The Champlain Hudson Power Express, or CHPE (pronounced “chippy”), is a high-voltage transmission line project we should all care about. It is the fastest-moving energy project grasping for a share of the New York energy market. Developed by Transmission Developers Inc. (TDI), a subsidiary of the private equity company Blackstone, it would bring hydroelectricity to New York City by connecting to an electrical grid system of 61 generating stations, 24 thermal plants, 26 large impounding reservoirs, and 681 dams throughout Canada operated by Hydro-Québec. The plan is to trench the spine of the Hudson River and install a high-voltage electric cable in the riverbed.
Readers of Chronogram Media publications might find the names of these corporations familiar, since CHPE, TDI, and Hydro-Québec have advertised and offered sponsored content in its pages. These ads have confused many people into thinking that these corporations are benevolent actors in championing “public health” and clean green renewable energy.
But readers deserve to know the truth about this greenwashed project.
New York is only powered with at most 6 percent renewable energy. The Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, or CLCPA, was supposed to lead us produce 70 percent renewable source electricity by 2030, net-zero emissions by 2040, and a fully emissions-free electrical grid by 2050. We have to move fast. But in addition to advancing renewable energy goals, an integral aspect of the act was recognizing that environmental justice communities, over-represented by the poor and people of color, bear the brunt of industrial energy pollution. The CLCPA enshrined the aspiration to do no further injustice in these energy sacrifice zones. Yet Hydro-Québec has created sacrifice zones already.
Blackstone is also the second-largest shareholder of Energy Transfer, the firm behind the Dakota Access Pipeline. The same actors behind fossil fuel capitalism want the renewable market share, with many of the same victims.
First and foremost, Hydro-Québec has disregarded the human rights leaders of First Nations people of Canada. The Passaic, Wemotaci, Pikogan, Inuue, and Anishnaabe people assert that “36 percent of the total hydroelectric power installed by Hydro-Québec comes from Innu, Atikamekw, and Anishnabek traditional territories, protected by ancestral and treaty rights that have never been respected. In total, 33 production structures, 130 dams and dikes, 10,400 km2 of reservoirs, and tens of thousands of kilometers of transmission, distribution, and road lines have been illegally installed on our lands and waters. All of this has been usurped from First Nations.” Additionally, the James Bay region’s Cree have experienced profound environmental loss.
People of these territories have been poisoned by the high levels of methyl mercury that result from food web contamination caused by rotting flooded forests. Methane, released into the air when forests are flooded by megadams, is a potent greenhouse gas. Within a five-year period, methane traps 100 times more heat than CO2.
Secondly, environmentalists argue that the CHPE transmission corridor could have devastating consequences on the Hudson River. Riverkeeper has been alerting the public of the dangers to the river whose ecosystem we depend on. A large chunk of the Hudson River is a Superfund site. It is the second-largest fish spawning ground on the East Coast. No Environmental Impact Statement has been done to measure what effects a high-voltage cable emitting electromagnetic frequency waves would have on the lives and migratory patterns of the river’s various taxa of fish, crustaceans, birds, and mammals who use earth’s geomagnetic field to orient themselves.
Furthermore, seven towns draw drinking water from the Hudson River. These towns are represented by the Hudson 7 Intermunicipal Drinking Water Council, formed in recognition of the dangers to drinking water posed by over a century of anthropogenic contamination of the river with sewage, PCBs, heavy metals, petroleum, pesticides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and more. Many of the water treatment facilities in the seven towns are aging and not equipped to effectively treat current or emerging contaminants. The jet plowing of the riverbed would create a sedimentary disturbance that would allow these contaminants, many of which have settled to the river bottom, to enter the water supply for the seven towns. The current plan is to allow Blackstone/TDI/CHPE to test the impacts its own project would have on the water. Questions, anyone?
Finally, the Hudson River Maritime Industry Alliance and the Towboat and Harbor Carriers Association of NY and NJ have urged the Public Service Commission to deny the cable route application because of the danger of an anchor fouling accident it might pose. This would include accidents with barges that move ethanol and other toxic cargo on the Hudson.
The high-level New York State government connections that Blackstone and industry lobbyists have had since the project was first permitted in 2013 have allowed it to get this far. Blackstone/TDI has bought off towns with Memoranda of Understanding that offer money in exchange for environmental and social destruction. Towns that agreed have effectively sold off a river and the future for this bargain. How much is the world worth?
Blackstone is by far the largest private equity company in the world, worth $731 billion dollars, and featured as number one at the top of the Private Equity’s Dirty Dozen Report. It doesn’t need our money and shouldn’t have our consent. Yet Governor Hochul has chosen CHPE for Tier 4 Renewal Energy Credits, which would allow ratepayer dollars to be used for CHPE. To use the term “public-private partnership” for this is as misleading as the CHPE/Hydro-Québec advertisements.
On March 16, the Ulster County Legislature passed Resolution 108 urging the county’s Industrial Development Agency to deny CHPE’s 30-year deviated PILOT request worth $65 million. Hopefully other counties will follow suit.
Another future is possible. A growing number of state and assembly legislators support the New York Build Public Renewables Act, which could scale up true renewables through our own New York Power Authority, and bring public benefits instead of private enrichment. It is up to the public to speak up about the future we want with the renewable energy we define.
The River is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinion of columnists and editorial writers do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the newsroom.