SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Developers will begin seeking regulatory approvals today to build a 260-mile underwater transmission line along the Erie Canal and Hudson River to carry electricity from Upstate nuclear plants, wind farms and other generators to New York City.
The project would cost nearly $1.5 billion. It would involve burying two 6 inch-diameter cables in trenches at the bottom of the waterways to carry 1,000 megawatts of power between Marcy, near Utica, to a terminus in either Brooklyn or the Bronx.
The developer, Toronto-based OneGrid Corp., plans to finance the project privately and sell capacity on the line to Upstate generators who are eager to move their power to the high-priced Downstate market, said John Douglas, CEO.
Although the proposed Empire State Connector line would be capable of transmitting power in either direction, the plan is to move power south from glutted, low-price markets in Central and Western New York to power-hungry Downstate markets.
That could improve the financial outlook for Upstate nuclear plants and wind farms, which are expected to be important for the success of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to reduce carbon emissions 40 percent by 2030.
“New York is going to need a lot more transmission over the next 10 years to accomplish its climate-change objectives,” Douglas said.
Upstate power generators have complained for decades about bottlenecks in the state’s high-voltage transmission network. The lack of capacity limits the amount of power flowing south and east from Marcy to New York City, where demand outstrips supply.
But even if the Empire State Connector project proceeds smoothly, it’s at least five years away from operation.
OneGrid Corp. will file a tariff application today with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the first step in what is expected to be at least a two-year permitting process. The project would also need approvals from the state Public Service Commission and other agencies.
OneGrid also is just beginning talks with the state Canal Corp. about using the Erie Canal right of way, Douglas said.
If the company can get permits to build, it will take a year just to have the cable built and about two years for installation, Douglas said. OneGrid anticipates the line could go into service in 2021.
Douglas and his partners have done this before. He was a co-founder of Transmission Developers Inc., which planned the 333-mile Champlain Hudson Power Express, an underwater high-voltage line to carry hydro and wind power from the U.S.-Canadian border to New York City.
That $2.2 billion project, which was acquired by the Blackstone Group investment firm, was first proposed in 2010. It has received all its U.S. permits and is expected to begin construction soon, Douglas said.
Douglas also has developed transmission lines under Lake Erie and in South America.
The Empire State Connector would be a high-voltage direct current line, or HVDC. It would carry DC power, which travels in one direction, unlike the more common alternating current, or AC, which reverses direction periodically.
To transmit DC power within a power grid that is mostly AC power, OneGrid will have to build a large $200 million converter station at each end of the line. The company has optioned 90 acres of land near the New York Power Authority’s giant Marcy substation, within which it could build its Upstate converter station, which would cover about five or six acres.
Underwater DC transmission cables are installed from huge reels aboard ships. The normal method, Douglas said, is to use an underwater robot that jets water to displace sediment at the bottom of the river or lake, creating a trench eight to 10 inches wide into which the cable is laid. The sediment then settles back to the bottom, covering the cable.
The copper lines inside the cables are heavily insulated, Douglas said. If a cable were damaged somehow, the line would stop transmitting power immediately to prevent electrification of the water, he said.
DC transmission lines are growing in popularity for long-distance power transmission, because they are cheaper to build and lose less power along the way than AC lines.
With the projected future growth of wind power, which is produced in rural areas or off-shore locations far from population centers, the number of high-voltage DC lines is expected to double or triple in the coming decade, according to Siemens AG, the German technology company.
As a so-called “merchant” transmission line, the Empire State Connector would not be paid for by utility ratepayers.
OneGrid’s proposed line is unrelated to several AC transmission projects that were recently approved by the Public Service Commission, which are also intended to beef up transmission between Upstate and New York City. Those projects, which would be paid for by utility ratepayers, could come online by 2019, PSC officials said.
Douglas said there is enough need for new transmission to support both the AC lines and the proposed Empire State Connector.