Power Lines Under Lake Champlain

New York City might soon get electricity from a powerline placed at the bottom of Lake Champlain. Photo by Wikipedia.org.

The United States Department of Energy has released a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for a electric transmission line that would run down the bottom of Lake Champlain and the Hudson River to deliver Canadian hydro-electricity to the New York City area. The release of the FEIS clears the way for a Presidential Permit that would allow the project to move forward. It had previously received approval from the New York Department of Public Service.

Overall the project is expected to cost $2.2 billion to construct while leading to savings of $650 million per year for consumers in the New York City area according to proponents. Project costs include a $117 million habitat restoration fund to support conservation work over the life of the project. LCC was an early advocate for the fund. The money will not be available until after construction has begun.

Initially proposed six years ago the project still needs permits from the Army Corps of Engineers and various construction activities will require approval from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

The same company is now considering a second power line that would leave Lake Champlain at Benson, VT and travel overland to Ludlow where it would connect with the New England energy grid. The company recently held a series of public meetings along the route to discuss the project.

Proposed VT Gas pipeline from Middlebury to International Paper

The Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) is considering a proposal from Vermont Gas to build a natural gas pipeline. The long-term vision is for the pipeline to reach Rutland. Phase I, construction from the current terminus in Colchester to Middlebury has already been approved. The second leg constitutes Phase II which would run beneath Lake Champlain and serve International Paper (IP) in Ticonderoga.

Impacts to Lake Champlain from the project are a part of the overall environmental cost benefit analysis. The pipeline would be installed using directional drilling, a technique that can avoid lake bottom disturbance by placing the pipe well below the lake bed. Impacts of directional drilling can be minimized as can risks associated with potential pipeline failure. LCC outlined steps to reduce those risks in comments filed with the PSB.

Of additional concern are the impacts of the pipeline associated with the source of the fuel and its potential contribution to global warming. The cheap natural gas the pipeline would carry has come about due to the hydraulic fracturing, an extraction method that has been blamed for contaminating groundwater and even causing small earthquakes. In 2012, the Vermont Legislature passed a moratorium banning fracking from the state due to concerns over environmental impacts. Proponents and opponents of the pipeline have released conflicting studies as to the impact of natural gas on climate change. What can not be denied however is that continued availability of cheap energy in any form reduces incentive to develop energy conservation measures.

Recently, Phase I cost estimates increased by 40%. The company blamed an increase in the legal budget and increased construction bid costs as more pipelines are being proposed in the region. The overrun resulted in a fine from the Vermont Department of Public Service. The project benefits still outweigh the costs according to Commissioner of Public Service Chris Recchia who told VPR, “it's not close.” The cost overrun was one factor cited by three Addison County lawmakers who recently questioned PSB approval of the project.