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Riverkeeper statement regarding the Champlain Hudson Power Express

After careful consideration, research and consultation with affected community, environmental, government and corporate representatives, Riverkeeper is withdrawing its support of Transmission Developers, Inc.’s Champlain Hudson Power Express. 

In April 2013, due in large part to concerns over meeting the energy needs of New York City and New York State after Indian Point Nuclear Plant closes, Riverkeeper had agreed not to oppose the permitting of the TDI project, after obtaining significant changes to the project and receiving assurances that it would not lead to the construction of new dams in Canada. Six and a half years have elapsed since that time and much has changed. These changes have driven our decision to no longer support the TDI Project, which has yet to break ground despite original projections that it would come on line earlier this year.

The energy landscape in New York is drastically different than it was in April 2013. In January 2017, Indian Point plant’s owner, Entergy, signed an agreement with New York State and Riverkeeper to close Indian Point providing four years’ lead time to plan and advance new renewable energy and demand-reduction measures. Since that time, NYS Public Service Commission figures document increases in renewable energy generation and reductions in demand that will exceed the amount of energy generated by the first Indian Point reactor, by the time it closes in 2020. In 2020 and 2021, a roughly similar amount of renewables and efficiency will come online, replacing the energy supplied by the second reactor when it also shuts down in 2021. 

And, in July 2019, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the New York State Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act into law. The CLCPA requires 70 percent of the State’s electricity to be generated by renewable sources by 2030, specifically mandating an additional 6,000 MW of solar capacity by 2025, plus 9,000 MW of offshore wind capacity by 2035 and 3,000 MW of energy storage by 2030.

On the day that Governor Cuomo signed the CLCPA into law, he also awarded two contracts for offshore wind development totaling 1,700 MW. And, more recently, oneGRID has offered a proposal for the Empire State Connector Project. The ESC transmission line would deliver 1,000 MW of renewable energy to downstate New York — primarily solar and wind — generated within New York, which would facilitate the construction of new in-state sources of renewable energy and create more renewables-related jobs within New York State. 

Just as importantly, Riverkeeper has consistently stated that we would only support the CHPE project if it did not result in additional dam construction in Canada. In the six and one half years since our original decision not to oppose the permitting of CHPE, new risks have arisen that, if TDI does build this project and bring 1,000 MW of Canadian Hydropower to New York, it would increase the likelihood that new Canadian dams would be constructed. This construction would cause significant adverse impacts to the flow, function and ecology of the rivers and northern boreal forests involved, which lie in an area where the amount of power produced per acre of flooded land is among the lowest in the world. 

To illustrate the heightened concern that constructing CHPE would increase the likelihood of new dam building in Canada: another power line project has gotten out ahead of the CHPE project. In the six-plus years since the permit for CHPE was issued, TDI has not been able to complete the needed agreements with HydroQuebec to bring the desired 1,000 MW of power to New York. But in 2018 Massachusetts and HydroQuebec did sign a 1,000 MW contract. HydroQuebec’s current level of power sales, coupled with the Massachusetts supply deal having been completed before any similar agreement could be concluded here in New York, increases the risk that HydroQuebec may propose more dams to meet potential demand. Again, Riverkeeper opposes any such additional dam construction leading to greater river and habitat destruction as well as additional negative impacts to the health, quality of life and cultural identity of Canada’s indigenous communities. 

In coming to our conclusion about the increased risk of new Canadian dam construction, we evaluated the amount of surplus capacity that could be available to serve the CHPE project as well as other proposed sales of power to the US market. We understand from HydroQuebec that in 2018 it had around 10 TWhr of surplus capacity, as measured by water spillage. The approved project to bring power to Massachusetts will take up 9.45 TWhr. Thus, nearly all of HydroQuebec’s 2018 surplus will be taken up by the new supply deal with Massachusetts. Indeed, when Riverkeeper recently requested firm commitments from HydroQuebec that no new dams would be constructed to meet potential future demand, the company could only respond by saying they do not currently “anticipate” the need for more dams. 

Finally, a recent Harvard University study has shed new light on the dangers caused to indigenous communities when land in and near their territories is flooded to build hydropower dams. This study of dozens of dams in Canada found that more than 90 percent of these dams expose indigenous populations to methylmercury contamination which results from flooding river valleys. Methylmercury contaminates the riverine and coastal food web. It bioaccumulates in the fish, birds, seals and other species upon which local communities rely. According to the Harvard study, on average indigenous communities’ exposure to the neurotoxin would double after the dams are built and upstream areas are flooded. Although there are methods to follow that could minimally reduce the production of — and thus communities’ exposure to — methylmercury, the provincial governments have failed even to implement these protective measures. In the case of Nalcor’s construction of the Muskrat Falls hydropower dam, the government approved using the protective capping measures, but the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment failed to issue a permit in a timely manner. And more recent studies show that the capping measures will only decrease methylmercury by 1 or 2 percent.

Given these factors and the need for New York to transition to 100 percent clean, safe, renewable energy to mitigate climate change, meet the new CLCPA mandates and foster more in state renewables, Riverkeeper can no longer support the Champlain Hudson Power Express cable.

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