Pt 1: Where does our power come from?

New York imports hydroelectricity generated by giant dams on Canadian rivers. And some would like to see the state get more of that renewable power. But there's also opposition to that idea. 

In 1976, three of Jackie Harvey’s friends went to jail for protesting the construction of a new power  line through her town. A few nights before Christmas she was standing outside the Franklin County Jail. 

"See that red brick part, that's where the jail was," said Harvey. "And to tell you the truth I don't remember what floor they were on. But I remember standing out there. That's where we sang to them."

On a sub-zero night, her group sang carols in support of the imprisoned women. 

"Oh little town of Bethlehem, you know, there," said Harvey.

But Harvey's group ultimately failed. Today, tall transmission lines run right by Harvey's house, the 
highways for the electric system. The towers put on a show in a lightning storm. And if you take a fluorescent bulb outside, the line's electromagnetic field makes it glow. 

But the line does more than that  it carries a hot commodity. Canadian hydroelectric powered almost 5% of New York's homes and jobs and radios in 2010. 

Just 5%, but 5% of a lot. That power represents almost half a trillion dollars, depending if you use Canadian or American math. 

And New York could gobble up more today. But to get that power to the U.S., New York needs new transmission lines. Right now, regulators are considering a cable from Canada known as the Champlain-Hudson Line which would be sunk in the Hudson River. 

"It's a huge line and it's going to help a lot with the downstate area", saids Congressman Tom Reed, speaking after a town hall in Phelps, a small town about halfway  between Syracuse and Rochester. 

The line won't go through his district at all but he still signed onto a letter supporting it this summer. 

Back in his days as a lawyer he worked with a local rural electric co-op. And saw just how expensive 
it can be to buy power on the open market. 

"We went over from the demands with the system of the co-op and had to go out on outside market to purchase and that was a tremendous amount of cash," said Cong. Reed.

So the line, which would bring in Canadian hydropower makes sense to Reed. If the new power can help ease the bumps in the road for the power market, he thinks everybody wins. The fact that it's renewable energy is just icing on the cake. 

But some of New York's green companies still don't like the idea, because they think it could be bad for business. If you¿re building solar panels, a lot of cheap hydropower looks like competition. 

"We really feel NY should be putting their dollars into resources that are home-grown here in New York State," said Carol Murphy, who works with a lot of solar and wind companies. She runs what's essentially the Empire 
State's green tech Chamber of Commerce, the Alliance for Clean Energy New York. 

Murphy - and those New York-based businesses especially - don't want to see the state use Canadian hydro in the future to meet its clean energy quota. 

If you were to do that you would pretty much wipe out any investment," said Murphy.

It's similarly complicated across the border. There's opposition and there are supporters. 

But one player on the Canadian side has said if the line happens, they want in. NALCOR, the provincial power authority of Newfoundland & Labrador has plans to generate more power to ship south. And tomorrow, in the second part of our series, we'll travel to the northern Atlantic province to see what it could look like on the other end of the Champlain-Hudson line. 

Read more on Emma's trip to Canada by visiting The Innovation Trail. Also, join us Fri. Dec 2 at 12:00pm and again at 7:00pm to hear an Innovation Conversation: Following the Power Lines.