Under the rubric of delivering clean, renewable energy to New York City, construction is going forward on a 339-mile power transmission line from the province of Quebec to a converter station in Queens. On November 30, New York governor Kathy Hochul celebrated the ceremonial beginning of construction of a 116-mile underwater line from the southerly bank of Lake Champlain to the Canadian border.
Permitted by the New York State Public Service Commission in April, and granted formal approval for a 17.6-mile stretch between Putnam and Whitehall on October 13, the project had been more than a decade in the making
At an approximate price tag of six billion dollars, the ambitious project will be very helpful to the state in achieving its goal of 70 percent of all electricity derived from renewable sources by 2030.
Hochul stood before a backdrop of black curtains front and center in a line of politicians and businesspeople wielding golden shovels, ready to dig into a pile of dirt and convey — psychologically at least — that construction had commenced. “The Champlain Hudson Power Express [CHPE] transmission line,” she said, “is a monumental step toward protecting our environment and creating family-sustaining green jobs in both upstate and downstate New York.”
Drawing on our ingenuity
The Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke and Hydro-Québec will co-own the Canadian portion of the line that will be built from Québec to deliver electricity to an interconnection point with the CHPE line. “We are always mindful of the seven generations to come,” said Mohawk grand chief Kahsennenhawe Sky Deer, “and this partnership solidifies efforts towards a cleaner environment, while creating more opportunity for Kahnawà:ke to carry out our responsibilities as stewards of the environment.”
The project’s majority owner is Blackstone Inc., the world’s largest asset manager. As of the third quarter of 2022, Blackstone, headquartered in New York City, had $951 billion in assets under management. A Blackstone portfolio company, Transmission Developers, Inc., will manage the line in New York State while HydroQuebec, the largest renewable energy producer in North America, will run operations in Canada.
New York City-based Blackstone had the deep pockets to risk huge amounts of capital on a project that faced almost innumerable regulatory hurdles before last October’s final approval. The lead financial advisor on the deal was Societe Generale, a French-based multinational financial services company headquartered in Paris.
“This large-scale project will draw on our ingenuity,” said Sophie Brochu, president and CEO of Hydro-Québec. “Linking the largest generator of clean renewable energy in North America with New York City will change the energy landscape of our entire region.”
Considering such a high-wattage consortium of players, the information on the map of the project available for download on the CHPE website is skimpy. The map indicates the route of the power line with a sloppy line drawn so thickly that it’s possible to say only that the submarine portion of the power line for the Hudson Valley appears to begin at the line separating Greene and Ulster counties.
From that point south, the power line is submerged again in the Hudson River until leaving the water to be buried again somewhere near the village of Croton-on-Hudson in Westchester County.
CHPE says that HVDC submarine cables have “a proven history,” using as references the underwater cables which carry power between Italy and Greece, Europe and Scandinavia, and between England and France. Should a cable be damaged, the CHPE says, the current and voltage can be reduced to zero in a fraction of a second without the possibility of damage to persons, fish or nearby infrastructure.
A 2016 report from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management claims that the invisible radiation of electric or magnetic fields) emitted from power lines does not have a significant impact on fish and invertebrates. Recurring fears that the EMF resultant from power lines may cause cancer in humans is met with skepticism at the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], which calls the findings of studies on the subject as of yet “inconclusive.” The EPA notes that we all live inside the earth’s magnetic field, and that this magnetic field is used by pigeons and fish to navigate, It also makes compasses work.
Some studies have shown that some workers exposed to high magnetic fields have increased cancer rates. The CDC says that such associations “do not necessarily show that EMF exposures cause cancer any more than the springtime association of robins and daffodils shows that one causes the other,”
The advantage of underground cables is the almost total shielding of electric fields, a consequence both of its being buried in the dirt and by the jacket which surrounds the power line — naked in standard transmission via towers. The magnetic fields from underground power lines also dissipate much faster when buried in the ground, and so don’t reach as far as the magnetic field of power lines running along towers.
The natural battery
By sidelining a portion of New York City’s carbon-emitting peaker plants, the environmental benefits will be considerable. When the line is commissioned in 2026, a press release from HydroQuebec explains, the electricity generated by Quebec’s hydroelectric dams will meet 20 percent of the electricity needs of New York City, an embarrassing 90 percent of which is currently supplied by fossil fuels. The anticipated reduction in air pollution related to electricity derived from fossil fuels, such as gas and oil, is the equivalent of closing 15 power plants.
“This new transmission line linking the largest generator of clean, renewable energy in North America with New York City,” said Brochu, “will change the energy landscape of our entire region.”
Hydro-Quebec operates some 60 hydroelectric generating stations with 28 reservoirs providing virtually all the electricity produced. A set target amount of electricity belongs to the provincial government. Beyond that, excess energy is sold on the open market.
Hydropower plants with reservoirs have an immense advantage in electricity generation. They can accumulate water when electricity demand is low, and use it later when demand rises at peak times. Demand for hydropower is variable and may not coincide with plentiful wind or sunlight. As Hydro-Quebec notes, in the United States natural gas is the main readily dispatchable energy source to complement hydropower.
“Thanks to the remarkable work carried out by Hydro-Québec, TDI and the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke, we have a historical agreement,” said Martine Biron, ministre des Relations Internationales et de la Francophonie, “which will, in time, see Québec become the natural battery for northeast North America.”
The Champlain Hudson Power Express expects to deliver up to 1250 megawatts of clean hydroelectricity. “The most powerful project you’ll never see,” the tagline of the Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE), refers to the fact that the proposed high voltage direct current (HVDC) power transmission line will be buried underground or submerged underwater along the entire route.
The line will be commissioned in 2026, The anticipated reduction in air pollution related to electricity derived from fossil fuels, such as gas and oil is the equivalent of closing 15 power plants.