Underground power lines to run through county

— Map provided by Transmission Developers Inc.
The proposed Champlain Hudson Power Express route runs through Guilderland, New Scotland, Bethlehem, and Coeymans before heading south into Greene County. The plan is awaiting final approval for federal permits, before construction starts as early as the end of this year.

— Photo provided by United States Army Corps of Engineers
Over 56 acres of wetlands used by the Heldeberg Workshop may be preserved and improved under the wetlands mitigation rules set forth by the United States Army Corps of Engineers and the federal Environmental Protection Agency. The wetlands delineated here, with cross-hatched lines, include workshop land as well as property owned by Margaret Craven, and Christine Lehman who runs the Albany Therapeutic Riding program there.

ALBANY COUNTY — Another project bringing power from the North to New York City will be cutting through Albany County as early as next year — this time, underground. The Champlain Hudson Power Express project, proposed by Transmission Developers Inc., has been in the works since 2008, and plans to transfer power generated in Québec to New York City, changing it from alternating current (AC) in Canada, to direct current (DC) in the United States.

The $2.2 billion project will span 333 miles from the U.S.-Canada border into New York City, along which two DC cables, each carrying 500 megawatts, will be buried under Lake Champlain and the Hudson River.

To avoid the PCB clean-up site in the river, the cables will move out of southern Lake Champlain and follow CSX and Canadian Pacific rail lines for 126 miles. The cables will re-enter the Hudson River south of Catskill, and also detour underground, but out of water, for seven miles to avoid Haverstraw Bay in Rockland County.

This project is separate from the above-ground AC transmission line projects proposed by four different companies, only one of which will be granted approval by the Public Service Commission.

Wetland watch

The route of the cable brings the project into wetlands, which are protected by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2005, a compensatory mitigation plan for wetlands was put in place, in which environmental losses through construction or other environmentally-disruptive projects are offset through four different methods: restoration of an existing wetland, creation of a new wetland, enhancement of an existing wetland site’s function, or the preservation of an existing wetland or aquatic site.

In the submission Transmission Developers Inc. sent to the Army Corps, it listed nine sites for mitigation — four for preservation, and the other five for creation, restoration, or enhancement.

Sites in Glenville, Rotterdam, Clifton Park, and two sites within the Wilton Wildlife Preserve and Park are up for creation, restoration, and/or enhancement.

The Frawley Property and Morris Parcels in The Nature Conservancy, The Pine Bush Preserve, and Vly Swamp/Black Creek Marsh are up for preservation.

The Heldeberg Workshop uses the Vly Swamp area each summer for some of its classes, and has been for over 40 years. The full public notice for the proposal describes three parcels totaling 56.22 acres of wetlands to be preserved in the area.

Al Breisch, vice chairman of the Heldeberg Workshop, said he has been to the site with consultants from Transmission Developers Inc. several times to discuss possibilities for preserving and improving the site. Tentative actions include controlling invasive plant species, modifying draining to eliminate the frequent flooding of Tygert Road, and improving access to the wetlands, possibly by building a boardwalk so students can get farther into the area.

“Vly Swamp is one of the quality wetlands in the area,” Breisch said. “There is a greater number of salamanders that use that area than any other comparably-sized area in the state,” said Breish, a herpetologist — someone who studies amphibians and reptiles.

Concealing the cables

By burying the DC cables, local views and rural charm will be kept intact over the 333-mile distance of the project.

High voltage direct current cables are ideal for long distances because they suffer much smaller energy losses across great distances than AC power cables. Buried DC lines also emit extremely low electromagnetic fields, which are often a concern with above-ground AC lines.

Technology for burying cables underground in bodies of water has been around for over 60 years. Just since the initiation of the CHPE project in 2008, the technology has been improved, said Don Jessome, the chief executive officer of Transmission Developers Inc.

To bury the cable underwater, the cable is wrapped around a spool on a ship with equipment on its hull to track the geography and topography of the sea, lake, or river bed. The cable is then fed underwater where the ship has deployed a small camera-equipped robot to stream video back up to the ship so engineers can see where the cable is being laid.

If a large obstacle is found, such as a plateau of rock, a cable guidance system is deployed to find the best way around it, using video and sonar. The video and sonar mappings of where the cable is laid, along with a global positioning system, allow a detailed map of the cable route to be made.

Once the cable is on the riverbed, the cable-burying system is placed into the water. The cable burying system, shown in a video on the Transmission Developers Inc. website, resembles a wagon with the handle lying in front of it, hugging the cable with a tong-like instrument.

The belly of the “wagon” has a tool that swoops down three feet into the waterbed, and is pocked with little water jets; air pushes the water in streams in the direction of movement, as well as behind the device.

The front-facing water jets push the sediment on the riverbed away from the cable, creating a trench only a few inches wider than the six-inch diameter cable. The jets pushing water behind the “wagon” push the sediment back on top of the cable, and soon after, the natural motion of the water re-covers the cables.

At the point where the cable leaves the water, a concrete slab is poured over it to keep it from moving, as well as to protect it from external damage.

Environmental effects

Environmental concerns are on the top of the list for Transmission Developers Inc., and not just for the cables it is laying, but for where the power going through those cables comes from.

The Champlain Hudson Power Express is connecting into the Québec energy system through Hydro-Québec, owned entirely by the Québec government. Hydro-Québec calls itself the world’s largest producer of hydropower, and also dabbles in wind and biomass.

“We are very careful to partner with folks who are environmentally conscious,” Jessome said.

Tom Ellis, an Albany resident and member of the Solidarity Committee of the Capital District, is opposed to the project because of the environmental damages associated with constructing hydroelectric power systems.

In order to create reservoirs, land must be flooded, essentially destroying the natural environment, he said.

Ellis is also opposed to the project because he feels it will not provide enough jobs in New York State. He would prefer a plan to “put solar panels on rooftops, which would create thousands of jobs.” Also, he said, the solar approach would keep the electricity production in the state.

Over 300 jobs will be created to implement the project, with over 600 at the peak of construction, Jessome said.

Jessome is expecting the two remaining federal permits the company needs to be in place by the end of this summer, and construction could begin as early as the end of this year. However, service will not begin until 2018.

“It’s expected in the industry that you need a long lead time,” for these types of projects, Jessome said. The demand will still be there, and the aging infrastructure will still need to be replaced, he said.

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