November 22, 2010 - Champlain Hudson Power Express

Monday, November 22, 2010

A recurring theme this year is that Hydro-Quebec has a large amount of hydroelectricity that it would like to sell us.  In order to sell Canadian hydro on the scale HQ envisions, as an engineering fact more transmission lines need to be built.  Of these, what is now called the Northern Pass transmission project - effectively a high-voltage DC line capable of carrying 1,200 MW of steady imports into the US - has received a lot of attention.  This imported power would be primarily generated by HQ's extensive network of hydroelectric facilities -- with an installed capacity and available supply of over 42,000 MW.

Another similar HQ-inspired transmission project is proposed just west of New England: the Champlain Hudson Power Express, a 300-320 kV DC line, consisting of two 5-inch cables to be buried at a depth of 3 feet.  One unique aspect of this HVDC project is that it will be entirely underwater and underground, buried three feet into the substrate.

The proposed route interconnects with a proposed $400 million line project in Quebec.  (The Canadian side will be developed by TransÉnergie, which is Hydro-QuĂ©bec's transmission business.)  The route runs from the Richelieu River in Quebec, south through Lake Champlain.  Then, to avoid stirring up PCB-contaminated sediment in the Hudson River, the route leaves the water and runs under railroad right of ways.   The line will be developed by a private developer (called Transmission Developers, Inc.) supported by the Blackstone Group. Users of the line (primarily utilities using the line to transmit power, or large industrial users who buy their own power) will pay for it. The line developer says its analyses show New York ratepayers will save $8.1 billion on their electricity bills between 2015 and 2024, by providing less expensive Canadian renewable power, which will force older and less economic domestic generating units offline.

Will these lines be built as proposed?  What will their effects be on power prices in the U.S.?  What effects will the imports have on the development of renewable generation in New England?  The answers to these questions remain to be seen.  With its large surplus of generation over domestic load, we can be sure that Hydro-Quebec will remain open to selling us power for the foreseeable future -- but the cost of that power, in both cents per kilowatt-hour and in terms of societal impacts, may be hard to calculate.

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