Champlain Hudson Power Express debated

Thursday, September 27, 2012

As policymakers seek to secure energy supplies for the future, how far abroad should they cast their nets?  In addition to cost, reliability, and energy mix goals like renewable electricity standards, should decisions be made based on other factors such as local economic development?

New York legislators debated these questions yesterday in hearings over a proposed transmission line that would connect New York City to Canadian hydroelectric generation.  The $2.2 billion high-voltage direct current line, known as the Champlain Hudson Power Express, would run from the U.S.-Canadian border to the New York metro area. The line would run underwater through Lake Champlain, the Hudson River, and East River for much of its route, with the remainder of the line buried underground.

The Champlain Hudson Power Express was first proposed in 2010, and has been the subject of controversy.  New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has launched the N.Y. Energy Highway program, a public-private initiative to upgrade and modernize New York State’s energy system.  The Champlain Hudson Power Express's developer, Blackstone Group, L.P. subsidiary Transmission Developers Inc., is promoting the line as part of that solution.  It would connect over 1,000 megawatts of Canadian generation - primarily Hydro-Quebec's hydropower projects, as well as some wind - to power-hungry consumers in the New York City area.

Some stakeholders question the effects of the line on existing and new generation in New York.  Older domestic power plants may be unable to compete with the Canadian power; if imports are priced just below what domestic generation needs to operate, the result could be a loss of jobs and tax revenues without significant consumer savings.  Stakeholders such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 97, representing more than 4,000 workers in electric generation and utility jobs in New York, have publicly opposed the project on these grounds, while calling for growth of domestic generation projects.

The Canadian power might also compete with existing and proposed indigenous renewable power projects.  New York has adopted a renewable portfolio standard of obtaining 30 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2015.  New York currently excludes large-scale hydropower projects from qualification for its RPS, but Canadian imports could dampen market demand for in-state renewable generation.

The Champlain Hudson Power Express reportedly featured prominently in a public hearing held yesterday by the New York Senate Standing Committee on Energy and Telecommunications to "consider and analyze the long-term base load energy generation and transmission needs of the State of New York".  Debate over the proposed line is likely to continue, with economics and regulation likely to play key roles in its fate.

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