By Mike De Souza
OTTAWA (Reuters) - A major electricity transmission project linking the Canadian province of Quebec with New York City has cleared a significant hurdle, opening the door to construction within a year, the executive behind the proposal said on Thursday.
Don Jessome, chief executive officer of Albany-based Transmission Developers Inc., said a U.S. presidential permit issued in early October, along with approval from the state public service commission, should allow the 330-mile (531-km) underground high-voltage line to start delivering a new supply of hydro electric power from Quebec to New York by 2018.
He said he also anticipates permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers within days.
If approved, the $2.2 billion Champlain Hudson Power Express project, to be built underground along existing railroad right of ways through the Lake Champlain region, is projected to deliver 1,000 megawatts of power from Hydro-Quebec, the provincial government-owned energy company.
While some have compared it to another major energy project from Canada, TransCanada Corp's controversial Keystone XL pipeline linking western Canadian oilfields to refineries in Texas - still awaiting approval - Jessome said the only similarity is the requirement for a presidential permit.
"They’re totally different projects," he said in an interview. "We’re moving hydro electricity in two 5-inch cables."
The White House touted its decision to issue the permit in a blog saying that it was "driving development of clean energy" by allowing this and other renewable energy projects.
Jessome said his project was estimated to deliver 2 million to 3 million tonnes of reductions in carbon pollution, mainly by displacing energy from natural gas.
It would also deliver $650 million in savings on utility bills for U.S. customers - equivalent to about 3 percent a year, he said, along with more than $20 million a year in tax revenue.
A spokesman for the Canadian government said it was pleased the project received a presidential permit but noted that Hydro-Quebec would still have to apply for approval to Canada's federal regulator, the National Energy Board, before building a 36-mile (58-km) line linking a power station near Montreal to the U.S. border.
"We respect the fact that there is a lot more work ahead with Hydro Quebec and various other American utilities, on this proposal," said Chris McCluskey, a spokesman for Canadian Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford. "We have been clear that projects will only move forward if they are safe for Canadians and safe for the environment."
There are now 34 major power transmission lines crossing the Canada-U.S. border, he added.
A spokesman for Hydro-Quebec told Reuters it was still studying options before outlining its next steps for the project.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)