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New York State selects two power transmission projects to deliver 2.55 GW of renewable energy

21 September 2021 Kevin Adler

New York State regulatory agencies announced 20 September that Clean Path NY and Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) have been chosen to construct and operate a pair of transmission lines that will deliver a total of 2.55 GW of renewable energy from upstate New York and Canada to the state's more populous areas.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) said the two projects—which have yet to receive final permitting—would deliver 18 million MWh per year upon completion. That's enough to power more than 2.5 million homes and reduce GHG emissions by 77 million mt over the next 15 years, the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road.

The projects were announced during the first day of New York Climate Week by Governor Kathy Hochul, less than a month after she assumed the position when Andrew Cuomo stepped down. Hochul said the projects will help the state reach its goal of 70% of its energy coming from renewable sources by 2030 and 100% by 2040, per the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act that Cuomo signed in 2019.

Clean Path NY is a 1.3-GW, 174-mile underground line that will deliver power from 20 wind and solar projects. It is being developed by Forward Power, a joint venture of Invenergy and energyRe, and the state-owned New York Power Authority.

CHPE is a 1.25-GW, 339-mile underground and underwater trans­mission project that will deliver wind energy and hydropower from Quebec to Queens, New York, and locations along the way. It is being developed by Blackstone-backed Transmission Developers and Hydro-Québec, and it will run under Lake Champlain and part of the Hud­son River on its route downstate.

Concurrent with the announcement that it is part of the winning bid on the CHPE project, Hydro-Quebec said on 20 September it has signed a 25-year deal to sell power to New York worth approximately $20 billion.

"Transformative"

For New York City, the primary destination of the power from the transmission lines, the impact will be "transformative," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. The city obtains nearly 90% of its power from fossil fuels today, he said.

"Two new transmission lines connecting New York City to electricity from water, the wind, and solar will create thousands of good union jobs, improve the resilience and reliability of our power supply, and dramatically reduce our reliance on oil and natural gas electricity that dirties the air in our neighborhoods and endangers our planet," de Blasio said.

New York is the nation's fourth-most populous state, with more than 19 million people. It is ninth in annual GHG emissions, according to the US Energy Information Administration, with about 157 million mt of CO2 equivalent, or about 3% of the US annual total.

Energy accounts for 24% of the state's GHG emissions, according to NYSERDA, making a transformation of the sector a key element of the state reaching goals of reducing statewide GHG emissions by 40% from 1990 levels by 2030 and 85% by 2050. Those goals were also outlined in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act.

Despite supporting the tough environmental goals, Cuomo had signed off on the closure of one clean energy resource in April 2021, the Indian Point nuclear power plant. To critics, this left the state in a precarious position on energy resilience.

Speed is one of the attractions of the CHPE proposal, the transmission line originating in Canada. Transmission Devel­opers says it already has all the permits it needs to begin construction this year (though IHS Markit could not confirm this statement). The developer says it can complete the high-volt­age, direct-current power line by 2025 and deliver enough power to replace more than half of the generation lost from the closure of Indian Point.

Completion of the Clean Path NY line could be as early as 2027, said NYSERDA.

More energy transitions

The new power lines are just one part of the state's plans to shift from gas-fired power to renewables. Renewables accounted for 29% of the state's energy mix in 2019, according to the US Energy Information Administration, and 80% of that is from hydropower.

In June, the federal government approved leasing of eight areas off the New York and New Jersey coasts in the Atlantic Ocean, an area known as the New York Bight. This is a key part of President Joe Biden's goal of reaching 30 GW of US offshore wind capacity by 2030. Cuomo had set a target for just New York State of 9 GW of offshore wind by 2030.

Bids for the wind projects were due on 13 August. The lease areas have the potential to unlock over 7 GW of offshore wind capacity, powering more than 2.6 million homes and supporting thousands of new jobs, according to the US Department of Interior.

Also, the New York Public Service Commission (PSC)'s distributed power program known as NY Sun has supported installation of more than 2.5 GW of rooftop solar capacity so far, according to NYSERDA. Its mandated target is 6 GW of distributed solar and 3 GW of battery storage by 2030.

But the big power lines coming from central power sources are essential to solving the state's needs as well. "While the state should expect rapid growth in the deployment of distributed solar in New York City … distributed solar will not have the necessary scale to solve this issue on its own," the PSC stated.

Mixed reviews

Despite the major investments ($11 billion for Clean Path NY and $2.2 billion for CHPE), one of the projects received some criticism from environmental groups.

The Sierra Club and other opponents of the CHPE project charge that the hydropower from Hydro-Quebec is not necessarily an additional amount of hydropower generation for North America. They said Hydro-Québec can redirect hydro sales to New York City and sell power from fossil fuel-fired generation from its other facilities to other buyers. They also said that if the company is incentivized to build new dams, those could have negative environmental impacts and raise costs that consumers will have to absorb.

The PSC order appears to address the issues by including provisions to ensure that "deliveries of hydropower under Tier 4 are not simply backfilled by fossil resources elsewhere on the grid." And the PSC said the project could not be used to justify construction of new hydropower structures.

Canadian hydropower has substantial support in New England and the Midwest, as other states seek to decarbonize their energy mix. Massachusetts is leaning on a plan to bring 1.2 GW of Canadian hydropower to New England through Avangrid's New England Clean Energy Connect power line in Maine, although that project has faced delays due to opposition from environmen­talists as well as gas-fired generators in New England.

Allete subsidiary Minnesota Power last year brought online the 880-MW Great Northern transmission line to allow Mani­toba Hydro to deliver hydropower and provide "virtual" storage for the Upper Midwest.

--Includes original reporting by George Lobsenz, "The Energy Daily."

Posted 21 September 2021 by Kevin Adler, Editor, Climate & Sustainability Group, IHS Markit

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