TRANSMISSION:

3rd major project adds to crowded field in the Northeast

NEW YORK -- The company behind a proposed 1,000-megawatt power line from Quebec to New York City went public last week with plans for a second major power line into the Northeast.

Transmission Developers Inc. New England, a subsidiary of the Blackstone Group, wants to build a $1.2 billion, 1,000-MW line from Canadian hydropower to Ludlow, Vt., to access the power-starved New England market.

The "Clean Power Link" would apparently follow the same underwater path as Blackstone's further-along project, the Champlain Hudson Power Express, before cutting east through south-central Vermont. The Hudson River line, which has secured a state permit but not federal, would continue south to access the downstate New York region.

The New England line from TDI would arguably be in direct competition with a third project: the controversial Northern Pass route from Quebec through New Hampshire. That proposed line, from Hartford, Conn.-based Northeast Utilities, would bring 1,200 MW of power to the New England Power Pool along 187 miles of mostly above-ground cable, at a cost of $1.4 billion.

That TDI proposed to construct its project into New England below ground is crucial. Northern Pass has generated a fair amount of hostile opposition from New Hampshire residents who have insisted Northeast Utilities should bury the project despite claims by the company that doing so would be economically prohibitive (Greenwire, Oct. 8).

TDI New England's announcement sought to highlight this key difference. The company would bury the first 100 miles of the line under Lake Champlain before digging under existing rights of way for an additional 50 miles to a Vermont Electric Power Co. substation in Ludlow.

The company's release also noted that the project would be considered a "merchant line," meaning it would compete on the open market for subscribers -- unlike Northern Pass, which has Hydro Quebec booked for capacity for 40 years to help fund the project. Blackstone plans to foot the entire bill for construction, keeping it privately financed and maintaining control.

Donald Jessome, TDI New England's president and CEO, said the link would benefit Vermont and the rest of the region by cutting the cost of power into a region that stands to lose baseload capacity and options other than natural gas as nuclear power stations and coal-fired plants retire.

"Over the course of the coming weeks and months, we look forward to exploring this project with elected officials, communities and other stakeholders," Jessome said in a statement.

In what looked like a swipe at Northern Pass, the TDI executive added: "By burying the line, either underwater or in existing rights of way, the project can deliver needed energy to the marketplace in a way that has minimal impacts on communities and the environment. We want to stress that we are committed to constructing the line using the highest environmental standards to protect Lake Champlain and Vermont's natural beauty."

The Hudson River line won approval from the Empire State and some key environmental groups only after TDI agreed to fund a $117 million environmental trust for Lake Champlain and the Hudson, Harlem and East rivers.

Northeast Utilities has attempted to alter its route and set up jobs programs to appease opponents in the same manner but hasn't been quite as lucky in terms of lowering the volume in New Hampshire. Christophe Courchesne of the Conservation Law Foundation wrote in a blog post last week that TDI has simply done a better job of reaching out.

"The project design amounts to a fact check for proposals like Northern Pass by ... calling the question of whether transmission for Canadian hydropower can cost effectively be buried to protect communities along the route," Courchesne wrote. "CLF welcomes the announcement of the Clean Power Link, as a thoughtful and promising option capable of bringing cleaner energy to the region without the gratuitous burdens and misinformation of Northern Pass."

The group also called out supporters of Northern Pass to the south -- notably those in Boston -- for not doing enough to demand the underground option through New Hampshire.

"Stakeholders and government officials in southern New England states who have blindly behaved like cheerleaders for Northern Pass now must come to grips with the fact that there are thoughtful and less impactful proposals to consider," Courchesne wrote.

Northeast Utilities spokesman Martin Murray responded in an email exchange that the company does not view the new proposal as competition -- though he did dismiss attempts by some to use the announcement "as an opportunity to attack Northern Pass and mislead the public on key facts."

"We are pleased to see others recognize what we already know: The region is in great need of new sources of baseload energy if we are to meet our future energy needs," he said.

Murray also sent along the transcript of a third-quarter earnings call with financial analysts held last week with Leon Olivier, the COO and executive vice president at NU. Olivier denied the new project is direct competition, saying New England will need 6,000 to 8,000 MW of new electricity with nuclear plants retiring and baseload coal out of the mix.

"There is a lot of variables that says that we need more energy that is clean coming into the region," said Olivier, according to the transcript, adding that the TDI New England project is merchant and has no counter-party.

"We would assess it as one more merchant project, there's a half a dozen or so in New England that have just quite frankly never got off the ground and show no signs of getting off the ground at this time," Olivier said.

Click here to go to the New England Clean Power Link's homepage.

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