following the power lines

Emma Jacobs / WRVO

This story is the second part of a series following New York's power lines to Canada.  You can read the first part here

People in the energy field often point out in conversation that "renewable" is not synonymous with "green." The mega-dam project proposed for Newfoundland & Labrador could be exhibit A.

The Lower Churchill Project, envisioned for a remote area of a far northern province on Canada's Atlantic coast, could provide large amounts of energy.

That  low carbon power could flow for more than a 100 years, and provide enough capacity to replace dirtier fuels.

But building the dam would also mean making permanent choices about the landscape around it, including flooding that would completely change the local ecosystem. Another, less tangible, toll would be paid culturally.

In this second installment of our series looking at the impact of New York importing Canadian hydroelectricity, we follow the proposed Champlain Hudson Power Express transmission line, from the New York side of the border, to Newfoundland & Labrador.

Emma Jacobs / WRVO

This story is the second part of a series following New York's power lines to Canada.  You can read the second part here.

Say you're a big state, in need of a lot of electric power. Specifically, you're the fifth largest power consumer in the nation.

And let's also say you have a newfound zeal for shutting down a large nuclear facility, one that's unsettlingly close to a major city (for these purposes we'll call it "Indian Point").

In this scenario, if your northern neighbor swooped in with an offer to provide you with hydroelectric power, produced by massive dams, you'd say yes - right?

Generated using Travelerspoint

You can’t really talk about power in New York State without talking about Canada.

In 2009, New York produced only 13 percent of what’s referred to as its “primary energy requirements.”  The rest of it - the gas in your car, the coal and natural gas that our power plants burn, the uranium for our nuclear reactors, the power we import directly into our grid - came from somewhere else.

That last part is where Canada fits in. Most of our imported electricity comes from Canadian hydroelectric dams. 

All in all, Canadian hydro accounts for just under six percent of power in New York’s grid [PDF]. In 2010, New York imported almost 3 million megawatt hours [PDF] from Canada, at a cost of about a half a billion dollars.

But that Canadian hydro isn’t without controversy. 

Here in the U.S., former governor Mario Cuomo canceled a huge contract with Hydro Quebec in the 1990s following pressure from Native American and environmental activists. And now there’s a new wave of plants set to come online, with $50 billion worth of construction slated for the provinces of Quebec, and Newfoundland & Labrador, alone.