Alternatives to power line project will be heard

John Dillon
MONTPELIER, VT (2004-02-12) (Host) Vermont utility regulators opened hearings Wednesday on a $128 million power line project planned between West Rutland and Chittenden County. Opponents won an early legal victory. The Public Service Board decided to hear testimony related to alternatives to the huge transmission project.
VPR's John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) VELCO says the new power line is needed to reduce the risk of blackouts in Chittenden County. Opponents argue that investments in energy conservation would cut demand, and eliminate the need for the project.
VELCO promotes its project in part by saying that ratepayers outside of Vermont would pay for 95 percent of the power line cost. By contrast, the company says investments in the energy conservation alternative would be borne by Vermont alone.
Jim Dumont, an attorney for the town of New Haven, says there's evidence that VELCO is wrong. He says minutes of meetings from the regional power grid indicate that utilities in Connecticut will cover the cost of alternatives to a power line project there.
But VELCO lawyer Kim Hayden questioned the relevance of testimony.
(Hayden) "Objection I don't believe that Mr. Dumont has made an adequate foundation either to the exhibit or the relevance of the exhibit to Mr. Dunn's testimony."
(Dillon) Dumont argued that the issue of how the project will be paid for is a key part of VELCO's case. And Public Service Board Chairman Michael Dworkin overruled VELCO's objections.
(Dworkin) "It is an issue that the filing itself clearly puts before us. There are, at a minimum, a dozen places and probably more where the VELCO petition refers in a favorable way to the prospects of having costs recovered on a pooled basis."
(Dillon) Dumont has also argued that the board needs to appoint a special counsel to represent the public. He says the state supports the project, and that the Department of Public Service, which represents ratepayers, will not do an adequate job.
Outside the hearing room, Public Service Commissioner David O'Brien, says the state will look out for the public interest. He says his department will use experts in aesthetics, engineering and the health impacts of high-voltage power lines.
(O'Brien) "We don't see any indication, we don't see the need for an outside or independent body to come in on that question. Because we feel we've thoroughly reviewed this issue by virtue of who we've hired and by virtue of who works for the Department and the testimony and analysis that we've filed."
(Dillon) VELCO recently changed the proposed route of the project to avoid some neighborhoods and a school. Some landowners just learned about the new route. And the Public Service Board ruled on Wednesday that those people will be allowed to raise issues later on in the case. Wednesday was just the first day of several weeks of hearings that will examine the project in detail.
For Vermont Public Radio, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.