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Entrepreneur John Douglas wants to build a massive underwater transmission line that would cross Lake Erie. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
Entrepreneur John Douglas wants to build a massive underwater transmission line that would cross Lake Erie. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Underwater power line to cross Lake Erie Add to ...

Canadian entrepreneur John Douglas, known for proposing huge and innovative power projects, is now planning a $1-billion underwater transmission line to take electricity from Ontario to the U.S. northeast.

The cable, to run across Lake Erie, would carry surplus electricity from Ontario to Pennsylvania and on to 13 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, where there is increasing demand for power, particularly from “clean” sources.

The project, called the Lake Erie CleanPower Connector, would deliver Canadian-generated electricity to the grid that supplies power to 60 million Americans. This would involve laying two six-inch high-voltage direct current cables from Nanticoke, Ont., to Erie county, about 100 kilometres across Lake Erie.

Mr. Douglas acknowledges that the project, organized by his Lake Erie Power Corp., is in its early stages and still requires many levels of regulatory approval, but he hopes to have construction begin in 2015, and the project complete by 2017. It would be entirely financed by the private sector, and the company would make money by charging a fee to have the power transmitted across the Lake.

There is often surplus power in Ontario because of over-capacity, Mr. Douglas said. The new line would by-pass the connections in Michigan or New York that now sometimes carry Ontario power to the United States, but are often congested or unavailable during peak hours, he said. “What we are offering [Ontario power producers] is a direct link into probably the largest, most liquid, energy market in the United States today. They can avoid the congestion and curtailment that currently exists.”

For Ontario power producers, this could mean higher prices for their surplus power, he added.

Mr. Douglas, who made a fortune selling his wind farm developer Ventus Energy Inc. to French energy giant Suez SA in 2007, has floated several other huge projects in the past few years.

In 2008 his Riverbank Power Corp. proposed the building of several massive underground power stations. It was wound down although some of its individual projects – mainly smaller ones involving run-of-river hydro dams in North and South America – were sold to other investors.

Another of Mr. Douglas’ companies, Transmission Developers Inc., was set up to build a massive underwater transmission line down Lake Champlain and the Hudson River, taking power from Montreal to New York City. In 2010 the company was sold to Blackstone Group LLP, which plans to begin construction next year.

Mr. Douglas’ new project will be attractive to U.S. utilities, he said, because most Ontario electricity is generated from sources such as nuclear, hydro, wind and solar. This will become even more important if new regulations are put in place to require U.S. utilities to shift to a cleaner power mix.

Barry Grossman, the county executive for Erie County, Pennsylvania, told a press conference Thursday that getting access to Ontario power will also be helpful in stabilizing the local electrical grid, which he described as “fragile.”

Lake Erie Power has already applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington for the right to transmit power. Mr. Douglas said a lot of environmental and engineering work has been done, and he has discussed the project with Ontario’s energy and environment ministries, and Canada’s National Energy Board.

The project’s main financial backer is Toronto-based JCM Capital, a private company that until now has invested mainly in solar power projects.

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