ELECTRICITY

Quebec-to-Queens power line to win presidential permit from DOE

NEW YORK -- The Energy Department has approved construction of a $2.2 billion, 1,000-megawatt power cable that will stretch from Quebec to New York City and bring badly needed electricity to the densely populated region.

DOE will grant the transmission line a presidential permit tomorrow when it publishes a record of decision in the Federal Register. Any project that would cross an international border requires such a permit from the appropriate federal agency.

In an environmental impact statement on the project issued last month, DOE addressed a host of issues related to the line and said its intention was to grant the permit without delay.

The only exception to the EIS in the record of decision will be a condition that the developer, Blackstone Group subsidiary Transmission Developers Inc., will have to undertake a navigation study in consultation with the Coast Guard on the potential for anchor snags under the Hudson River.

The ambitious project would connect to Quebec at Champlain, N.Y., and run under Lake Champlain and the Hudson to link up with a new converter station 336 miles to the south in Astoria, Queens.

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New York state and other interested parties, including the conservation group Riverkeeper, have already lent the project their support, so DOE approval represents the last milestone in the United States. Canadian authorities still have to approve the proposal.

The project would fill a crucial need in a region long hampered by transmission bottlenecks that could also face the loss of more than 2,000 MW from the Hudson Valley's Indian Point nuclear power station.

In its own approval of the project, the New York Public Service Commission argued the much-needed power would address long-term demand and help to lower regional greenhouse gas emissions in the same breath. The hydropower would also help the state avoid overreliance on natural gas, the PSC said.

DOE in its EIS largely concurred with the PSC. In a section of the environmental analysis devoted to criticism of the project, DOE officials addressed point after point with answers on questions ranging from concern over endangered species to whether ships would be able to anchor in the Hudson, Harlem and East rivers.

The EIS also addressed a point raised by local renewable energy companies during the scoping process -- that the line would not be available for local interconnection -- by stating that the agency will review interconnection and reliability studies to see whether such connection is possible. The developer has argued against local linkups on the grounds that keeping the power line devoted to serving New York City would avoid bottlenecking.

As for impacts in Canada associated with hydro expansion, which many fear could be the hidden reality behind all this in terms of the project's impact on fish, DOE said it would not be appropriate to conduct its own study of development in another sovereign nation.

"DOE does not agree that such an analysis is appropriate or required," the EIS said. "The Canadian Government, through the National Energy Board, would also have the authority to authorize the project and consider potential environmental impacts in its analysis."

DOE reiterated that view in the record of decision, saying it has no authority to wrestle with environmental impacts north of the border.

Transmission Developers, in the meantime, argues that it has done all it can to avoid the taking of private property along the route and notes that all high-voltage direct and alternating current cables will be buried to avoid building overhead lines. The group also insists the electricity, once it goes live as early as 2018, will help apply downward pressure on wholesale prices in the locational marginal price spot market.

Click here to view DOE's record of decision.

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