December 3, 2021 New York’s Clean Energy Transmission Lines Inch Forward

New York has taken a step closer to achieving its ambitious climate goals while also rekindling a national debate over the harm and benefits of building massive transmission lines to carry renewable energy. To close the week, Today’s Climate is digging a little deeper into the issues surrounding these largely buried power lines.

On Tuesday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that the state has finalized its contracts with the developers of the Clean Path New York and Champlain Hudson Power Express projects, sending the contracts to state regulators for approval by next year. If approved, the two transmission lines could put New York on track to meet its legally binding targets of getting 70 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and 100 percent by 2040.

Together, the two lines are expected to provide 11,000 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power more than 5 million New York homes. Clean Path New York would carry electricity 179 miles from solar and offshore wind farms in upstate New York down to the city. And the Champlain Hudson Power Express would deliver hydroelectric power 339 miles from Canada into New York. Both lines would be mostly buried underground.

“The stakes have never been higher for New York as we confront the effects of climate change and the economic and environmental destruction that extreme weather events leave behind,” Hochul said in a press release. “I’m proud that New York continues to lead the nation with innovative green energy initiatives and has set a global example of what must be done to take on climate change.”

The projects, which are expected to cost several billion dollars each, could also be critical in weaning power-hungry New York City off of fossil fuels, an effort that remains one of the largest barriers the state faces in meeting its climate mandates. New York City is the most energy-consuming area in the state and relies most heavily on fossil fuels for its power. With the closure of the Indian Point nuclear plant in April, the city now gets a mere 3 percent of its electricity from sources that don’t produce greenhouse gases, the New York Times reports.

But the proposed transmission lines have also been criticized by environmentalists and social justice activists, who say the projects could threaten aquatic life and riverside communities, and that dams have historically harmed Indigenous communities in Canada. 

Environmentalists warn that as the construction of the lines pass through bodies of water, it can contaminate drinking water by stirring up harmful sediments, including mercury or a toxic group of chemicals named PFAS—so-called “forever chemicals.” High levels of mercury have also been known to build up behind dams, poisoning people who eat fish or game caught downstream.

Those concerns are partly why Maine residents voted last month to block a similar transmission line, the New England Clean Energy Connect project, which would carry electricity from Canadian dams 145 miles to Northeastern states. Several environmental groups wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week, requesting the agencies suspend federal permits already issued for that project.

It’s unclear if those criticisms could derail New York’s transmission lines, but with most of the permits for the projects already approved, Gov. Hochul appears to think that the benefits outweigh the risks.

Thanks for reading Today’s Climate, and I’ll see you again next week.

Today’s Indicator

8 million

Measured in metric tons, that’s the amount of plastic waste that enters the world’s oceans each year, or the equivalent of a full garbage truck every minute, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences.