Hydro Quebec never acknowledges the enormity of its crimes against nature and people

To the Editor:

Gary Sutherland of Hydro Quebec wrote a Dec. 3, 2020 letter [“We need bold moves now in fighting the climate emergency”] in response to my Nov. 25 letter [“Keep the wealth of New York in the state].

In his Dec. 3 letter, Mr. Sutherland wrote, “CHPE will bring a significant amount of low-carbon energy right into downstate New York.”

This is Mr. Sutherland’s third letter in recent months, and the first time he acknowledged Canadian hydroelectricity has a carbon impact.

The Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) is a proposed one-billion watt, high-voltage, direct-current-transmission corridor (powerlines) that would cross eastern New York from the Canadian border to New York City. Much of it would be buried in trenches under Lake Champlain and the Hudson, Harlem, and East rivers.

More than 10 miles would be laid atop Hudson River bedrock under “cement mattresses.” Terrestrial sections would cross many streams and wetlands and be buried along road and railroad rights-of-way in Clinton, Washington, Saratoga, Schenectady, Albany (including Guilderland), Greene, and Rockland counties, and in New York City.

CHPE electricity cannot begin flowing until at least 2025. Many New York City residents would rather safely and carefully develop the city’s energy and employment resources than perpetually export wealth by importing electricity produced 1,000 miles distant.

Installing and maintaining solar power on some of the flat roofs in New York City could provide unionized, good-paying, and needed jobs. Tens of thousands of workers, and especially people of color, many who have never had a good job, could begin lifetime careers greening the city.

Accelerating efforts are occurring in New York City at high-efficiency retrofits and net-zero energy buildings. Taking vigorous steps to reduce energy waste from existing buildings is better than city or state governments contracting for billions of dollars with CHPE developers to finance unnecessary transmission lines and provide only 26 permanent jobs in New York.

CHPE faces major concerns and/or opposition from five Innu First Nations of Canada, Grand Riverkeeper Labrador, the Tugboat and Harbor Carriers Association of NY/NJ, Sierra Club, Stony Point Action Committee for the Environment, Center for Biological Diversity, Hudson Riverkeeper, Hudson River Drinking Water Intermunicipal Council, and a multitude of climate justice organizations in New York City.

CHPE developers and regulators are taking steps to rush the process. They proposed four amendments in 2020, of which the New York State Public Service Commission approved three, with one pending.   CHPE seeks PSC permission for treatment as a “lightly regulated” entity, to block divulging the names of its investors and other information normally made public.

New Yorkers should know who invests in transmission lines. A few months  ago, the United States federal government approved CHPE’s request to become a limited liability corporation.

Mr. Sutherland wrote, “Hydropower has a greenhouse gas profile that’s very close to wind’s — and both are orders of magnitude below fossil fuel sources.” An order of magnitude is 10 so “orders of magnitude” is at least 100.

As I wrote in an Oct. 1 letter [“Blocked-river hydro contributes to climate change”], neither Hydro Quebec nor anyone else quantifies the carbon footprints of Hydro Quebec’s many “reservoirs” and dams.  If Hydro Quebec will not publish data on its “reservoir” and dam climate gas emissions, Mr. Sutherland has no factual basis to make any comparisons to wind or fossil fuels.

CHPE electricity would originate throughout the entire Hydro Quebec system including the Upper Churchill station in western Labrador. Hydro Quebec constructs dams, dikes, and enormous “reservoirs” behind their dams within the dikes. Dams and dikes block and contain the flow of the destroyed rivers for months at a time”

Rotting vegetation drowned in the “reservoir" can no longer remove carbon from the atmosphere and also releases carbon and methane into the water and air. The size of the “reservoirs” created by Hydro Quebec are huge. Four are larger than Albany County.

With climate change, species extinctions, and ocean damages rapidly accelerating worldwide, there is great value in preserving as much land and water as we can. Hydro Quebec never acknowledges the enormity of the crimes it commits against nature and people.

With U.S.-based environmentalists advocating for the complete electrification of the economy to reduce fossil fuel use and slow climate change, provincial utilities foresee increased electricity demand and envision huge new markets for hydroelectricity originating in Canada.

CHPE construction and installation would signal that New York State will participate in the green, safe, and renewable deception of “reservoir” hydroelectricity. An installed CHPE would stimulate and probably accelerate the development of new “reservoir” hydro stations in Quebec, and the 2.25 billion-watt Gull Island station on the lower Churchill River in Labrador (1,000 miles northeast of Albany), which has been on the drawing board for decades.

Blocking CHPE would send a powerful message to Canadian hydro developers that New Yorkers want real solutions to climate change, and if Canadians continue destroying rivers to build “reservoir” hydro stations, New York will not purchase the electricity.

Tom Ellis


Editor’s note: In a 4-to-1 vote, the Guilderland Town Board on Aug. 4, 2020 passed a resolution that will let the Champlain Hudson Power Express Inc. run underground lines through the town to bring electric power from Canada to the New York City area.

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