Some groups have expressed concerns about the impact one project will have on Indigenous communities, and some want assurances that the state’s shift to clean energy will lead to a shutdown of fossil fuel-powered plants in the city’s most vulnerable areas.
Updated: April 22
Two projects to boost renewable energy in New York and put the state on track to advance its climate initiative got the green light Thursday afternoon following a vote by the New York Public Service Commission. Together they will bring enough solar-, wind- and hydro-powered energy to reduce the state’s reliance on fossil fuels by half, via two power superhighways from Delaware County and Canada, according to the governor’s office.
The companies involved promise green jobs and investments in aquatic and environmental justice projects. But not all are celebrating. Some groups have expressed concerns about the impact one project will have on Indigenous communities, and some want assurances that the state’s shift to clean energy will lead to a shutdown of fossil fuel-powered plants in the city’s most vulnerable areas.
Clean Path New York, a joint project by New York Power Authority, EnergyRe and Invenergy, promises to deliver more than 7.5 million megawatt hours of solar and wind energy into the city.
It will next be subject to a permitting process, which will assess environmental impacts of the siting, design, construction and operation, according to a company executive. If the permits are approved, Clean Path NY will begin operation in 2027.
The Champlain Hudson Power Express project, which was also approved this week, will bring 1,250 megawatts of hydropower from Quebec, Canada. That project, by Hydro-Quebec and Blackstone-owned Transmission Developers, has already received all necessary permits, including a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need, according to a company spokesperson. It will begin construction this year and is set to be in operation by 2025.
Combined, the projects are estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road, according to the state.
“New York continues to lead the nation with innovative green energy initiatives and has been an example to the rest of the world how to confront the perils of climate change, the existential threat of our time,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a press release announcing approval of the projects, which followed a lengthy Request for Proposals process and public comment period.
The projects both generally earned the support of environmental and labor groups, who lauded their potential to reduce New York’s reliance on fossil fuels in line with the goals set by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, while creating green union jobs.
The groups behind the plans have also committed to funding programs that benefit communities most hard hit by the effects of climate change. Clean Path NY has said it would invest $70 million in environmental justice programs, and the Champlain Hudson Power Express project has established a $117 million trust fund to be administered by the Hudson River Foundation over three decades for environmental and advocacy projects related to aquatic health.
But others take issue with certain elements of the Champlain Hudson project, particularly the environmental impact it may have on Indigenous land due to the dams associated with hydropower.
“Virtually every mega dam in what’s currently known as Canada is within 100 kilometers of an Indigenous community,” said Amy Norman, an Inuk Labrador Land Protector in a meeting protesting the project before the vote. “So no matter where this hydropower is coming from, it is disproportionately impacting Indigenous people, it’s harming our ways of life, it’s harming our cultures.”
READ MORE: New York’s Hydropower Plan Stirs Concerns Over Impact on Waterways
Last spring, five First Nations leaders penned a letter to former Deputy Mayor Dean Fuleihan stating opposition to the project. Riverkeeper has also publicly opposed the plan, despite previously speaking in support of it.
“Our opposition to the CHPE project has become more steadfast as the environmental justice impacts of Canadian dams become ever more apparent,” said Richard Webster, Riverkeeper’s legal director.
The Champlain Hudson team acknowledges that its installations are “near or on land that is subject to Indigenous land claims” but says that it has signed agreements with Indigenous communities and nations promising compensation, revenue streams and jobs.
“Both HQ and TDI have a strong commitment to equity and social justice in development of the CHPE project, and this extends to the only First Nations community impacted by the Québec portion of the transmission line, the Mohawk community of Kahnawà:ke,” Gary Sutherland, of Hydro-Quebec said in a statement to City Limits.
One representative with Grand Riverkeeper Labrador in Canada told City Limits those promises amount to “a bribe, basically.”
On April 21, the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke released a statement disparaging the criticism of the project. “The MCK would not have participated in this project, unless it fully aligned with Kahnawà:ke’s environmental values,” wrote Ohén:ton Í:iente ne Ratitsénhaienhs (Grand Chief) Kahsennenhawe Sky-Deer. (Full the full statement here.)
When asked about the environmental impact of the projects, a NYSERDA representative stated that “environmental issues will certainly be addressed during the permitting and construction phase for both projects to ensure maximum efficiency and minimal project and environmental disruption.”
The Clean Path project has generally garnered support from Riverkeeper and other environmental groups, after concern about the proposed placement of a converter station was addressed by the company last summer. But some community organizers have asked New York Power Authority, one of the partners of the project, to also commit to closing its peaker plants, which run on fracked gas and are heavy emitters of pollution.
A representative with the state-run company told City Limits it was working with the PEAK Coalition, a group of five environmental justice organizations, to conduct a study into how the plants can be shut down without an interruption of service.
READ MORE: Bronx Residents Demand Closure of Polluting ‘Peaker Plants’ as State Ramps Up Renewable Energy
“The New York Power Authority expects to share the promising results of its NYPA Small Clean Power Plant Adaptation Study, prepared in consultation with the PEAK Coalition, very soon,” said a company representative in a statement Friday. “NYPA has committed to transitioning its in-city peaker plants to low or zero carbon emission technologies.”
Last month, South Bronx Unite and elected officials held a rally in front of two peaker plants in The Bronx, which have been in operation since 2001, demanding that NYPA be more transparent about their progress in shutting the plants down.
“The South Bronx was told 21 years ago that [placing] these fossil fuel power plants in asthma alley would be temporary and didn’t need a full environmental assessment,” said Mychal Johnson, co-founder of South Bronx Unite, in a statement last month. “Enough is enough.”
This article has been updated to add a new statement from the Mohawk Council of Kahnawà:ke and to clarify that an individual quoted from Grand Riverkeeper Labrador in Canada is not affiliated with Hudson Riverkeeper.
Liz Donovan is a Report for American corps member.