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Québec Hydropower for New York's Clean Energy?

image credit: Hydro-Quebec

New York State has mandated the most ambitious climate policy in the U.S. (NYSERDA, 2019b). The recently executed Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) requires New York to achieve a carbon-free electricity system by 2040 and reduce economy-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net zero by 2050 (NYSERDA, 2019b). Decarbonization of the electric grid (19% of GHG emissions) is a priority as the technology pathways are known. In order to meet the deep decarbonization goals, New York City (NYC) looking add a 1,000 MW transmission line to bring hydropower from Québec. All the city government buildings would potentially be powered with Québec hydropower (NYC, 2019). 

However, some environmentalists are opposing Canadian hydropower for New York, citing carbon emissions and mercury release, loss of local jobs, and the possibility of crowding out local renewable generation (Eadie, 2015; Kurtz, Burkhardt, & Pisha, 2018). Some are loath to encourage the construction of new dams, which they see as destructive projects that drain rivers and disrupt ecosystems (Massachusetts Sierra Club, n.d.; Roth, 2019). 

I evaluated the clean energy needs of downstate New York, the life-cycle climate impact of competing electricity generation technologies, and potential emission profiles under various grid scenarios to answer this question. Finally, I consider the logic of transmitting hydropower from Québec to New York based on the hydrological endowments of Canada vs. the U.S.

New York State: Tale of Two Grids

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Figure 1.1. NY’s clean ‘upstate’ (light blue) and dirty ‘downstate’ (dark blue) grids (NYISO, 2019)

Downstate New York (DNY), including the Capital Region, Hudson Valley, NYC, and Long Island, has a higher pollution electric grid than upstate (Figure 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, 1.5; Table 1). DNY’s GHG intensity is 441 grams of CO2 per kWh vs. 264 for the state, and 80 for upstate. Cheap natural gas-powered electricity is crowding out all other sources as coal declines (NYISO, 2019), and is a complementary dispatchable counterpart to variable renewable generation (Appendix A). 


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Figure 1.2. New York Electricity Generation and Natural Gas Infrastructure

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Figure 1.3. Downstate New York Electricity Generation and Natural Gas Infrastructure

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Figure 1.4. New York City Electricity Generation and Natural Gas Infrastructure

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Figure 1.5. Electricity generation by type - Upstate vs. Downstate (NYISO, 2019)

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Table 1. New York electricity generation mix and emissions breakdown for 2018, by region. Sources: NYISO (2019), CIRAIG (2014), and author’s calculations assuming ‘Dual Fuel’ plants burn natural gas, ‘Other’ has the same emissions as solar, and ‘Hydro Pumped Storage’ the same emissions as Hydro.

In 2017, New York reached a deal to close Indian Point nuclear power plant over 2020-2021 (Indianpoint, 2017; Riverkeeper, 2017), responsible for 80% of downstate clean energy generation (Table 1). Due to population density downstate, much of New York’s existing and proposed renewable energy capabilities are upstate, and the state’s transmission lines are aging (NYISO, 2019).  This situation questions how DNY will reach the goals of the CLCPA.

Québec Hydropower

Hydro-Québec (HQ) is the hydro power generator owned by Canada’s provincial government of Québec. HQ generates electricity using both types of large hydroelectric plants, ‘run-of-river’ (where a generating station is fed directly by a river with little or no water storage) and ‘reservoir’ (where the generating station gets water from a dammed artificial lake). Reservoir-type plants have worse environmental profiles, including high GHG emissions (Figure 2.1). HQ’s 64 hydroelectric stations have an installed capacity of 37 GW, of which 63% is reservoir-based.

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Figure 2.1. Comparison of life-cycle GHG emissions by electricity generation type (CIRAIG, 2014) * results standardized into grams of CO2-equivalent per kilowatthour

In order to understand the impacts of energy generation options, HQ commissioned the International Reference Centre for the Life Cycle of Products, Processes and Services (CIRAIG), to conduct a comparative analysis in 2014. The group conducted a life-cycle assessment for generation under the rigors of ISO 14040 series of standards (ISO, 2007). CIRAIG evaluated seven environmental impact indicators comparing the results of a literature survey (over 60 reports published since 2007) with primary data from HQ’s hydroelectric fleet for the year 2012. The study found HQ’s hydropower to be among the best on almost all metrics on a per kilowatthour-basis. 

Run-of-river hydropower is best on the climate change indicator, and reservoir hydropower (though 3x worse than run-of-river) is nearly 4x better than solar photovoltaic, and at par with wind (Figure 2). CIRAIG's findings (Figure 2.1) are consistent with IPCC’s findings in 2011 (Ottmar Edenhofer, Ramón Pichs Madruga, Youba Sokona [and] Technical Support Unit Working Group Iii, & Potsdam Institute For Climate Impact Research, 2011, Figure 9.8; Figure 2.2). Unlike other renewables sources like solar and wind, hydropower can be dispatched on-demand. Of dispachable electricity sources, HQ’s blended climate impact of the latest project Romaine (16 g CO2/kWh) is one-40th that of natural gas.

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Figure 2.2: Life-cycle GHG emissions by electric generation technology (Ottmar Edenhofer et al., 2011)

With no combustion during electric generation, most emissions from hydropower come from the construction phase (cement, haulage). However, plant matter in flooded reservoirs decompose in oxygen-poor water into methane, a greenhouse gas with 32x the global warming potential as CO2 on a 100-year time-scale (US EPA, 2016). CIRAIG found that HQ’s reservoirs emit much lower methane vs. hydro impoundments in warm tropical climates. Electricity from dams in Amazonia may generate more than 2,600 g CO2/kWh, ~3x that of coal (Fearnside, 2015; International Rivers, 2008). 

In Québec’s northern environments, vegetation is sparse (CIRAIG, 2014). The remote regions have low agricultural runoff, reducing nutrients and organic matter in the reservoirs. Cold water contains more dissolved oxygen than warm water, leading to the formation of more CO2 vs. methane. Emissions from reservoirs rise after impoundment, peak after 2-4 years and return to the levels of neighboring lakes and rivers within the next 5-10 years. Since hydro plants can generate electricity for 80-100 years, the per-unit emissions reduce with time.

Champlain-Hudson Power Express

Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) is a permitted $3 billion, 333-mile, high-voltage direct-current transmission line for 1,000 megawatts (MW) from the Québec border to New York City.  The developers have recently proposed to increase CHPE’s capacity with 250 MW of bidirectional capacity (Transmission Developers Inc, 2019). This flexibility would enable New York to ship any excess renewable generation from variable sources for storage in hydro dams. Construction is to start in 2020, enabling operations to commence in 2024.

To mitigate the impacts of high voltage cables under riverine ecosystems of Haverstraw Bay, CHPE changed the route in a 2012 settlement with Riverkeeper and Scenic Hudson (Hellauer, 2018). The route will still have submarine portions, including under Lake Champlain and the Hudson River between Albany and Manhattan (Transmission Developers Inc, n.d.). Any transmission line from upstate NY (for Québec hydropower or upstate renewables) to downstate will have associated environmental impacts.

Beyond CHPE, New York State Independent System Operator (NYISO) has solicited two transmission system upgrades from central to eastern NY (350+ MW), and from the Albany area through the Hudson Valley region (900+ MW) to transmit upstate renewables (solar, wind, and hydro) downstate (NYISO, 2019). These are expected to be operational by 2023.

Energy Futures

Bulk electricity demand is expected to decline due to the growth of “behind-the-meter” distributed energy resources (NYISO, 2019). However, overall demand could rise as other parts of the economy electrifies to cut fossil fuel use (transportation, residential, industrial, etc.), countered by efficiency gains. The below exercise assumes a flat demand scenario for DNY and assesses the various grid configurations based on NYISO’s downstate interconnection queue as of March 1, 2019 (Table 2). HQ’s contribution is conservatively modeled at 1,000 MW, despite the proposal to expand this by 25%.

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Table 2. DNY 2018 generation, emissions, queue potential, maximum available, and renewable only

Electricity generation = capacity factor x installed nameplate capacity x time.

Quebec Hydro’s capacity factor is of the Romaine complex, all others as realized in 2018.

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Table 3. Generation & emission profiles and overall GHG intensity of various grid configurations

* ½ DNY Renewables: gas fills the gap between DNY renewables (existing + ½ of queue) and demand

* DNY Renews+Qb: gas fills the gap between DNY renewables (existing + queue)-plus-HQ and demand

* DNY Renews+Qb+Up: prorated upstate renewables from 350MW & 900MW lines added to the above

* Only NY Renews: All New York renewable resources that can get downstate, but no HQ

Table 3 demonstrates that removing HQ from the grid mix (headings with dark background) materially weakens downstate climate goals, with emissions even increasing vs. 2018 in one scenario. While HQ’s hydro projects are already built, proposed renewable projects have lower odds of realization due to economics and community opposition (NYLCVEF, 2019). The next iteration of this study should risk weigh all projects along various time periods.


Achieving 100% emissions neutrality by 2040 will be a herculean task for New York. When signing CLCPA into law, Governor Cuomo proclaimed that “cries for a new green movement are hollow political rhetoric if not combined with aggressive goals and a realistic plan on how to achieve them” (NYSERDA, 2019b). Unlike variable renewables, hydropower is a low-pollution dispatchable electricity source (Figure 2) able to counter growing natural gas dominance (Appendix A). While extending the life existing hydro resources like the Niagara plant (UtilityDive, 2019), securing hydropower from Québec is a sound environmental policy. To evaluate the social impact, NYC is engaging with Québec’s indigenous groups directly during procurement due diligence (Anhoury, 2019).

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Figure 3. Hydro endowment of Canada vs. the U.S. (Food and Agriculture Organization, n.d.). Québec’s renewable water resource per capita is 13.7x that of the U.S. (Boyer, 2008)

Canada, especially Québec, has a high hydro endowment compared to the U.S. (Figure 3). E.g. Canada’s per-capita dam capita is 10x that of the U.S. Low-emission hydro electricity from Québec feeding clean-energy-hungry DNY is a “virtual water trade” (water footprint network, n.d.). This practice allows the collective water resource to be utilized efficiently, relieving pressure from the region with relative scarcity. As the energy-climate-water nexus becomes more strained, trade should be part of the solution, rather than isolationism. 

Appendix A

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Figure 4. New York bulk electricity capacity mix evolution (NYISO, 2019)

The portion of New York’s generating capability from natural gas and dual-fuel facilities grew from 47% in 2000 to 59% in 2019, as coal generation declined from 11% to 1%. Wind power – virtually non-existent in 2000 – grew to nearly 4.5% of New York State’s generating capability in 2019 (NYISO, 2019).

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Figure 5. Levelized cost of electricity (United States) for 1H2018 (BNEF, n.d.)

The levelized cost of electricity (LCOE) is a holistic cost assessment of a generation source levelized over the lifetime of the asset. The LCOE of variable renewable generation like solar (PV) and wind -plus- the associated electric storage cost far exceeds the cost of on-demand generation from natural gas (combined heat and power ‘CHP’ and combined cycle gas turbine ‘CCGT’), per Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF, n.d.)

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Figure 6. Levelized cost of electricity for wind-plus storage vs. coal and combined cycle gas turbine

BNEF models steep declines in energy storage -plus- renewable generation costs over the next few decades to make coal-based electricity uneconomic, but not natural gas (CCGT).


Anhoury, M. (2019, July 24). N.Y.C. consulting with Quebec’s Indigenous Peoples before inking hydro deal. Montreal Gazette. Retrieved from

BNEF. (n.d.). New Energy Outlook 2019 | Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Retrieved August 5, 2019, from

Boyer, M. (2008, August). Freshwater exports for the development of Quebec’s blue gold. Retrieved from

CIRAIG. (2014). Comparing Power Generation Options and Electricity Mixes (p. 94). Retrieved from

Eadie, F. (2015, March 12). Stop CHPE; No need to import Canadian electricity from 1,200 miles away. Retrieved July 30, 2019, from

Fearnside, P. M. (2015). Emissions from tropical hydropower and the IPCC. Environmental Science and Policy, 50(C), 225–239.

Food and Agriculture Organization. (n.d.). AQUASTAT - FAO’s Global Information System on Water and Agriculture. Retrieved July 31, 2019, from

Hellauer, S. (2018, February 7). Earth Matters: Champlain Hudson Power Express–11 Things to Know. Retrieved July 31, 2019, from Nyack News and Views website:

Indianpoint. (2017, January 9). Entergy, NY Officials Agree on Indian Point Closure in 2020-2021. Retrieved July 31, 2019, from

International Rivers. (2008, November 25). Dirty Hydro: Dams and Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

ISO. (2007). ISO 14040:2006 Environmental management—Life cycle assessment—Principles and framework. Retrieved July 30, 2019, from ISO website:

Kurtz, P., Burkhardt, L., & Pisha, G. (2018, May 29). Canadian Hydropower — Wrong Direction for the Future. Retrieved July 30, 2019, from

Massachusetts Sierra Club. (n.d.). The Issues of Large Scale Hydropower. Retrieved from

NYC. (2019, April 22). Action on Global Warming: NYC’s Green New Deal [Government]. Retrieved July 30, 2019, from The official website of the City of New York website:

NYISO. (2019). Power Trends 2019: Reliability and a Greener Grid. Retrieved July 30, 2019, from

NYLCVEF. (2019). Breaking Down the Barriers to Siting Renewable Energy in New York State. from

NYPA. (n.d.). Smartpath. Retrieved August 1, 2019, from

NYSERDA. (2019a, January). Patterns and Trends New York Energy Profiles: 2002–2016. Retrieved from

NYSERDA. (2019b, July 18). Governor Cuomo Executes the Nation’s Largest Offshore Wind Agreement and Signs Historic Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. Retrieved July 29, 2019, from

Ottmar Edenhofer, Ramón Pichs Madruga, Youba Sokona [and] Technical Support Unit Working Group Iii, & Potsdam Institute For Climate Impact Research. (2011). Renewable Energy Sources and Climate Change Mitigation. Retrieved from

Riverkeeper. (2017, January 9). Entergy to close Indian Point nuclear plant in landmark agreement—Riverkeeper. Retrieved August 1, 2019, from

Roth, S. (2019, April 30). Hydropower bill would sabotage California’s clean energy mandate, critics say. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from

Transmission Developers Inc. (n.d.). Champlain Hudson Power Express: Route Maps. Retrieved July 31, 2019, from

Transmission Developers Inc. (2019, June 12). Champlain Hudson Power Express Announces Important Project Updates. Retrieved July 31, 2019, from

US EPA, O. (2016, January 12). Understanding Global Warming Potentials [Overviews and Factsheets]. Retrieved July 23, 2019, from US EPA website:

UtilityDive. (2019, August 2). NYPA to invest $1.1B to extend life of New York’s largest clean electricity source. Retrieved August 5, 2019, from Utility Dive website:

water footprint network. (n.d.). Virtual water trade. Retrieved July 31, 2019, from Virtual water trade website:

Isuru Seneviratne's picture

Thank Isuru for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 23, 2019 7:34 pm GMT

With the closure of Indian Point nuclear power plant, natural gas powered electricity will dominate downstate New York electric grid without dispachable renewable transmitted from Quebec

Emphasizing what a short-sighted action this was, but in the meantime tapping into the hydro available is definitely a suitable next move

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 25, 2019 3:51 am GMT

"Was?" Indian Point nuclear plant is still providing 25% of all of Westchester County's electricity, Matt, without any carbon emissions at all - despite the wishes of Andrew Cuomo and his gas pals at Competitive Ventures, LLC, who would like you to think it's a done deal.

Isuru Seneviratne's picture
Isuru Seneviratne on Aug 26, 2019 5:26 pm GMT

I too thought the closure of Indian Point was a done-deal, until I read the fine print while conducting this research.

“Of particular interest to Riverkeeper during these negotiations were the provisions in the agreement to assure that Entergy’s continued authority to operate Indian Point would be shortened to reflect the plant’s agreed upon closure dates, and that there could be no extension of the 2021 shutdown deadline except due to a sudden and unexpected energy emergency. We wouldn’t have become a party to this agreement without such safeguards,” said Gallay. “Riverkeeper will play a major role in assuring the details of the agreement are strictly complied with.”

The fact that downstate will become a 90% polluting grid is probably an "emergency" (NYC recenty declared a "climate emergency"), but I doubt Riverkeeper will see the necessity.

However, nuclear plants can't be turned on and off on command.  I believe Indian Point has initiated the closure process.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 26, 2019 6:26 pm GMT

Isuru, though Entergy conducted IP's "final" refueling in May, right now the plant is generating 2.2 billion watts of clean electricity and will likely continue to do so, notwithstanding histrionics emanating from the anti-nuclear nutcases at "Riverkeeper".

Fortunately the ill-informed group, members of which only play a major role in their own imaginations, doesn't have final say in the matter.

Manisha Rane-Fondacaro's picture
Manisha Rane-Fondacaro on Aug 25, 2019 2:46 am GMT

Importing hydroelectricity from Quebe can be a stop-gap arrangement until New Yorks in-state renewable energy generation can take over. Speaking of which, New York has 33,000+ farms spread over 6.87 million acres that produced products worth $5.4 billion in 2017.,_Chapter_1_State_Level/New_York/nyv1.pdf

The biomass and farm waste (manure) are valuable energy sources that can be repurposed as fuels to meet local energy demand, thereby avoiding expensive waste disposal and minimizing greenhouse gas emissions, in addition to relieving stress off the transmission and distribution grid. 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 25, 2019 2:31 pm GMT

Manisha, what evidence do you have "repurposing" 6.87 million acres of farms to produce biofuel wouldn't be at least three orders of magnitude more costly than the "expensive waste disposal" to which you refer?

To you have any idea how economical it is to store spent nuclear fuel at a modern nuclear plant - especially, one that's already in operation?

Manisha Rane-Fondacaro's picture
Manisha Rane-Fondacaro on Aug 26, 2019 1:10 am GMT

Dear Bob, The article below gave me a good idea on economics of storing spent nuclear fuel...

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 26, 2019 5:21 pm GMT

Manisha, the article you reference describes ballooning nuke waste costs as a result of shutting down plants - not keeping them open.

If we're closing Indian Point to be replaced by NY state biofuel, we can only add its decommissioning costs to the already-astronomical tab of converting 6.87 million acres to biofuel production.

Doesn't make a lot of environmental or economic sense, does it?

Manisha Rane-Fondacaro's picture
Manisha Rane-Fondacaro on Sep 2, 2019 11:15 pm GMT

Dear Bob, Two points. First, we are not converting 6.87 million acres of land for biofuel profuction. These are farmland, where farmers are growing crop and raising cattle. After each harvest, the crop waste (dead leaves and stalks) aka biomass can be used for producing electricity; likewise the animals waste or manure can be used for producing electricity and fertilizer. The farmers have to get rid of both types of waste and the idea is to produce electricity from waste in economical and sustainable manner.

Second point: Everything, be it man made (machines and equipment) or nature made (humans, animals and plants) reach end of their life and are replaced. Eventually, the nuclear power plants will become defunct. However, mankind will have to continute to spend money to keep the nuclear waste facilities safe and secure until all the radioactivity dies down. We are talking hundred thousands of years. At this time scale, it does not make economic sense to continue with nuclear energy.

Here are excerpts from two articles..

1) The United States is home to 21 “stranded” nuclear-waste storage sites, according to a congressional researcher who was quick to add that “stranded does not imply that the waste has been abandoned or lacks regulatory oversight.”

It means those 21 sites are no longer attached to reactors that are producing electricity or revenue, environmental policy analyst Lance N. Larson writes in a May report to members of Congress. The stranded sites are costly for the federal government, which has spent $7.4 billion to nuclear utilities and other reactor owners, according to CRS, to offset its responsibility to store the waste. 

2) The U.S. accumulates about 2,000-2,400 mt of spent fuel each year.

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act required the U.S. federal government to begin taking control of spent nuclear fuel in 1998. When this did not occur, the government became liable for the costs associated with continued on-site, at-reactor storage.

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