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Senators seek to block Quebec transmission line

MASSENA – Jobs at power production facilities in the north country could disappear if the state goes forward with a plan to pipe electricity from Quebec to New York City, according to several state senators who have signed on to a bill to block the proposal.

The senators – led by state Sen. George Maziarz, of Western New York, and joined by state Sen. Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton – say that upstate jobs are at stake if a $2 billion transmission line proposal is approved because it would squeeze out current energy producers that are in the state, like nuclear power plants, facilities that burn wood to create electricity and wind turbine farms.

“I think this would open up the floodgates. It would be the beginning of the end for generation of energy in New York state,” said Mr. Maziarz, a Republican and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Telecommunications.

Typically, the debate over dependency on foreign oil occurs on the national stage. But in New York, the discussion became charged when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced plans in January for the “energy highway,” which would to use private capital to improve the state’s transmission grid.

A task force hasn’t yet decided which plan will get state support, but much discussion has surrounded the decade-old idea to bring power from Quebec to New York City through cables on the eastern side of New York.

Senators like Mr. Maziarz worry that with Quebec’s abundant energy resources, power producers here in New York will suffer – as will their employees.

“I think this severely slows down or reduces the opportunity for multiple areas of generation, including wind, solar, the Nine Mile Point nuclear plant, biomass,” Mr. Maziarz said. “All the renewables. Why would anyone invest in a renewable generation in New York if basically all they have to do is turn the switch in Quebec?”

Mr. Maziarz and several fellow Republican senators will hold a news conference today in Albany to discuss the matter. The bill would take away certain property rights – the ability to obtain land by eminent domain —from companies that are trying to connect transmission lines from outside the United States to New York.

Mrs. Ritchie will join him, and has signed on as a supporter of the bill.

A different plan – one that would free up tangles that hold back power in the state’s cat’s cradle of power lines – would help create jobs in the north country, Mrs. Ritchie said.

“We have the resources available at existing facilities,” she said. “There is no way to get the additional power to the area that they’re looking for. That’s the first thing we should look at – upgrading the transmission lines.”

A proposed biomass facility – which would burn the leftover wood materials from the logging industry – is in the works on Fort Drum. Mrs. Ritchie said that a proposal for a biomass facility in Ogdensburg is likely dead.

Other north country energy projects that companies are looking to build include several wind power plans that are in various stages of consideration. State-run facilities like the New York Power Authority-run dam in Massena probably won’t be harmed by the Quebec line, Mrs. Ritchie said.

Proponents of the Quebec to New York City line have said that the energy needs in New York City are so great that even if power was piped in from Quebec, independent power producers upstate wouldn’t suffer.

Clarkson University President Anthony G. Collins, who is involved in the energy highway task force, has said that there is enough money in the plan not only to build a transmission line from Quebec to New York City, but also to improve bottlenecks in the transmission grid that prevent power facilities from operating at full speed.

Still in question is the potential effect that the Quebec to New York City line could have on wind power development in the north country.

Mrs. Ritchie, for one, said that the line would hinder wind-power development. The way that the direct-current line is proposed to be set up, Mrs. Ritchie said, would prevent any other power producer from “hooking in” and delivering electricity downstate.

But Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, who also does not support the Quebec to New York City plan, said that wind power projects could actually see a major boost from the Quebec to New York City plan.

“It appears as though if we’re spending a lot of money on a direct current line, the deal might be being brokered specifically in favor of wind,” she said.

One of the major drawbacks of wind power is that its creation of electricity is only intermittent, unable to produce power if the weather isn’t right.

But in tandem with a consistent source of power from Quebec, Mrs. Russell said, wind power could thrive.

“I’m not sure why we’d be setting up a scenario where we’re favoring a foreign energy source that would undermine our ability to produce energy locally at a time when we desperately need those jobs,” she said.