Majority of Guilderland council approves buried NYC power cable to run along rail line

— Map from Transmission Developers Inc.gonzasl

The route of the cable that is to run underground through Rotterdam, Guilderland, and New Scotland, carrying electricity from Canada to the New York City area, largely follows the CSX Railroad.

GUILDERLAND — In a 4-to-1 vote, the Guilderland Town Board on Aug. 4 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.

“The people that oppose this are not just Canadians,” said Councilwoman Laurel Bohl before she cast the sole dissenting vote.

She named the Sierra Club, Hudson Riverkeeper, New York electric companies, New York clean-energy companies, and 22 labor unions as opposing the project.

“Hydroelectricity from large dams is not really renewable energy,” said Bohl. She cited a Harvard study that found “drastic negative effects on fish, forests, and the cultural identity of the indigenous community.”

Guilderland Supervisor Peter Barber, in the course of a lengthy discussion before the vote, said, “I’m a member of the Algonquin tribe but I don’t get any revenues … I get a $1.75 check every so often.”

Barber said, upon voting, that he didn’t disagree that there are valid concerns about indigenous people and about the environment “but ultimately,” he said, “this is a decision of the Public Service Commission, which has exclusive jurisdiction of both the permitting and siting of utility and transmission lines.”

Barber named the federal and state agencies that have approved the project and said, “Governor Cuomo made it clear back on May 24 that these sorts of infrastructure projects are not only good for the economy, they’re good for the environment but also are necessary to restart the economy.”

The $3 billion project, proposed by Transmission Developers Inc., has been in the works since 2008 and construction of the project is expected to take place from 2021 to 2024.

A 1,000-megawatt high voltage direct current, HVDC, line will be buried underground in Guilderland, largely along railroad rights-of-way, according to materials Transmission Developers Inc. gave to the board. The route in Guilderland will run 6.8 miles and is valued at about $48.7 million, on which TDI will pay taxes to the town; to Albany County; and to the Guilderland, Schalmont, and Voorheesville school districts.

The cable is to be buried about 5 feet underground within conduits and is expected to have an operating and taxable life of at least 40 years, the TDI documents say.

What the resolution allows is very narrow. The cable route crosses three “lightly traveled” town roads in Guilderland, Barber said: Van Buren Drive, which leads into the Northeastern Industrial Park; a road within the industrial park that leads to the town’s filtration plant; and French’s Mill Road in Guilderland Center as well as “several feet of County Line Road up near Rotterdam.”

A two-and-a-half-foot-wide trench will be dug on those roads to bury the cable.

Barber read a list of 19 municipalities, including Bethlehem and New Scotland, that had agreed to a similar resolution. “Every municipality asked to sign off on a resolution has adopted it,” said Barber.

While what the resolution allows is narrow, the philosophical framework it presents is broad with phrases such as “Whereas, the New York State Public Service Commission ruled that the Project will supply clean renewable hydroelectricity to New York State …” and “Whereas, the Project will provide significant economic and environmental benefits to New York State and the Town in the form of lower electric rates, a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and increased jobs, including local jobs during the Project’s construction.”

 

Citizen concerns

Five members of the public called into the Aug. 4 meeting, which was broadcast from the town hall, with concerns on these larger points.

Tom Ellis, a resident of Albany and a member of the Solidarity Committee of the Capital District, who has long opposed the project, said it would produce “only a few dozen permanent jobs.” He said it would be better to invest in in-state projects that would put hundreds of times as many people to work.

Ellis also said that unlike, say Niagara Falls, where the water keeps flowing, this Hydro-Québec project depends on giant reservoirs, blockading rivers with the drowned vegetation putting carbon in the water, contributing to climate change.

Native people in Canada, he said, have such projects forced on them. Ellis’s views are more fully expressed in a letter to the Enterprise editor this week. He concluded to the board, “It’s not good for Guilderland. It’s not good for New York. It’s not good for Canada. It’s not good for the world.”

Charles Klaer of Guilderland echoed many of Ellis’s concerns and also brought up General Electric’s “failure to adequately clean up the PCBs in the Hudson River.” A polychlorinated biphenyl is an organic chlorine compound once widely used but banned by federal law in the United States in 1978 as a pollutant. 

Klaer said, “There’s some significant concerns that laying the cable … is going to aggravate the PCB problem significantly.”

Robyn Gray of Guilderland questioned how the project would benefit the town. “Any environmental benefit anywhere in the state is a benefit for all,” responded Barber.

Steve Wickham, Steering Committee chairman for the Guilderland Coalition For Responsible Growth, said that, just because 19 other municipalities had passed a similar resolution, it “doesn’t necessarily mean they were right.” He urged that the board be aware of the total environmental impact beyond Guilderland.

Councilwoman Rosemary Centi responded that she had researched the matter.  “I didn’t just come here like a lemming,” she said. Wickham called back to apologize if he had offended her.

Finally, Gerd Beckmann of Guilderland Center asked what would happen if a rail car carrying propane or oil derailed and how first responders would be affected by the underground cable. He also speculated that “multiple taps could be made along the way, broadening the area for wind and solar power.”

 

TDI response

Rick Chase, speaking on behalf of Transmission Development Inc., called in to the meeting twice to answer concerns and questions from the company’s viewpoint. “No new dams will be necessary to be built,” he said, adding, “Champlain Hudson is basically the conduit.”

He also said, “The project is fully permitted at the state and federal level.” Chase noted that New York State has codified into law a target date of 2030 for meeting 70 percent of its electricity needs without fossil fuels and of 2040 for meeting 100 percent.

“No single technology is going to be able to solve this problem,” Chase said. He also said, “Renewable energy options in New York City are limited. You’re not going to put windmills in downtown Manhattan.”

Wind and solar don’t generate electricity all the time, Chase said. “This is a $3 billion private investment in New York State that will operate for a minimum of 40 years but more likely 60, 70, 80 years … It will require no town services whatsoever. There’s little to no maintenance of the line and it will essentially be out of sight, out of mind.”

Most of the line will be buried in “already disturbed routes,” Chase said.

“This line originally … was envisioned to be entirely underwater from Canada all the way to New York City but, because of the PCB issues that exist, we were directed by the state DEC [Department of Environmental Conservation] to come out of the water and go upland and bury the line underground rather than continue to bury the line in the waterways,” said Chase.

So the plan now is to have the line come out of Lake Champlain in Washington County and then be underground, rather than underwater, all the way to Greene County. “We stay in the Hudson down to northern Rockland County where again, because of sensitive habitat, we were directed to some out of the Hudson River and go underground through Rockland County,” said Chase.

The line then goes back to the Hudson River the rest of the way to New York City, he said.

Responding to Ellis, Chase said, “If you don’t build renewable electricity … the alternative is to continue to burn fossil fuels … That money is going out of state as well.”

Responding to a question from Councilman Paul Pastore, Chase said that, if a municipality didn’t approve the line going through, the company would move to use eminent domain proceedings.

Councilwoman Patricia Slavick asked if towns along the route would be able to tap into the line.

“As proposed, no,” responded Chase.

He went on to explain that the direct current (DC) is converted at the end of the line to alternating (AC) so it can be used in offices or homes.

There are opportunities to have other converter stations, Chase said, so the power could be used locally. “We’re a merchant transmission company,” said Chase of TDI, explaining that his company can’t charge customers like, say, National Grid.

“If someone were willing to build a converter station,” Chase said, “we’re open to allowing that to happen.”

The New York State Independent System Operator is considering it in the town of New Scotland, Chase said. The NYISO monitors the reliability of the state’s power system and coordinates the daily operations to distribute electricity supply.

Chase concluded, “It’s just an option for the future. It’s not on the drawing board right now.”

 

“Blood megawatts”

“The indigenous community calls these blood megawatts,” said Meg Sheehan, an environmental lawyer who volunteers as coordinator with the North American Megadam Resistance Alliance. She lives in New Hampshire where a similar corridor was proposed, as was one in Maine, she said, opposed by most communities along the route.

“The dams and continued operation of these dams have caused cultural genocide of indiginous people because it’s depriving them of their food supplies,” Sheehan told The Enterprise.

Sheehan has drafted a petition  to the governors of New York, Maine, Massachusetts, California, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon as well as to the mayor of New York City, asking them to stop all transmission lines to import Canadian hydropower to the United States.

Over 40 years, most Hydro-Québec dams have been built on indigenous land, often without their knowledge, said Sheehan.

“They have submitted testimony in the record of the CHPE [Champlain Hudson Power Express] transmission corridor, saying they oppose the export … and describing the types of harm to the rivers that they rely on for their food,” said Sheehan.

She explained that methylmercury, which occurs naturally in organic materials, builds up in the massive reservoirs created by the dams and enters into the food chain so that hunting and trapping as well as fishing are no longer healthy for people who depend on those sources of food.

Calling methylmercury a lethal neurotoxin, Sheehan said, “Hydro-Québec just tells people not to eat the fish and our community members tell us [it’s] … like telling them to starve.”

She went on about Hydro-Québec, “They say they have good relationships with indigenous people. They do not … We are putting this burden on the backs of marginalized communities in Canada.”

The Enterprise spoke to John Gonzalez, a Taíno/Pimicikamak journalist and author, for this week’s Enterprise podcast.  He said the large dams and reservoirs harm not just the food source for indiginous people but their culture and way of life.

For example, waterways have traditionally been the means of transportation and connecting communities. Now, aside from being blocked for travel — both for people and fish — the rivers freeze in the winter in such a way that snowmobiles can fall through.

The alliance raises environmental as well as cultural and economic concerns.

Transmission Developers Inc. is a Blackstone Portfolio Company. Sheehan said that only 26 permanent jobs will be created from the project.

“Hundreds of thousands of square miles have been destroyed in order to create 63 large dams and reservoirs,” said Sheehan. “We could be generating that electricity here in the United States instead of sending our energy dollars to Canada.”

Sheehan said the cable will generate electromagnetic fields that interfere with the ability of fish to navigate as well as the ability of ships to navigate.

“It’s not clean energy,” Sheehan stressed. “Some of these 63 Hydro-Québec reservoirs emit greenhouse gas twice as much as coal … We’re substituting one dirty energy for another.”

Resolutions like the one passed in Guilderland, she said, allow a foreign government to “use our roads and rights-of-way for free as an energy highway when we should be generating this electricity at home and we should be getting real clean energy that will help the climate crisis.”

Asked about the reaction in New York State to the Transmission Developers Inc. plan, Sheehan said, “Most people aren’t aware of where the electricity is coming from and what the harm is to the Hudson River.

Feedback

After this story was published on The Enterprise website Monday, John Lacey, who works in public relations for TDI, objected to some of what was reported. “The responses can be attributed to Jennifer Laird-White, Vice President of External Affairs at Transmission Developers, Inc.,” he wrote in an email to The Enterprise.

“I am unaware of data to back up the claim 22 unions oppose the project,” Lacey wrote. “TDI, in fact, is proud of its relationships and partnerships with New York State’s unions,” he said citing two op-ed pieces written by union leaders.

Asked by The Enterprise where she got her information about the 22 labor unions opposing the project, Councilwoman Bohl responded in an email, “I got the specific information that 22 labor unions were against this from the Sierra Club website as well as in discussions with people from Hudson Riverkeeper, the Solidarity Committee, and NAMRA. It’s no surprise unions are against it really, since this Sierra Club article also says the EIS states the construction crew will come from out of state and there will only be 26 permanent jobs.”

Bohl also wrote, “The Town Board members all received various emails from Hudson Riverkeeper, Grand Riverkeeper Labrador Inc., Tom Ellis of the Solidarity Committee of the Capital District, and several concerned residents asking us to vote no and referring us to different articles on this project.”

The Sierra Club did not respond before press time to a request seeking verification on the 22 labor unions opposing the project.

Secondly, Lacey wrote, “The Champlain Hudson Power Express has not received any COVID-19-related subsidies. Any statement claiming the project has is incorrect.”

Sheehan had said that Blackstone is using taxpayer subsidies, including subsidies intended for COVID-19 economic recovery, as part of the $3 billion project. Told about Lacey’s objection, Sheehan cited, with links, statements by New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio that expediting a power cable from Canada to New York City would help jumpstart the economy after the downturn caused by the pandemic.

This is different from receiving a subsidy for COVID-19 economic recovery so The Enterprise removed the phrase about subsidies from the online story and noted it as a correction.

Sheehan also wrote in an email to The Enterprise, “This is another way Hydro-Quebec, TDI/Blackstone etc. are seeking taxpayer subsidies: by getting large hydro classified as ‘renewable’ and ‘clean.’” 

Lacey’s third request for a correction was on Sheehan’s statement that the cable would generate electromagnetic fields that interfere with the ability of fish to navigate as well as the ability of ships to navigate.

He wrote, “Underwater transmission lines are used world-wide to transport energy. TDI is employing commonly used and proven High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) technology. Direct Current (DC) transmission allows energy to travel long distances with minimal losses and is known to emit electric and magnetic fields at a much lower levels than Alternating Current (AC) transmission.

“Cable installation in the Hudson River was rigorously analyzed and approved by scientific experts during a multi-year process at both the State and Federal level. These experts, whose primary job is to preserve the environment and waterbodies, such as the Hudson River, include representatives from the following Agencies: NY DEC, NY Department of State (Office of Coastal Zone Management), US EPA, US National Marine Fisheries, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Coast Guard, US Army Corps of Engineers. In addition, non-profit stakeholders such as Riverkeeper, Scenic Hudson and Trout Unlimited also approved the installation in the River and the surveys mentioned above.

“There will be no external electric field associated with CHPE.  The magnetic field, which is different than the electric field, around the cables will be similar to the earth’s magnetic field and the State permit concluded: In all instances, both expert testimony and the EIA conclude that the Facility’s magnetic field would have no significant impact. Nonetheless, as an additional protective measure, the JP provides that Applicants will be obligated to conduct a study of sturgeon movement patterns before and after the Facility is energized.”

Meg Sheehan stands by her statement on navigation interference and cites experts in a July webinar hosted by the North American Megadam Resistance Alliance.

Captain Eric Johansson, a State University distinguished Service Professor who teaches at the state’s Maritime College, cites a 2016 TDI-funded report, “Navigation Risk Assessment,” that says the buried cable “would deviate compasses of ships, which are several feet above water.” 

Johansson went on about the electromagnetic field, “If it’s doing that, it’s pretty strong. If you look at their report, at one meter burial, it’s significant; at seven feet, it’s a little less but it’s still pretty significant.”

He cited the 2012 OSPAR Commission report on cable-laying, noting the impact of electromagnetic fields. OSPAR  — the name comes from the original Oslo and Paris Conventions: “OS” for Oslo and “PAR” for Paris — is the mechanism by which 15 governments and the European Union cooperate to protect the marine environment of the North-East Atlantic.

The TDI-funded report on the Hudson River project shows what the report calls “magnetic deviation” at both six and eight feet, Johansson told The Enterprise but he points out that the report does not address the 30 miles of rock in the Hudson where the cable will not be able to be buried nor does it address the 80 to 130 times the cable will have to cross  other cables and pipelines that run perpendicular to the cable route across the river.

This and other reports cited by Johansson are posted with this story on The Enterprise website.

Johansson asserted, for ships to be safe, “Burial depths have to be greater than 15 feet.”

Citing a scientific report by Malcolm Sharples, supported by the testimony of Dr. Charles Oubeny, Johansson is also concerned with safety issues relating to anchoring and says the CHPE proposal would be only the third known installation of parallel cable routing. The first, outside of New Haven, Connecticut, he said is in the process of being removed and reinstalled. The second, in California, he said, was struck by an anchor, rendering it useless.

Since 2008, Johansson said, the Energy Subcommittee Port of New York has met many times with CHPE representatives to try to develop non-regulatory solutions to preserve navigational safety.

He cited work by Malcom Sharples from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement - Department of the Interior and “Magnetic fields from Champlain Hudson Power Express Transmission Project, Modeling of Additional Cable Configurations” by Bailey, Shkolnikov, and Phinney — both from 2011.

On fish navigation being affected by the CHPE cable, Dr. George Jackman, the Habitat Restoration manager at Riverkeeper, said the Hudson River, the country’s largest superfund site, is “light-limited.”

“If you’re a fish and you cannot see, how do you navigate?” he asked. Long-distance migrants use the Earth’s magnetic field in a medium that provides few landmarks, he said.

Jackman explained that fish have electrosensory systems that are highly attuned to electromagnetic fields. “It provides fish with a built-in mapping compass,” he said.

Fish also use electromagnetic fields to detect prey crawling below sediment, he said, stating, “They exhibit altered behavior in the presence of electromagnetic fields.”

A study that was commissioned in 2011 and concluded the impact of the cable would be minimum is outdated, Jackman said. “Things have changed,” he said, noting both the severe decline of fish populations in the Hudson River as well as new strides in scientific research.

The CHPE cable would enter at Coeymans and travel 118 miles to Yonkers, he said, stating, “Burying a cable will not reduce the strength of a magnetic field. It just removes it deeper.”

Most bony fish as well as marine mammals and turtles are highly sensitive to electromagnetic fields and could be attracted or repelled by them, altering both feeding and reproductive routines, Jackman said. A fish, swimming thousands of miles from the ocean may be aiming for a specific creek in the Hudson, he said.

Sharks, rays, and sturgeons have ampullae of Lorenzini on the bottom of their snouts, by which they sense electric fields in the water, said Jackman, noting that sharks are so sensitive, they’ve been known to attack cables.

To protect the green sturgeon on the American west coast, the National Marine Fishery Service created a corridor running from San Francisco Bay north to Alaska to create safe passage, said Jackman, noting the green sturgeon are “only threatened” while two kinds of sturgeon in the Hudson are endangered.

Research on the effects of electromagnetic fields shows that, not only is navigation affected, but also development of organs, behavior, biochemistry, orientation, distribution, migration patterns, balance, and further recruitment of fish, Jackman said.

A 1998 trout study showed embryonic development is affected by electromagnetic fields, he said, and a study in San Francisco Bay showed, when a cable was activated, there was an 11.1 percent decrease in the smolts, the young salmon, being able to leave the bay.

“Can we afford to lose another 11 percent during out migration?” Jackman asked of species in the Hudson River. “I think not.”

Finally, The Enterprise also heard from Gary Sutherland, who works in External Relations - Exports and Acquisitions Communications for Hydro-Québec. He said that, in the Enterprise article, the North American Megadams Resistance Alliance had made “negative and incendiary comments ... against Québec hydropower,” and cited a regulatory filing with the New York Public Service Commission.

The section on “Relationship with Indigenous Communities” in that document says this, in its entirety:

“The Sierra Club/NAMRA’s depiction of Hydro-Québec’s relationship with Indigenous communities is misleading and incomplete. Establishing and maintaining good relations with Indigenous communities has long been and remains a priority for Hydro-Québec, as more fully described in the following brochure: http://www.hydroquebec.com/data/a-propos/pdf/partnership- indigenous-communities-2017g422a.pdf.

“While Hydro-Québec, along with the federal and provincial (Québec) governments, are defendants in judicial proceedings instituted by the Innus of Pessamit and the Innus of Uashat mak Mani-Utenam, the allegations made in this context have not been proven. We note that the hydroelectric facilities at issue in these proceedings were essentially built on public land and obtained the required governmental authorizations at the time of their construction, which, for the most part, goes back several decades ago.

“As for the Churchill Falls hydroelectric complex located in the province of Newfoundland-and- Labrador, Hydro-Québec simply wishes to emphasize that it is not the proponent of these facilities.”

More Regional News

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  • New York State’s first-ever pollinator survey, conducted over a three-year period, found, by conservative standards, that 38 percent of the state’s native pollinators are viable to be wiped out of the state completely, and that it could be as high as 60 percent of species when considering those that are known only by historical records.

  • On Aug. 11, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed standards, continuing a trend it had started earlier this year. In February, the CDC had shortened isolation times. The changes are part of a movement away from institutions enforcing COVID rules — the Albany County Health Department like others in New York State long ago stopped tracking COVID cases — and towards individuals taking their own measures to protect themselves.

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