Company proposing $1.2B power line, most of which would run beneath Lake Champlain

MONTPELIER, Vt. – A New York company announced Thursday it hopes to build a 150-mile power line from the Canadian border under Lake Champlain and then across Vermont to the town of Ludlow where it would connect to the New England electric grid.

The $1.2 billion New England Clean Power Link line could carry up to 1,000 megawatts of Canadian hydro-electricity, enough to supply about 1 million homes, said Donald Jessome, president of TDI New England.

TDI New England is a subsidiary of the New York based Blackstone Group, which would provide funding for the project. Jessome said he expected it would take five years to complete the regulatory process and construction. They hope to begin transmitting power in 2019.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said he knew of the proposal and had met with its backers, but he seemed to question whether it would be needed.

“I think it’s important to recognize that power transmission is going through an interesting time right now,” Shumlin said. “Clearly, there’s a huge demand for clean, green renewables, which hydro is, to our south. At the same time, there are technologies being developed that might make us question how much transmission we’re going to need in the future.”

Promoters of the Clean Power Link project say it would help provide clean energy to New England and help Canadian power producers find a market for an abundance of hydropower produced in Quebec and other parts of Canada.

“They along with our team see the need for connecting renewable energy to markets that are both growing and have a very, very strong need for new renewable resources coming into the marketplace,” Jessome said, referring to the investors. “We very much like the buried model because it preserves the natural beauty of the communities we’re going through.”

The Vermont proposal is similar to a proposal in New York state for a 330-mile power line from Canada to New York City that would also run under Lake Champlain and the Hudson River. Jessome said the New York project is being done by a different company, but the same people who are now working on the Vermont proposal.

Getting Canadian power to U.S. markets has been a key point of recent meetings between the Eastern Canadian premiers and the New England governors.

“Hydro Quebec has a lot of surplus power and it’s all basically designed to be sold in the U.S market,” said David Runnalls, an energy expert with the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a Canadian think-tank . “They can still generate hydropower pretty cheaply and they sell power into the U.S. market and they make a lot of money out of it.”

But there are other Canadian power producers that could also seek to sell electricity in the United States, including projects in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Runnalls said. Jessome said it would be possible to move power from eastern Canada to the United States via the lines he is proposing.

In New Hampshire, the proposed 180-mile Northern Pass power line project would carry up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to southern New England, on wires hung on poles, has been met by fierce opposition.

Jessome said they would take the time necessary in Vermont to work with people who might have concerns about a major power project passing through their communities.

“We pride ourselves working with the communities, listening to all of the different stakeholders who are going to have a say in a major project like this,” Jessome said.