Imported power may lower bills

NEW YORK STATE - New Yorkers may see their electric bills go down, if negotiations about imports of hydropower from Canada succeed.

The New York Power Authority is talking to Hydro Quebec and several other Canadian hydropower companies about importing 1,200 to 2,200 megawatts of electricity — enough to power about 1.65 million homes. NYPA Chief Executive Officer Richard M. Kessel said the discussions still are preliminary, but they are going well and he is hopeful the deal will go through eventually.

"Obviously, we're not anywhere near ready to announce anything," he said. "Our goal, if this is feasible, is to begin the permitting process within the first six months of next year.


Once that begins, it will take five or six years and $4 billion to $6 billion to complete the project. Getting that much additional power would necessitate updating New York's aging transmission system, which is why the price tag would be so high.

"This is not going to be cheap," Mr. Kessel said. "We have to make sure we have the funds to cover it and the ability to recoup the money."

If the deal goes through, the power would be transmitted throughout the state, likely beginning in Massena and branching out, Mr. Kessel said. Massena's main line has been in service for 50 years and would have to be updated to allow for a bigger flow of electricity.

"They've got to be replaced soon anyway, so why not now?" Mr. Kessel said. "There are a number of new hydro facilities that are being considered in Canada. It would be a shame, in my view, if we didn't take advantage of it."

The necessary improvements can be done mostly within NYPA's existing rights of way, according to Mr. Kessel.

Importing power from up north is hardly a new idea; various NYPA officials and politicians have tried to tap into Canada's hydropower since the late 1970s, but negotiations have failed for a number of reasons. In the past, environmental and tribal concerns as well as confusion over international permitting procedures have hampered proposed deals.

"I think we know what the challenges are and we need the power," Mr. Kessel said. Several First Nations communities in Canada already are being approached with the ideas, to ensure that their culture is preserved, he said.

Electrical companies in New England also are working to tap into the hydro plant expansions in Canada that make these discussions possible.

"The people in this state want cheap power and if we're serious about reducing our dependence on OPEC and foreign oil, this is something we need to do," Mr. Kessel said. "This would be the biggest energy project in New York since the building of the Niagara-Moses Power Project 50 years ago."


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