Transmission battle takes place in New York over whether hydropower is really “green”

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A strange battle pitting environmental groups against clean energy advocates is taking place in New York – a state with one of the most aggressive carbon reduction initiatives in the U.S. The issue? Whether the proposed 339 transmission line and the hydropower it will carry from Quebec to New York City is really a “green project” at all.   

Of course hydropower is green power. So what’s happening in New York? Understanding what’s going on in the Empire State requires us to circle back to April 30th, 2021. 

Friday, April 30th, 2021, marked the last day that the Indian Point Nuclear Plant, located on the Hudson River 24 miles north of New York City, produced the carbon-free reliable baseload electricity that had served New York so well for more than 58 years. Over 13 months, New York State lost enough power to meet 25% of New York City’s electricity needs. But, more importantly, the nuclear plant comprised 80% of the carbon-free power generated in the nation’s largest metropolitan area.

Fortunately, the city and the state had a solution in the works. Former Governor Mario Cuomo had committed the state to eliminating fossil fuels for its power generation by 2040 when he signed into law the Climate Protection and Community Protection Act in 2019.   

When signing this landmark law into place, the Governor and the state’s lawmakers banked on the eventual completion of the Champlain Hudson Power Express project.  Once completed, this ambitious transmission project will deliver enough carbon-free renewable power (1,250 MW) from the Canadian province of Quebec to power more than one million New York homes. The 339-mile line will be entirely underground or underwater – underneath the Hudson River.  

You would think that a project that brings carbon-free hydropower into New York with minimal visual blight would enjoy unanimous support. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. That’s because one environmental group, Riverkeeper, claims that “Canadian hydropower is not clean or green. It…emits greenhouse gases.” This position puts the group in stark contrast to the New York League of Conversation Voters, whose president, Julie Tighe, said, “Hydropower is an appropriate source of power: It’s clean.” And Daniel Zarrilli, chief climate advisor to former New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, said it would be a “big head-scratcher” if the Champlain Hudson Power Express failed to get final regulatory approval from the New York Public Service Commission.

This disagreement begs the question: is the Champlain Hudson Power Express a “green” project?  Of course it is.

Hydropower is arguably one of, if not the most, reliable renewable sources of energy. It’s also one of the oldest, serving as the initial power source for major utilities such as the Tennessee Valley Authority. We’ve always supported hydropower and argued vigorously for its inclusion in clean energy standards.

We’ve also consistently been on record opposing efforts to breach existing dams like the Lower Snake River Dams in the Pacific Northwest.  And, we’ve been on record supporting efforts to bring new pumped-storage hydropower facilities online to balance out the intermittent nature of renewables like wind and solar. In short, there’s no denying that existing and new hydropower facilities deserve to be part of a carbon-free future.  

The Champlain Hudson Power Express is an innovative “green” energy transmission project that will bring a much-needed source of affordable, reliable, and renewable source of power to the people of New York. Critics should move aside and let this important project work to the benefit of the people of the Empire State and climate.