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NEWS ALBANY BUREAU

ALBANY – A $2.2 billion project to bring power from Quebec to New York City passed a key regulatory hurdle this afternoon in Albany, critics say the project would reduce power sales from upstate power plants.

The state Public Service Commission approved the construction and operation of the Champlain Hudson Power Express, which will carry 1,000 megawatts of power from Canada through two wires stretched mostly underwater beneath Lake Champlain and the Hudson River.

Backers say the plan will bring clean and cheaper hydropower energy downstate, reducing reliance on coal and other energy plants.

Critics, including some lawmakers and union groups, insist it will reduce upstate jobs by importing energy from Canada instead of current upstate producers.

An PSC economist last year said the project could reduce energy prices downstate while boosting them upstate, though officials insisted Thursday that would not be the result.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has made the issue of upstate jobs a key policy priority, did not have any comments on the approval by the state agency today, aides said.

“I’m disappointed. I think it’s bad long-term energy policy, particularly for upstate New York because I think once you start importing energy from out of state, in this situation out of the country, your energy policy is going to be subject to people outside the state,’’ said Sen. George Maziarz, a Newfane Republican and chairman of the Senate Energy Committee.

Maziarz said the project will hurt upstate power generators and cost jobs.

“I don’t think the battle is over. They’re still have to use eminent domain, and we’re trying to stop them from that,’’ Maziarz said of the developers’ need to get land to bury the transmission lines.

The plan by Transmission Developers Inc., would carry electricity through a direct current line for 333 miles from Quebec to Queens, with nearly 200 miles of the line located on the bottom of Lake Champlain as well as the Hudson, Harlem and East rivers before coming ashore in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens to a station that will transfer the DC current to AC current. Officials said it will provide “significant’’ air pollution reductions and ensures protections of habitats in the bodies of water are not harmed during the construction and operation of the two lines that will be six inches in diameter.

The plan, still needing federal approval, is financed by a major Manhattan investment company.

PSC Chairman Garry Brown said he supported the project because it include a broad range of support – including energy buyers, environmentalists and local officials along the line’s route – and also because the developer has vowed not to turn to ratepayers if financial problems develop with the project.

“That shifts an awful lot of risk of cost overruns to the developer and away from the ratepayer,’’ Brown said.

PSC officials insisted the project will not affect jobs upstate, and that, in a statewide system of 40,000 megawatts of power needs at peak periods, there is plenty of room for upstate generators to compete with the new Champlain Hudson project.

The project was first proposed in 2010.

“It is gratifying to know that this project, having been studied thoroughly and openly, has received this important certificate from the state of New York,’’ said TDI President Donald Jessome.

email: tprecious@buffnews.com