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Developer defends Quebec to New York City line

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CANTON - Wind power generation could see a boost if a company is allowed to build power lines from Quebec to New York City, according to the project’s developer.

“Upstate New York will certainly have access for existing wind generation or potentially new wind generation,” said Donald G. Jessome, the president and CEO of Transmission Developers Inc., Albany. “It can allow even more wind generation to enter the market, because there’s so much flexibility.”

North country residents aren’t likely to see a difference in their energy bills because of the project, said Mr. Jessome, nor would they see transmission lines traversing Jefferson, Lewis or St. Lawrence counties. Instead, the effect of the hotly debated proposal is most likely to play out for companies that create energy, and jobs, in the north country — facilities that burn the leftover remnants of the logging industry, nuclear power plants and wind turbine farms.

Mr. Jessome said that as proposed, 75 percent of the power will come from HydroQuebec, a utility owned by the Canadian province. Twenty-five percent will come from other sources, with a focus on wind energy.

The pairing of wind energy and energy from a hydroelectric dam is ideal, Mr. Jessome said, because when the wind is too calm to create much energy, the consistent power produced by flowing water can step in to replace it.

State senators looking to block the Champlain Hudson Power Express from becoming a reality warn that upstate power producers — including wind power producers — won’t be able to compete against the government-owned utility’s massive generating potential.

They also say that Mr. Jessome’s company is lowballing the $2.2 billion pricetag, and that it could result in an increase, not a decrease, in electric rates for its downstate customers.

Led by state Sen. George Maziarz, a Western New York Republican, those senators unveiled a bill at a news conference in Albany that would block the proposal. It would do so by stripping any company looking to connect New York to a foreign source of energy of its right to acquire land by eminent domain. Eminent domain allows private companies or governments to require landowners to sell their property.

Mr. Jessome, the developer for the project, said that the company isn’t looking to use eminent domain — that the company will use state land and railroad rights of way to string the cables from Quebec to New York City.

Matthew Nelligan, a spokesman for Mr. Maziarz, doesn’t buy that.

“If they’re going to use some process other than eminent domain, we think it ties this thing up in negotiations and court challenges for years to come,” he said. “From my perspective, that essentially kills the project.”

The Senate bill has not been introduced in the Assembly, which is controlled by New York City Democrats. The added 1,000 megawatts of electricity from the Quebec line would bring down energy costs in New York City by $650 million a year, according to Mr. Jessome.

Among the disagreements that the developer and the state legislators have:

■ Whether the added energy from the Quebec line would squeeze out New York power producers and kill the jobs that they bring. Mr. Jessome said that there’s enough room in this state for a variety of producers; the senators disagree.

■ Whether electricity rates would go up or down. Mr. Jessome said that the increased supply would force prices in New York City to go down and wouldn’t affect north country ratepayers at all. The senators say that competitors may have to raise their prices in response.

■ Whether private investors or New Yorkers ultimately will be responsible for the cost of the project. Mr. Jessome said that it will be privately financed, and would result in increased revenues to New York with licensing fees; but the senators warn that a provision in the bill would allow the company to transfer some of the cost to New Yorkers.

■ Whether Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s “energy highway” initiative would be able to both construct the Quebec to New York City line and fix bottlenecks that are holding back energy producers in the north country. Mr. Jessome said that his project is “one of many” that could be developed.

By the summer, a task force convened by Mr. Cuomo will issue an “action plan” that settles on whether to construct the Champlain Hudson Power Express and what to do about the bottlenecks that plague New York’s out-of-date energy grid.

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