Canadian hydropower stretches to New York, potentially all of New England

Transmission Line - Nayu Kim

By James Noble

August 21, 2014

A 330-mile transmission line bringing low-cost, clean Canadian hydroelectric power to New York City has obtained final approval from the U.S. Department of Energy, receiving both praise from its promoters and objections from its detractors

First proposed six years ago, construction on the 1,000-megawatt Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) transmission line is expected to take about four years and cost $2 billion. Heralded for its ability to carry clean, affordable power, the project is expected to provide 2 to 3 per cent of New York City’s power needs, around $650 million annually.

The addition of so much power to the region in a few years has caused a political power fight. Governor Andrew Cuomo has proposed the closure of the Indian Point nuclear power plant, citing safety reasons, and the CHPE project is expected to replace some of that power. 

Opponents complain that should the line be built, New Yorkers will be sending jobs and their power dollars to Canada.  Instead of the hydropower coming from the CHPE transmission line, opponents want to keep Indian Point operating as long as possible and invest in the region’s fossil fuel plants.

Those in favour of the power line call these arguments short-sighted and point out that the longer view is an almost unlimited supply of money-saving, clean energy from Canada that promotes the transition from dirty energy sources to those that pollute less.

In the coming months, it’s expected that at least five major transmission projects from Canada to New England will be proposed to meet the region’s 3,600-megawatt demand for renewable energy. 

Just like the transmission line to New York, these new projects are likely to be scrutinized. And while it remains unclear which of the projects will ultimately be built, the fact is that Canadian hydro will be critical to any new energy plans moving forward.

Canada’s electricity exports have been growing quickly for the past decade, with most of the exports coming from provinces with significant hydroelectric infrastructure, like Quebec and Manitoba. In 2012, 57.6 terawatt hours (TW.h) was exported, while 10.8 TW.h was imported. On average, Canada sold its excess electricity for $31.49 per megawatt hours (MW.h), and purchased imports at an average of $20.05 per MW.h.

While it may seem counter-intuitive for a country to be both importing and exporting electricity, this reflects the complex and interconnected North American grid. Some provinces with significant hydroelectric resources, like B.C., also happen to import dirty fossil-fuel energy from south of the border.

When it comes to energy prices, national boundaries seem to hold less sway than the hard truth of dollars and cents.



Photo Credit: Nayu Kim