New Yorkers can rejoice: Chippy, or known formally as the Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) is the city’s big but controversial clean energy project that just cleared its final hurdle. It ain’t perfect, but not to build it would convey the message worldwide that trying to wean the city off fossil fuels– any big city — was undoable. Few if any cities would make the herculean effort to design, permit, finance, and implement a project of the size, cost, and complexity needed to reverse a century of dependence on coal, oil, and natural gas for our energy. The climate crisis would accelerate and intensify. The Paris climate targets would be missed by a mile.
CHPE will run 339 miles starting from Lake Champlain on the Canadian border to the Vermont state line then on land to avoid sensitive aquatic ecosystems. The conduit goes back underwater when it reaches the northern Hudson River region and continues until it reaches the city. It will cut across Randall’s Island and arrive at a converter station in the vast electrical utility park in the northwestern most corner of Astoria, Queens. About 40% of the line will be on land and nearly all of it will be buried, either underground or beneath river beds. The project will consist of two five-inch, bidirectional high voltage cables that will be able to transmit hydro and wind power down from Canada.
Pushback to CHPE has been from gas companies because of expected competitive energy rates. Environmental groups have cited concerns that new dams would damage local ecosystems and food chains and the likelihood that mercury poisoning could come from flooding previously dry forested land. Some of Québec’s 55 Indigenous communities see the project as another attempt to seize Indigenous lands to build more dams and increase its electricity output.
Not building Chippy would condemn NYC and the world to dire climate consequences, a big delay in even starting a decarbonization project, and eventually settling on a less feasible, more costly option. Chippy can and should be improved, indigenous peoples somewhat assuaged, and assurances obtained from Canada that New York’s energy supply will be secure.
ClimateYou believes that we have run out of time.
All proposed clean energy projects must be thoroughly vetted so that the interests of all those affected by it are heard and weighed. However, frivolous vanity opposition and self-interested commercial concerns must pale before the reality that the weather, so long our friend, has turned increasingly hostile to humans. We can no longer let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Some objections are valid reasons to modify or disapprove a proposed project. Others are not. After a reasonable period of debate and accommodation, the greater good demands that good projects proceed apace. Dithering and delay can no longer be tolerated if humans are to continue living in a friendly, comfortable, environment. We’ve lived for so long blessed by a Goldilocks, not too hot, not too cold climate that we have no memory of harsher living conditions. But the Earth has been less hospitable to humans in the past. It should be obvious to us all that the climatic conditions that have permitted humans to flourish are turning fractious, less conducive to our growth and well-being, even our survival. If we want the Earth to remain a home we can thrive in, we must start taking giant steps to stop meddling with the complex system of systems that is our climate.
Every time we drive a gasoline-powered vehicle, switch on a light, chose energy generated by burning fuel fossilized plants that over millennia have turned into coal, oil, and natural gas, we are meddling with the climate, destabilizing it, turning it against us. We must start now to make serious and, yes, costly efforts to replace our sources of energy from fossil fuels to infinite clean renewable energy sources such as the sun and the wind.
Fossil fuels earn big profits for the big coal, oil and gas companies, but they are making the Earth uninhabitable for humans and many other species. Doing so will face powerful opposition from the industry that has infiltrated our society to such a degree that few of us can imagine how we would live without it. But the benefits of clean energy that doesn’t disrupt our climate far outweigh the costs of remaining dependent on fossil fuels, which emit gases that heat the Earth like a greenhouse, creating conditions that for all our adaptability are making the Earth a less and less livable home. By mid century, millions will die as large regions of the Earth become subject to extreme heat, unrelenting droughts, unprecedented flash floods, frequent intensive storms, failed crops, political unrest, and torrents of climate refugees numbering in the millions. By the end of this century, human extinction will be a real threat if we don’t summon the collective will to save ourselves by mobilizing now to decarbonize our energy system .
We can make this transition, disruptive though it will inevitably be. However, to do so we must overcome the vested interests, the climate deniers, and the petty obstructionists. We must mount a global campaign to disallow any delay in the only course of action we have left to avoid the severe depletion of the human species or even our demise within the next several generations. We’ve dawdled too long. Now we must act.