Shelburne advocates for underground transmission lines

Tuesday November 9, 2004
John Dillon

Montpelier, VT

(Host) Shelburne residents are criticizing the Douglas administration for backing an above-ground, high voltage power line in western Vermont. Shelburne wants the line placed underground for safety and aesthetic reasons. On Tuesday, local lawmakers said the administration has failed to represent the public's interest in the case.

VPR's John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) A few dozen people from Shelburne came to Montpelier to deliver petitions that call for the large power line to be buried underground for four miles though Shelburne.

The 115 kilovolt line is part of a major transmission upgrade that the Vermont Electric Power Company says will increase reliability in northwestern Vermont. The Public Service Board is reviewing the $130 million project. The Department of Public Service is a separate agency that represents ratepayers in the case.

But Republican Representative Joyce Errecart from Shelburne says the department is too cozy with the power company.

(Errecart) "For example, we found that the Public Service Department hired as their engineering expert someone who had recently retired from VELCO with the job of their senior vice president for construction, planning and fields services. So it looks to us that there's a serious conflict of interest in the experts the Public Service Department has hired."

(Dillon) Public Service Commissioner David O'Brien says the former VELCO engineer was actually hired in part to help the state take a critical look at the project. O'Brien says he sees no ethical or conflict of interest question with the state hiring the engineer.

O'Brien says the state doesn't support burying the in Shelburne because it's not necessary and is too expensive.

(O'Brien) "Representing the interests of all the ratepayers, we recognize that undergrounding is a considerable premium of cost that ratepayers across the state would have to pay. And even having said that, our aesthetic consultant has looked at this project from the very beginning to the very end and recommended a whole series of mitigation steps to be made that deal with aesthetic impacts."

(Dillon) But people in Shelburne say the issue goes beyond aesthetics. They worry about the potential health hazards from the electro-magnetic field produced by high-voltage lines.

At the end of the news conference, resident Derrick Senior confronted VELCO spokesman David Mace about the health issue. Some houses in Shelburne would be within 30 feet of the lines. Senior said that research from England showed children who lived near power lines experienced a higher rate of leukemia.

(Senior) "If that line goes through, we need to move and I guess I have to ask other parents, is that the legacy that the department and the company is going to leave us, that we're going to put our kids at risk? And that to me is the most incisive thing here, beyond anything else."

(Dillon) VELCO's Mace says that research hasn't shown a link between EMF exposure and cancer.

(Mace) "There has been roughly 25 years of extensive study of this subject and the consensus, I believe, in the scientific data is that there is no demonstrable health effect in the electron magnetic fields caused by these power lines."

(Dillon) Velco says it costs about $300,000 a mile for overhead lines, compared to about $2.4 million for underground construction.

For Vermont Public Radio, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.