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New York State doesn’t have to choose between two projects aimed at bringing more electricity to New York City, the president of a company that wants to import Quebec power said last week.
Donald Jessome, president of the company touting a $2.2 billion plan to lay cable beneath Lake Champlain and the Hudson River to reach the Big Apple, said in an interview that the proposal won’t harm the economic prospects of struggling coal-fired power plants in Western New York.
He testified at a hearing in Somerset on the state’s electric infrastructure choices. The hearing was called by State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, chairman of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee.
The Champlain-Hudson Power Express, as the Quebec importation project is called, is being promoted by Transmission Developers Inc. to be complete by 2017.
The company is bankrolled in part by Blackstone Group, a heavyweight New York City private equity firm.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has won the support of all of the state’s investor-owned utility companies for a plan to build new infrastructure that would enable power plants in Western New York to more easily move their electricity to eastern and southern New York, where demand in growing.
“If we start importing power from Quebec, that hurts the ‘electric highway,’ ” Maziarz contended. “The need for upstate power is diminished.”
But Jessome said the Champlain-Hudson project “frees up the capital of the state government to use for other transmission projects.” Among them would be the east-west “highway,” he said.
Local politicians and owners of plants such as Upstate Power Producers’ Somerset plant and NRG Energy’s plants in Dunkirk and the Town of Tonawanda are rooting for the Cuomo plan as a potential boon to their struggling operations.
Although staffers for the Public Service Commission say importing Quebec power would raise electric rates in upstate New York while cutting them in the New York City area, Jessome denied that.
“We are a 1,000-megawatt project in a 40,000-megawatt system,” he said, contending that’s not enough market share to move the needle on prices elsewhere in the state.
Maziarz said Quebec’s hydroelectric generation capacity is so huge that it can use lowball pricing to expand market share.
“There’s a reason why the Business Council [of New York], which normally would be ecstatic over an investment of this size, is opposing the project,” Maziarz said.
Ken Pokalsky of the Business Council predicted at the Somerset hearing that the Champlain-Hudson project would result in the closing or mothballing of 12 plants upstate.
One of the results, he said, would be that necessary investments in modernizing the statewide electric transmission system won’t be made.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com