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Underground power line touted

The developers of a proposed 333-mile underground electric transmission line from Quebec to New York City say upstate New York power plant owners could use the line by simply "wheeling" power across the border into Canada.

Transmission Developers of Albany, which wants to build the $2 billion Champlain Hudson Power Express, says a contract to lease a majority of the line's 1,000 megawatt capacity is being negotiated with a large hydro producer.

But there will be 250 megawatts set aside for public bidding, says Donald Jessome, CEO of Transmission Developers.

"Because New York is already connected to Quebec, upstate generators can wheel through Quebec [to get their power on the line]," Jessome said.

Jessome won't reveal whom he is negotiating with to be the main user, but Hydro Quebec, the government-owned utility, said it is "exploring the possibility of participating in this project."

Unions and power plant owners have been complaining the line won't help upstate generation plants, including those in Western New York, get more of their power downstate. The state's outdated high-voltage transmission system has several bottlenecks that make getting power to the lucrative New York City market difficult. The Champlain Hudson line won't be directly tied into New York's electrical grid. It will be buried under Lake Champlain and the Hudson River, with some sections buried along railroad beds.

Friday, TDI filed an agreement with the state Public Service Commission negotiated with a group of about a dozen government and environmental groups. Known as a "joint proposal," the document provides conditions -- including a $117 million environmental fund -- that allows these various groups to support the project. Those who have signed the document include Scenic Hudson and Riverkeeper in addition to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.