On February 23rd, 2010, Transmission Developers Inc. (TDI) announced the idea for the Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE). The CHPE is a proposed 333 mile long high voltage submarine power cable that links 1 billion watts of hydropower from Canada to New York City . The sudden need for hydropower in New York City comes from Governor Cuomo’s efforts to build a greener climate. In July 2019, Cuomo signed the New York State Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act into a law . This law requires that 70% of New York’s electricity is generated by renewable energy by 2030 . The CHPE proposal also comes as a result of the 2017 decision to close Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant in Buchanan, NY in order to further invest in renewable energy .
Both Governor Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have shown their support for the construction of the CHPE in order to advance their environmental goals. In 2019, de Blasio announced that his administration would create a contract with Canadian hydropower as a part of New York City’s Green New Deal . New York’s Governor Cuomo stated in May 2020 that “we know they have low-cost hydropower in Canada...Let’s run the cable, the transmission line from Canada to New York City to get that power down here and let’s stop talking and let’s start doing” .
Funded by Blackstone Group, TDI is working with HydroQuebec, a Canadian institution that generates and sells hydropower. Once the CHPE is completed, the Canadian dams from HydroQuebec will be transferring 1,000 MW of energy to New York City , which is enough to power 1 million homes . The project is set to begin construction in 2021, and it has received permits from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the US Department of Energy, and the State of New York . If all goes to plan, the line will be fully operational by the end of 2025 .
Specifically, the plan for the Champlain Hudson Power Express is to transport hydropower from HydroQuebec from the US-Canadian border, down underneath Lake Champlain and the Hudson River and under terrestrial regions to Rockland County, and eventually Astoria, Queens, where the energy will be brought to a converter station in the ConEdison power plant site . The lines would be buried in Rockland County’s Route 9W, where businesses and residents will be affected by noise, dirt, and difficult access due to construction. The New York section of the CHPE would cost $2.2 billion to construct . Most of this funding comes from the Blackstone Group, which TDI comes from . The total cost of the project is $3 billion, and some of this money will come through bonds that New York City will issue through the Transitional Finance Authority .
In addition to the high cost of the project, another huge negative of the project is the impact on the environment and social justice. In order to generate the hydropower that is needed for the project, there is a high chance that new Canadian dams will have to be built to transport the 1,000 MW of energy . HydroQuebec has been stretching themselves thin by creating new deals within Massachusetts, specifically to provide the state with 9.45 million MW hours of energy annually . In July 2020, the company also signed a deal with Maine to provide the state 500,000 MW hours annually . This sharp increase in demand for hydropower from HydroQuebec will result in the creation of new dams, which is one of the reasons that the NGO Riverkeeper has withdrawn their support of the CHPE . Firstly, areas in Quebec need to be clear-cut to create the dams, which disrupts ecosystems . Creating new dams outside of the Hertel substation in La Prairie, Quebec, would lead to an increase in flooding. When floods occur, methylmercury is released from the trees and other organic matter that had been submerged in the water ; this loss of forest area and increased methane emissions would also exacerbate climate change . However, the greatest immediate threat is the environmental justice issue of how the methylmercury would affect the Innu Nation - a Native American community that resides primarily in Eastern Quebec and Labrador. Methylmercury is a neurotoxin that can easily get into water and move through the food web . Particularly, methylmercury bioaccumulates in fish, birds, seals, and other species that indigenous communities rely on . In contaminating the food and water sources of the Innu Nation, exposure to the neurotoxin will double after the dams are built and the upstream areas are flooded . This is backed by a study from Harvard University that analyzed the dangers to indigenous communities when their land is located in or near territories that are flooded when building hydropower dams . The study of a dozen dams in Canada found that more than 90% of the dams expose indigenous populations to methylmercury contamination that results from flooded river valleys .
Concerns from the Innu Nation have been expressed in a formal notice letter from the Center for Biological Diversity . The Innu Nation Grand Chief, Etienne Rich, has stated, “our elders, many of whom have passed away, experienced terrible loss after the Churchill Falls generating station was built...The impact of Churchill Falls has been felt across generations of Innu” . Furthermore, Innu Nation Deputy Grand Chief, Mary Ann Nui, added that “damming Churchill Falls and flooding the lakes above them destroyed the Meshikamau area’s waters and lands...it destroyed our use of the area. It destroyed the habitats of animals living there. The Innu were not consulted about this flooding, and we certainly did not consent to it. The injustice is still raw for us all” . Here, the deputy grand chief makes it clear that the creation of dams by HydroQuebec has greatly impacted the Innu’s way of life, their health, and their food. The way that the creation of dams is implemented without the consent of the indigenous community, and the negative effects on their quality of life makes this case an environmental justice issue.
Due to this injustice, Riverkeeper, an environmental organization based in Ossining, NY, withdrew their support for the project in 2019, six and a half years after first giving their support . In addition to the injustices faced by the indigenous communities, Riverkeeper withdrew their support due to concern about the impact that the transition line would have on the Hudson River’s ecosystem . John Lipscomb from Riverkeeper stated that since the lines will disturb sediments that have been polluted from past activity, “we’re sacrificing the river again” . To counter this, Jennifer Laird-White from TDI has stated that the route for the transition line has been altered to not contact underwater areas showing signs of contamination . She claims that TDI has worked with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and the US EPA in creating the route . Despite this reassurance, Lipscomb believes that creating the line would stir up sediments nonetheless, and this would take years to settle again . This results in disturbance to benthic life in the river, and contaminants can make their way through the food web again. Lipscomb also expressed concern over electromagnetic fields (EMF) having an impact on the fish in the river, especially the Atlantic Sturgeon, which is listed as a federally endangered species under the Endangered Species Act . EMF would alter the migration routes of the sturgeon, and could impact the development of fish larvae .
In response to all of the social and environmental harms that the Champlain Hudson Power Express poses, on October 8th 2020 the Center for Biological Diversity teamed with the North American Megadam Resistance Alliance and the Innu Nation of Labrador to file a formal notice letter to the Department of Energy over its failure to address the environmental impacts of the CHPE . According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the Department of Energy has failed to reinitiate the Endangered Species Act when it comes to protection for the Atlantic Sturgeon against contamination for buried pollutants . This notice letter addresses the full range of issues in Canada that are associated with the CHPE, including the eradication of salmon spawning runs, loss of boreal forest and wetlands from flooding, carbon and methane emissions from decaying organic matter, and food and water pollution concerns for the Innu Nation.
Furthermore, reliance on the CHPE undermines the local economy in New York since importation from Canada makes it difficult for more local, clean energy suppliers in New York to get their energy on the grid . According to the environmental impact statement for the CHPE, only 26 full time jobs for New Yorkers are created . An alternative to the CHPE is investing in clean, local energy sources that could create jobs and energy within the state. Additional alternatives that were explored in the 2014 Environmental Impact Statement are the "No Action Alternative," which involves the project being abandoned . The other cited alternative is issuing a Presidential Permit from the Department of Energy that would authorize the construction, operation, and maintenance of the project . The EIS attempted to justify the construction of the CHPE by stating, “the EIS has been prepared to comply with NEPA and support DOE’s decisionmaking associated with the issuance of the Presidential Permit for the proposed CHPE Project” . In the six years since the EIS was created, there has been clear evidence of environmental and social destruction that would come from the CHPE. An EIS is not required in Canada, which is where a significant amount of damage to the environment and the Innu Nation would occur .