VELCO says underground transmission lines too expensive

Monday November 8, 2004
John Dillon

Montpelier, VT

(Host) The towns of Charlotte and Shelburne want sections of a proposed high voltage power line placed underground. Town residents say the lines may pose a danger to the public and would ruin the scenic beauty of some areas. But the Vermont Electric Power Company says it's too expensive to bury the lines.

VPR's John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The Public Service Board is holding hearings on the 130 million dollar power line project. The high voltage lines would run from West Rutland to South Burlington. VELCO says the project is needed in order provide reliable electric service to northwestern Vermont.

Opponents have challenged the overall need for the project. And on the local level, the towns of Charlotte and Shelburne have questioned the project on aesthetic grounds. Some residents have also raised concerns about possible health hazards from the electro-magnetic fields produced by the lines.

Jenny Cole is a member of the Charlotte Select Board. She came to Montpelier on Monday to hear the PSB review the case. She says the town wants VELCO to bury about 3,000 feet of the line near Ferry Road.

(Cole) "The proposal that VELCO comes up with puts higher poles through that area and puts the line quite close to residences and the Waldorf School. So the town still maintains the position that the line would be best put underground."

(Dillon) The 115 kilovolt line would run through neighboring Shelburne as well. Republican state Representative George Schiavone says the visual impact of the project really came home to him when he saw a computer-generated image of the Green Mountains across Shelburne Bay after the project was built. Slicing through the view of Camel's Hump, he says, was the large power line.

(Schiavone) "And I thought to myself, is this really right? And I checked it out, and I found out sure enough it was done accurately. And I thought I'm not sure people understand how this is. This is not a NIMBY problem, but it's a not-in-Vermont's- front-yard problem. And that was the thing that really perked me up and say we've got to look at this very carefully."

(Dillon) VELCO argues that it costs eight to ten times more to bury the line. Spokesman David Mace says the additional costs would have to be borne by Vermont ratepayers.

(Mace) "We believe that the line can be constructed overhead in a fashion that is both safe and that it's aesthetic impacts can be mitigated to meet the requirements of state law."

(Dillon) The state Department of Public Service, which represents ratepayers, has been mostly supportive of the project. But on Wednesday, Shelburne officials say they'll hold a news conference to criticize the department's role in the case. They say the state needs to do a better job representing the public on the power line issue.

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