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Renewables behind proposed transmission projects in New York, New England

image credit: © Stephan Pietzko | Dreamstime.com

Many of the transmission lines that are going to get built in the next decade are going to bring power from renewable sources to load centers hundreds of miles away.

On the East Coast, that means bringing hydropower from Quebec into New York and New England.

“The renewable in the Northeast is really relying upon lines coming down from Quebec — the hydropower to supplant the coal that’s gone offline and the fact that nobody’s able to bring in natural gas to increase generation capacity,” Ed Hirs, a natural resources fellow with BDO, told me in a recent phone call.

In New York, proposed transmission lines also would bring in renewable power from proposed and existing solar and wind farms in the northern and western part of the state.

At his May 23 press conference on the novel coronavirus pandemic, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo came out in support of those proposed projects, as well as one that would bring Canadian hydropower to New York City, according to a report in the Albany Times-Union.

“Let's build the cross-state transmission lines to develop that renewable market upstate and satisfy the need downstate. We know they have low-cost hydropower in Canada. Let's run the cable, the transmission lines from Canada to New York City, to get that power down here,” Cuomo said. “Let's stop talking and let's start doing. Let's invigorate this whole renewable market.”

Following Cuomo's remarks, the trade group that represents companies in the competitive power supply industry in New York state put out a statement saying it supports the cross-state transmission lines but not the project to bring Canadian hydropower to New York City.

The cross-state lines are needed "to help unlock the full potential" of the 67 projects with 4,315 megawatts of generation capability that have received Renewable Energy Credits from the state of New York over the last three years, the Independent Power Producers of New York said.

The group was less charitable in its assessment of the Champlain Hudson Power Express, a high voltage direct current line that would bring 1,000 to 1,250 megawatts of renewable energy, the bulk of which would be hydropower, 333 miles from the Canadian border to Astoria, Queens.

"This line is both unnecessary, given in-state developer demand, and provides no environmental benefit," the IPPNY said.

The IPPNY also said the CHPE was too expensive, with a price tag of $3 billion, and said it would give a windfall to Canadian generators by allowing them to take advantage of the fact that power prices in New York City are higher than power prices in Canada.

Despite the opposition to the CHPE, it appears to be moving forward.

Transmission Developers Inc., the Blackstone unit behind the CHPE, said June 2 it has received approvals from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the International Boundary Commission that clear the way for it to finalize transmission agreements for the project and undertake construction activities at the U.S.–Canada border.

One complaint the CHPE hasn't faced is that it would spoil views of pristine areas. That's because 60 percent of it would be underwater and the remaining 40 percent would be underground.

The developer of another project to transmit hydropower to the U.S. can't make the same claim. One reason for opposition to the New England Clean Energy Connect is because a segment of it would require the construction of a new, 53-mile corridor through commercial timberland in western Maine to accommodate an HVDC transmission line. In all, the NECEC, which is being developed by Avangrid, would include an HVDC line running 147 miles through western Maine; 50 miles of existing alternating current lines; and two substations, one to convert direct current to alternating current.

Although it runs through Maine, NECEC would transmit power that would be used by Massachusetts consumers, one of many things about it that seem convoluted.

Opponents to it have gotten a referendum over it onto the November ballot, but there’s a battle over that. In the latest phase, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is accepting public comment on the referendum’s wording through June 22, according to the Free Press.

Maine law requires Dunlap to present the ballot question “concisely and intelligibly.” As proposed, it would read: “Do you want to adopt a Resolve directing the Maine Public Utilities Commission to reverse its approval of the proposed New England Clean Energy Connect power transmission line?”

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