New York state regulators on Thursday approved two massive transmission projects to carry clean electricity into New York City, boosting hopes that the nation’s largest city could start to meaningfully wean off fossil fuels this decade.
At a hearing in Albany, five out of the state Public Service Commission’s seven members voted in favor of a proposal to construct power lines from hydroelectric dams in Québec and upstate New York solar and wind farms. Once completed, the two projects combined are expected to reduce New York City’s demand for fossil fuels by 51%.
“Simply put, if we can’t deliver renewable energy to New York City, we can’t reduce emissions from the fossil fuel fleet,” Rory Christian, the commission’s chairman and lone appointee from New York City, said at the hearing. “Should we delay and reconsider our approach at another time, we’ll very likely run the risk of putting ourselves in the unenviable position of paying more for future projects with lesser benefits.”
Clean Power New York, a 175-mile line from a substation in New York’s Delaware County into the borough of Queens, generated little controversy, but carried greater risks, as the project has yet to receive permits and won’t come online until 2027 at the earliest. By contrast, the Champlain Hudson Power Express, a 339-mile conduit from hydro dams in Canada to the Queens neighborhood of Astoria, stoked heated challenges from a ragtag alliance of environmentalists, gas-fired generators and Indigenous groups.
The opposition cited concerns ranging from the costs to New York ratepayers and competition to New York energy companies, to fears that Hydro-Québec, the government-owned utility behind the project, might prioritize Canadians in a disaster or repeat its dark history of seizing Indigenous lands in Canada to build more dams and increase its electricity output.
Critics also raised issues with the current contract, which does not obligate Hydro-Québec to sell the same amount of power to the city during winter months, when electricity demand is forecast to peak at some point in the next few decades. Currently, New York City’s power demand surged in the summertime, when air conditioning to fend off the sweltering heat spikes. As the city moves away from gas for heating, electric heat pumps are expected to make demand soar the highest during the cold months.
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