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Great Lakes Article:

Power lines under lake delayed
John Bartlett

The proposed Lake Erie Link, a 975-megawatt underwater electric line that would connect American and Canadian power grids, is on hold as developers reassess its economics.

"The project is not dead, but is delayed," said Michel Ernst, a spokesman for Lake Erie Link Limited Liability Co., a subsidiary of TransEnergie U.S., which in turn is a subsidiary of Hydro-Quebec Power Co.

The company's plan calls for burying up to three 4.1-inch diameter cables beneath Lake Erie that would run from Nanticoke, Ontario, to a new electric substation in Springfield Township.

The company was moving rapidly ahead, obtaining the necessary U.S. and Canadian permits and regulatory approvals for the project, when it decided it was time to take a second look.

Earlier this month, the company asked both U.S. and Canadian agencies to halt the processing of its applications and regulatory reviews.

The company needs to carefully assess the costs of the project as well as the market and sales value of the electricity to be transmitted, Ernst said. Completing the process could take until the end of 2003.

The company's business plan is to bring power into the states when regional demand is high in the summer and Canada can produce an excess of power. Conversely, when the winds of winter blow and Canadian demands increase, the Pennsylvania grid has electricity it could sell to Canada.

Lake Erie Link would own the transmission system — the cables, which are akin to a pipeline — but would sell the transmission rights. It would not be the broker for the electricity, Ernst said.

"We will not proceed with construction until we have a large company agreeing to purchase the transmission rights," he said. "The Lake Erie Link Project will eventually provide a reliable and economical new source of power to both sides of Lake Erie; it is only a matter of time."

The electricity would be transmitted as direct current and have to be converted to alternating current at both connections. Direct current transmits more efficiently than alternating current — the standard current that powers homes and factories — and offers other technical benefits, he said.

The Springfield Township substation would be built near the Bessemer & Lake Erie Railroad crossing on Route 215. The electric cable would remain underground between the lakeshore and the substation, following Holliday Road and Route 215.

The entire project is estimated to cost as much as $100 million, depending on the number of cables installed, Ernst said.

A number of environmental groups, including Great Lakes United, have raised concerns about the company's plans, claiming the trenching method used to bury the cables beneath Lake Erie could stir up contaminated sediments. They also question whether the link would add to air pollution by increasing output from Canada's coal-fired power plants, including the one at Nanticoke, which is the largest coal-fired power plant in North America and produces more air emissions than any Canadian facility.

However, the company is not relying on any particular electrical source, Ernst said.

"Much of the power that would be imported from Canada would not be coal," Ernst said. "About half of Canada's power is nuclear and about a quarter is hydro. We would obtain power from wherever it was available at the least cost and the next available plant."
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