A $4B powerline will run under Lake Champlain, power NYC, and impact Quebec

The bridge at Rouse’s Point on Lake Champlain. Photo: Jimmy Pierce, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

A $4 billion deal to deliver hydropower from northern Quebec to New York City was approved earlier this month by the NYS Public Service Commission. A big portion of the powerline will be laid along the bottom of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River.

While the project won’t provide the North Country with any new renewable energy, it is expected to bring some construction jobs and a projected $470 million in tax payments to Clinton, Essex and Washington Counties.

Zachary Matson from Adirondack Explorer explains how the powerline will work, who’s impacted by the project, and when construction will begin in the North Country.

Emily RussellA $4B powerline will run under Lake Champlain, power NYC, and impact Quebec

ZACHARY MATSON: The transmission line will go directly from the Canadian border into New York City, so it’s not going to be sending energy to Upstate or the Capital Region or Western New York. But it is expected to provide New York City about 20% of the city’s needs. The city uses about a third of the total energy that the whole state uses.

Another really important component to this is that compared to solar and wind, the consistency at which they can deliver energy is much higher. Wind is only able to produce when the wind is blowing, same thing with the sun when the sun is shining, but the way these hydrodams work, at least Hydro Quebec and the developers argue, they’ll be able to deliver energy at a much more consistent rate. And the idea that they and energy experts have is that this hydro source can serve as a balancing tool for those other sources of energy.

EMILY RUSSELL: What’s it like up there in northern Quebec, where this hydropower is going to be coming from?

MATSON: There’s vast boreal forests in northern Quebec, with major rivers running through them. And since the mid-20th century up until as recently as the last year, Hydro Quebec has been constructing dams and creating these impoundments. As I was trying to get my head around how big they were, I was comparing them to the different wildernesses in the Adirondacks to give me a visual of the scope of these impoundments. The largest impoundment in Quebe is four times the size of Lake Champlain. There’s an even bigger one in Labrador that Hydro Quebec gets energy from that’s over 50 times the size of Lake George and so as you add these impoundments up, they have a combined surface area that’s greater than the 6 million acres of the Adirondack Park. People refer to these as a green battery.

RUSSELL: What’s been the response from the indigenous communities that live in that area of ​​Northern Quebec?

MATSON: There’s a really long and deep, complicated history of how indigenous communities in Canada have been impacted by these dams and these impoundments. These areas have been used as hunting grounds. Their communities are there for generations and generations and generations. People have used these rivers as routes to hunt caribou, to fish, and all of this and really live on this resource.

At the beginning of the construction of these dams, Hydro Quebec came in and, without working with or notifying or asking for consent are these indigenous communities, vast these facilities and flooded these areas that had been the traditional ancestral lands of these indigenous communities, and altered the way these communities live. over time, [Hydro Quebec] worked with communities more and more and have cut some big deals, but there’s still a number of indigenous communities that feel like they haven’t been made right for what was taken from them.

RUSSELL: So this vote that just happened was kind of the final approval for this project. What are the next steps for getting this power online?

MATSON: Yeah, so the developer said that this approval of this contract was a big step for them to be able to move forward with construction. They’ve got to lay this cable 340 miles from the Canadian border down into the city. There will be a new converter station built in Queens. They said they expect to start digging up roads and burying this cable as soon as this year.

There’s a significant amount of road work that will be done in Washington County. There’ll be some pre-construction activity that happens on the lake as they continue to fine-point the details, but they expect in 2024 to actually do the cable installation at the bottom of Lake Champlain, which is going to take five months or so as they have massive barges and down the lake at about two miles per day, laying this cable under the water. They’ll be carrying about 12 miles of cable on a big spool sitting on this massive barge as they head down the lake and place it at this very exact, precise route at the bottom of the lake that looks to avoid shipwrecks and all sorts of things that are down there. So 2024 is when you’ll probably see these big boats out on the lake for quite some time.

Find more of Zachary Maton’s reporting in the upcoming edition of the Adirondack Explorer or at AdirondackExplorer.org, including the article referenced in this interview: State approves multi-billion dollar deal to support Lake Champlain power line

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