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Is Quebec power good for state?

ALBANY – There’s a power struggle over power lines in the Hudson Valley.

And it has made for some strange bedfellows.

The cliches hold up in the debate over a proposal to build an underwater transmission line running though Lake Champlain and then down the Hudson River to bring electricity from Quebec’s massive hydroelectric system to New York City.

On the one side is TDI, a company which is part of the Blackstone Group private equity and hedge fund. They say their proposed line will bring cheap, clean and badly needed power to the New York City area.

“The Champlain Hudson Power Express is an overwhelmingly positive project for the people of New York,” said TDI President Donald Jessome. The company hopes to start the 1,000 megawatt line in three years.

Statewide, New York is a 40,000 megawatt electricity market.

There’s opposition from a coalition of lawmakers, state power plant owners, and even an environmental group.

Critics contend that buying Canadian power would cost jobs in the state because it could speed the closure of some aging western and upstate New York plants. “Relying on foreign-generated power instead of upgrading in-state energy infrastructure does not put the interests of New Yorkers first,” said Gavin Donohue, president and CEO of the Independent Power Producers, which represents in-state power plant operators.

Donohue noted many New York plants are running well under capacity but if they had more demand they could afford to modernize and upgrade. “We’ve got a ton of generation in the state,” he said.

The fight has moved to the state Capitol where a bipartisan group of upstate senators said they were pushing a bill sponsored by western New York GOP Sen. George Maziarz that would block the project from using eminent domain laws.

Both sides claim their positions would save or create jobs: the power producers point out jobs at generating stations while TDI says the estimated $650 million in electricity cost savings would create more jobs overall.

Environmentalists appear split.

The League of Conservation Voters supports the plan – hydroelectric power creates less air pollution than coal, gas or oil-burning plants – and they like the idea of a submerged line.

The Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter wants more solar and wind power. “It sets a bad precedent,” said Roger Downs, the club’s conservation director.

The state Public Service Commission, as well as federal Department of Energy and Army Corps of Engineer must decide on the project, Jessome said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo in his state of the state address, didn’t explicitly endorse TDI but he mentioned Quebec as a potential future source of electricity as well as the western New York plants.