Greenwashed power line on fast

track to grab billions in $ubsidies
By Jurgen Wekerle and Caitlin Pixley
A
controversial electric power transmission proposal, the Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE), is racing toward regulatory approval even though it is unneeded, will undermine genuine renewal energy, and wreak environmental havoc on the Hudson River and virgin Canadian forests.


CHPE is pressing for fast-track approval from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the NYS Public Service Commission (PSC). If successful, the boondoggle will qualify for $1.52 billion in U.S. Recovery and Reinvestment Act loan guarantees which require both the transmission of renewable electricity and a construction start date by September.

The project is a 355-mile, 1,000-megawatt, direct current (DC) submarine power cable to begin at the Hertel Substation in Quebec, Canada. The cable is to cross the international border into NYS and will be buried under Lake Champlain and the Hudson River, causing dredging, PCB and other toxic disturbance and environmental damage in its wake.

It would surface in Yonkers at a substation next to a new civic center and the MTA Hudson Line railroad station. That prized location is incompatible with the best use of the critical riverfront redevelopment district, and conflicts with existing efforts that are key to the revitalization of downtown Yonkers.

To be able to receive federal subsidies, the CHPE proposal is being falsely advertised as a clean, renewable energy source that will transport surplus Quebec wind and hydropower to meet NYS demand and renewable energy targets. Quebec, however, has no surplus green energy to export, and the touted hydro sources do not yet exist. They are tube built in the same environmentally destructive manner as previous James Bay proposals by Hydro Quebec.

Virgin Canadian forest lands must first be clear-cut and flooded, and a complex of dams and impoundments is to be constructed at Lower Churchill Falls on the Quebec/Labrador border 1,000 miles away.

Churchill Falls generation and CHPE cable transmission are separate but companion projects mutually dependent on each other and on U.S. subsidies without which neither will be built. If those loan guarantees are approved, U.S. taxpayers will be paying for the devastation of habitat and wildlife in Canada, and for the collateral release of methane and mercury emissions which pollute air, land and water resources on both sides of the border.

Moreover, the proposed hydropower would be generated from low- flow, artificial impoundments, not from high-volume, free-running rivers, and thus does not even qualify as renewable energy pursuant to NYS renewable energy policies.

The CHPE promise to import Canadian wind power into NYS is just as contrived as the James Bay-type hydro boondoggle. The proposal would actually divert Great Lakes and Tug Hill wind power generated in western NYS from the existing statewide market.

Currently, all wind power produced in NYS is already available to the NY metro region (and to all customers throughout NYS and surrounding states) via a more direct and much shorter route provided by the open access network of the existing grid. What CHPE is proposing is a bait-and-switch scheme to create the illusion of renewability in order to claim eligibility for the coveted federal loan guarantees and other subsidies, such as the Westchester County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) tax exemptions.

Not only is the CHPE project a glaring example of greenwashing at its best, it satisfies no public need or benefit, defies market conditions, constrains other power merchants, undermines the genuine renewable solar and wind industry which is creating real, permanent jobs in NYS, and conflicts with the state energy plan.

There just is no market demand for additional long-distance power, but should such demand occur, existing plans and the conventional grid can respond and transmit power from Canada or elsewhere without the construction of the CHPE cable.

Paradoxically, a wave of new generation and supply sources is just coming on line at the same time that overall consumption of power in NYS is declining. In April, 2010, the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO), which manages the supply reliability of electricity produced and traded among NYS merchants, stated that there is no existing or anticipated need for additional power in NYS during the next 10-year planning cycle. In fact, the use of electricity in the state has dropped significantly each year since 2008. As a consequence, the Public Service Commission (PSC) has directed utilities to prepare austerity plans to adjust generating capacity/production accordingly.

While power supply is not an issue, upgrading the delivery system is. The NYISO, PSC and the state energy plan all reaffirm that the top energy priorities are to modernize the local utility infrastructure and the regional grid, to maximize efficiency and to supply genuine renewable sources throughout the distribution system.

The CHPE cable would accomplish none of those objectives. Instead of contributing new interconnections along its 355-mile route and integrating itself with the existing grid as required by industry standards, the cable would bypass and be independent of the grid.

The cable’s closed DC design prevents its use by NYS merchants to transport and distribute electricity within NYS, and also from selling into the Canadian market. It is an anti-competitive, one-way monopoly that would channel trade-protected Quebec power into the high-use but already well-supplied NY metro market at a disadvantage to NYS merchants, customers and the environment.

Further, the CHPE cable stands apart from traditional power merchants, since it provides a specialized, long-distance, transmission-only function, just like the failed New York Regional Interconnect (NYRI) power line proposal. It neither generates electricity nor does it serve as a utility which distributes electricity to retail customers. It has no control over the source, the price, of the end-use of the power it would transmit. It cannot promise or guarantee renewable sources just as it cannot deny dirty fossil fuel or nuclear sources. It is just like a giant household extension cord with plugs only at each end: an entry plug in Quebec and an exit plug in Yonkers, with no access points in between.
 

Unfortunately, the permit reviews by the Dept. of Energy and PSC are being limited only to the portion of the cable on the NYS side of the border. Inexplicably, studies of the construction and generation contingencies on the Canadian side and their cumulative impacts, which give birth to CHPE, are being omitted.

With no market need and no public economic benefit, the project has little hope of making a profit through actual old-fashioned earnings. CHPE, however, is a high-finance venture—the object is more to capture the subsidies than to provide renewable energy. The hedge funds will not be placing their own money at risk since the billions of dollars in public subsidies provide for an overly generous, government guaranteed profit—even if CHPE goes bankrupt and even if no electricity is ever transported.


Ultimately, the nation must focus on ways to reduce energy consumption rather than continue to foster exponential consumption to stimulate the economy at a price that cannot be repaid. The best and fastest way to provide clean, renewable, cost-effective energy is to promote on-site solar and wind generation, coupled with assertive demand-side reduction, conservation and energy efficiency measures—not the perverse transmission-only shell game being perpetrated on unwitting U.S. taxpayers by CHPE.


For more information, visit www.AskPSC.com, with links to DOE for details, current status, Atlantic Chapter testimony, and scoping comments (re: Champlain Hudson Power Express – PSC case #10-T-0139).


Jurgen Wekerle sits on the Chapter’s Clean Water and Energy committees. Staffer Caitlin Pixley is the Atlantic Chapter’s Conservation Associate.