Campaigns & Cases > Protect River Ecology > Champlain Hudson Power Express

Champlain Hudson Power Express

Canadian hydropower is not clean or green. It kills rivers, harms Indigenous communities, and emits greenhouse gases. And we shouldn’t dig up the Hudson for transmission lines to bring it here. Riverkeeper has argued against the CHPE project in favor of alternatives that can provide NYC with truly sustainable, low-carbon energy from within New York State – while avoiding such harm.

Hydro dam

Photo: Sharath G.

A giant energy project, receiving billions of dollars in New York State subsidies and millions more in local tax breaks, threatens to dig trenches in Lake Champlain and the Hudson River to install electric cables from the U.S.-Canada border to New York City. The Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) will bring power from massive hydroelectric dams in eastern Canada that have a long, devastating history of destroying rivers and damaging Indigenous communities, threatening their way of life. And though hydropower is billed as clean energy, dams and reservoirs are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change.

Despite significant opposition based on numerous public concerns, New York’s Public Service Commission voted on April 14, 2022, to approve billions in ratepayer subsidies for the project. Riverkeeper believes this project falls far short of meeting New York’s stated goals of providing a just transition to renewable energy while effectively reducing carbon emissions from our energy sources. Read Riverkeeper’s statement here.

The project’s stated goal is an important one: to deliver low-carbon, reliable energy to New York City on a large scale. But the truth is, if CHPE moves forward, we’d spend massive ratepayer subsidies on another dirty energy project. With a 25-year contract and an anticipated useful life decades longer, CHPE would undermine, rather than support, New York’s climate act requiring zero-emission electricity by 2040. By Hydro-Quebec’s own estimates, carbon dioxide emissions from its reservoirs are equal to several fracked-gas power plants. It’s essential that we meet the challenge of the climate crisis, and we must reject false solutions. That means rejecting the generally accepted but incorrect view that hydropower is an alternative to fossil fuels the way solar and wind are.

Beyond the global impact, the Hudson River and communities along it would pay a heavy price for this false climate solution. “Jet plows” installing the CHPE cable would tear up habitat in one of the world’s most productive estuaries – one that is only a few decades into its recovery from centuries of damage. Jet plows would stir up contaminants in an already-poisoned food web, and threaten the drinking water that more than 100.000 people rely on. Once installed, the cables would generate electromagnetic fields that could interfere with fish behavior and their ability to navigate within the Hudson. We’d be conducting a big, reckless experiment on the Hudson and its endangered species, the sturgeon, just as we strive to bring it back from the brink of extinction.

The project is also an environmental injustice on a grand scale. In Eastern Canada, Hydro-Quebec’s numerous and growing fleet of dams have stopped free-flowing rivers and flooded vast areas of lands without the permission of Indigenous nations whose lands have been taken. When land is flooded to create reservoirs, microbes convert naturally occurring mercury in soils into methylmercury, a toxin that bioaccumulates in fish. This poisons the food web, including the people who have depended on this food source for thousands of years.

First Nations are imploring New York City to listen. Without assessing impacts from its power stations and dams, “Hydro-Quebec and the Province are imposing an irreversible dynamic of biological impoverishment to our lands,” five First Nations wrote in a letter last year.  “… And once again, Hydro-Quebec is preparing to use us as part of its export projects to the United States.”

“We have been robbed of our future, of our land,” one of the authors said in a video message to New Yorkers. “We have been robbed and ignored by the governments of Quebec and Canada, and of course Hydro-Quebec.”

Let’s not ignore them. New York should favor alternatives with vastly lesser impacts, and vastly greater benefits.

A second transmission project, Clean Path NY, was also chosen to receive billions in subsidies from New York. Unlike CHPE, Clean Path would carry solar and wind power generated in New York. Other potentially viable projects were passed over when CHPE was selected to provide energy to New York City. Several other projects competed for New York’s energy credits, most by proposing the use of in-state solar and wind power, and primarily land-based routes that would not imperil the river ecosystem or drinking water. Let’s use our valuable incentives to meet our urgent needs for reliable, truly clean energy, while avoiding harm to the environment and communities. We can do better than hydropower from Canada.

“Riverkeeper will continue to advocate for effective climate change solutions that avoid environmental justice impacts at both ends of the line and minimize using the river as a right-of-way,” said Tracy Brown, President and Hudson Riverkeeper. “We will continue to speak out for the well-being of the Hudson River and the residents of the Hudson Valley, with the aim of ensuring that living rivers, on which we all depend, are not unnecessarily sacrificed in the essential rapid transition to clean energy.”

Read Riverkeeper’s role and position on the Champlain Hudson Environmental Trust.

Read Riverkeeper’s response to the April 2022 decision by the Public Service Commission.

Read Riverkeeper’s formal comments regarding the proposed Tier 4 contract award to CHPE, submitted to the Public Service Commission February 7.

Read Riverkeeper’s “reply comments” submitted February 21, 2022.


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Press coverage

Hudson Mohawk Radio Network: Riverkeeper Opposes CHPE Canadian Hydro Transmission Project

The Journal News: Riverkeeper fears underwater Hudson cables will be ‘an extension cord to New York City’

AP: Plans To Get NYC Onto Green Power Include Burying Lines Underground, Under Hudson River

City Limits: New York’s Hydropower Plan Stirs Concerns Over Impact on Waterways

The Revelator: Promise or Peril? Importing Hydropower to Fuel the Clean Energy Transition

InsideClimate News: New York and New England Need More Clean Energy. Is Hydropower From Canada the Best Way to Get it?

Times Union: Hudson River towns worry about planned power line in the river

New York Focus: NYC Plans to Import Canadian Hydropower. Who Really Benefits?

Tell Gov. Hochul to block invasive species at the Erie and Champlain canals
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