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Poughkeepsie Journal Editorial: Underwater power line plan bears scrutiny

When it comes to the provocative idea of running a power line underneath the Hudson River as part of a Canada-to-New-York-City connection, there are more questions than answers.

But the project certainly shouldn't be rejected by regulators or the public out of hand, considering all its potential benefits. The permitting process alone will be enormous and great care must be taken to protect the environment, including the river.

Known as the "Champlain-Hudson Power Express Project," the plan is massive in scope. It could cost $1.9 billion.

Toronto-based Transmission Developers Inc. wants to carry up to 1,000 megawatts of energy through the lines, or about half of what is generated during peak production at the Indian Point nuclear power plants in Westchester County.

But Transmission Developers would be bringing more environmentally friendly energy sources — specifically hydroelectric and wind energy — to the Empire State. What's more, this project is trying to avoid the entanglements that stopped another developer's plan for a 200-mile electric- transmission line from the Utica area to Orange County. Communities along that intended route lined up against the project, which would have cut through residential areas and would have required a series of tall, obtrusive utility poles through their communities.

Before this, another developer, Conjunction LLC, had a different solution: burying a power cable along the New York State Thruway, to deliver power generated upstate. That, too, would have eliminated the need for another line of high-voltage towers through much of the mid-Hudson Valley countryside. But finding investment money for that venture proved difficult in a market bitten by the Enron energy trading scandal.

Transmission Developers is offering a different solution — burying most of the 420-mile Champlain-Hudson Power Express line under water and also underground. The line would go under Lake Champlain, would be buried along railroad tracks at points and eventually would go under the Hudson River to New York City. In particular, the company will have to allay concerns about the underwater portions of the line and what the construction might do to the river. Already, the project would bypass the river north of Albany, where the massive PCB cleanup project is under way.

The federal Department of Energy is conducting an environmental review of Transmission Developers' project and has to take into account possible alternatives, such as running as much line as possible along the railroad beds. Transmission Developers believes it has the best route and claims the project would lower energy prices throughout New York.

There's no question the state needs the power, and projections are that need will grow over time. But finding the best route will be key. The company will have to make the case, in spades, that it has done that.