission Developers Inc. states that its new line will cut New York City consumer and business energy bills by $650 million annually. Rates from Long Island to Albany will also decline, according to the company’s calculations. Aside from its financial benefit, the Canada hydro line is expected to achieve the following:
- Provide additional new transmission infrastructure capacity into New York City using non-visible cables,
- Reduce air pollution and GHG emissions by lowering peak-hour fossil-fueled transmission,
- Bring smart-grid-compatible HVDC technology to the region, improving reliability of the metro grid, and
- Reduce the dependence of the New York City area on coal, oil, and natural gas.
In a prepared statement, TDI CEO Donald Jessome credited the Department of Energy, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife Service, Coast Guard, EPA, and the NYS DEC and Public Service Department for years of intensive review and analysis of the line’s impacts to 18 environmental features.
“A great many people within these agencies and at the state and local level went to great effort evaluating the project…. The CHPE transmission line will provide clean, affordable power while minimizing community and environmental impacts, and it offers a creative solution to meet the energy challenges of the future.”
Access the August 8 Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS-0447) here.
Objections to the new plan
The Canada hydro import project is not without controversy, though. By approving the EIS, DOE has already deemed that the project’s environmental impacts are within the law and that the existing generation and transmission system will remain within acceptable voltage, loading, and stability limits during both normal and emergency conditions.
However, Richard Thomas, Executive Director of the Affordable, Reliable Electricity Alliance (a statewide coalition of more than 150 businesses, labor, and community groups) reportedly views the approval of the final EIS as damaging to New York State:
“It’s going to result in Canada taking our jobs [which number about 300 per year during construction] and taking billions in ratepayer dollars with very little benefit to New York. The Champlain-Hudson Power Express line has absolutely no ability to tie into from a New York-based power plant. And all the communities along the line are going to be shut out.”
Thomas supports an opposing and isolationist concept of importing hydropower from upstate and western New York, which are rich in the energy resource.
The New York League of Conservation Voters supports the regional transmission line for both its origins in clean energy and its ability to fill part of the gap created when Entergy’s two operating Westinghouse pressurized water reactors at Indian Point close. They are two of the six operating nuclear energy plants in the state, which generate nearly 30% of the state’s electricity. Each 40 years old, both reactors generate about 2,000 megawatts and reach 20-year permit renewal deadlines within the next year.
Governor Cuomo wants to close Indian Point. Safety reasons seem to argue for the shutdown. At least 10 serious incidents have occurred since five months after the plant opened, including unplanned shutdowns, transformer problems (including an oil spill into the Hudson), and radiation leaks to air and groundwater. Just yesterday, a false signal indicating a reactor coolant pressure change tripped and shut down one of the two operating reactors again, for 1,040-MW power loss.
Canadian Hydro for New England?
In New England, at least five other major transmission projects have been proposed to connect to Canadian hydro sources. New England also faces plant shutdowns, including closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in fourth quarter 2014 and proposed closures at the coal-fired Brayton Point Power Station in Massachusetts and the oil-fired Norwalk CT Harbor Generating Station. ISO New England, the grid operator, is expediting efforts to eliminate price swings and ensure the region has enough power to meet winter conditions and rising demand.
Last year, according to DOE figures, hydroelectricity accounted for only 7% of New England’s net electricity generation, compared with nearly 50% for natural gas-fired plants. The New England states are considering (and implementing, in Connecticut) legislation to give large-scale hydropower projects clean-energy preferences similar to those for wind and solar.
Two issues here involve debate:
- Can we classify large-scale hydroelectric as a clean source of power, given its inundation of land resources, eradication of landscapes, and disruption of both land-based and aquatic ecosystems?
- Will easy access to low-cost hydroelectricity undermine the competitiveness of renewables such as solar, wind, and other sources, slowing or halting their development?