Firm pitches power lines under Lake Champlain

BRIDPORT — For centuries, vessels of various sizes and speeds have used the surface of Lake Champlain as a vital conduit to get goods delivered to Canada, Vermont and New York.
Now a company is seeking permission to use the bottom of the lake through which to deliver massive quantities of electricity from Canada to the energy-starved Empire State. And while Vermont does not figure to tap into that power, groups within the Green Mountain State are pledging to ensure that the so-called Champlain Hudson Power Express project does not negatively affect the flora, fauna and archaeological resources of the lake.
The Champlain Hudson Power Express is a $3.8 billion proposal to bring up to 2,000 megawatts of renewable power along a 355-mile route from Canada to New York City, and an additional 65 miles from New York City to Bridgeport, Conn.
It’s a project being pitched by Toronto-based Transmission Developers Inc. (TDI), a developer of high-voltage underwater transmission systems with proposed projects in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York.
Plans call for four, 5-inch-diameter cables to be placed underwater or underground along the Champlain Hudson Power Express project route. The underwater portions of the preferred route involve Lake Champlain, the Champlain Canal and the Hudson River between Albany and Manhattan.
A TDI official would not give a date by which the company hopes to complete the project, but it surely would be years in the future.
TDI will need a variety of federal and state permits to pursue the project, intended to help meet growing energy needs in the New York and New England markets. Since the planned route does not flow through the Green Mountain State, the project will not be subject to permitting review in Vermont. But several Vermont environmental and archaeological organizations — including the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum (LCMM) in Addison County — have pledged to monitor the project and its potential impact on the lake.
“It’s certainly a huge project,” said Mike Winslow, staff scientist with the Lake Champlain Committee. “We just want to keep on top of it.”
Winslow noted that the Power Express cable would be laid through the comparatively narrow southern portion of Lake Champlain, which borders Addison County.
“There is a potential for disturbance of a large percentage of lake bottom in those areas,” he said of the south lake region.
Such a disturbance, according to Lake Champlain Committee Executive Director Lori Fisher, could re-circulate a lot of sediments — including phosphorous — that can affect aquatic plants and animals.
A TDI overview of the project (on the Web site www.chpexpress.com) states the cables “will be buried way below the bottom of the waterways to protect against an anchor or fishing equipment snagging the cable.” The cable, according to the project narrative, “will be installed using low-impact water jet technology that minimally impacts the environment.”
Efforts to reach TDI President and CEO Donald Jessome were unsuccessful as the Addison Independent went to press.
Officials at the LCMM will insist on minimal impacts to the lake’s bottom, the final resting place of hundreds of historically significant shipwrecks and other artifacts. The LCMM has mapped the vast majority of those shipwrecks through a multi-year underwater survey. Among the finds — the Revolutionary War gunboat Spitfire that was part of Benedict Arnold’s fleet during the Battle of Valcour Island on Oct. 11, 1776.
Adam Kane, archaeology director for the LCMM, said the museum has provided TDI with a list identifying the artifact sites that should be avoided by the cable project.
As far as the southern part of the lake is concerned, Kane said he sees one potentially significant project hurdle for the Power Express project. It involves the “Great Bridge” built across the lake in 1776 by fledgling U.S. forces in an effort to link Fort Ticonderoga in New York and Mount Independence in Orwell, Vt. The only remaining evidence of the bridge right now is a series of large, bridge caissons, or footings, spaced between 50 and 100 feet apart on the bottom of the lake.
While TDI would likely be able to place the power cable between the caissons, the exact route likely would have to be pre-screened to make sure there are no significant artifacts in its path, Kane said.
Kane noted that from an archaeological standpoint, the Energy Express project is likely to have smoother sailing through Lake Champlain than some of the other waterways on its route.
“Lake Champlain is kind of the easier part for them to deal with; we more or less know what is at the bottom of this lake,” Kane said. The same is not true of the Hudson River, he noted.
Art Cohn, executive director of the LCMM, said there is precedent for underwater cables being laid in Lake Champlain — specifically, fiber-optic communications cables run from Burlington to New York state. He is pleased that the developer and regulators are acknowledging the need to protect the underwater artifacts.
“Certainly, in today’s regulatory climate, we find a more aware and sensitive view toward these resources,” Cohn said. “Twenty-five years or so ago, it wasn’t on the radar of issues. Now, clearly it is.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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