Transmission line may ease bottleneck in electric grid

John Dillon
MONTPELIER, VT (2002-10-08)

(Host) A new high voltage power line is being considered for the western side of Vermont. The company that runs the power grid in Vermont is looking at a number of options to fix a transmission bottleneck near Burlington.

One solution is a $125 million power line that would run from West Rutland to South Burlington.

VPR's John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Utility engineers are professional pessimists. They look and plan for worst-case scenarios, such as a major ice storm or a power plant going down.

The engineers are now worried about the transmission network that serves northwestern Vermont. A huge increase in demand, coupled with an aging transmission network, leaves that part of the state subject to potential blackouts.

(Dunn) "That is a possibility, yes. We don't want to allow the system to get to that point."

(Dillon) Tom Dunn is project director with VELCO, the company that owns the main transmission network in Vermont. Dunn says the electric grid around Burlington is under serious strain. He says it may not be able to withstand a failure somewhere along the line, such as an interruption in power supply from Canada. According to Dunn, the blackouts could spread beyond Chittenden County.

(Dunn) "It could extend all the way down to the Middlebury area, down to central Vermont. Depending on what happens, the outage doesn't just stay isolated in Chittenden County. It could expand to a larger part of the state. So it's not just a Chittenden County problem."

(Dillon) According to Dunn, the system is strained by the increased demand for electricity, especially in Chittenden County.

The state used to see the highest electric use in the winter. Now the peak demand is in the summer, in part because more people use air conditioners. Overall, the state has seen a 9% increase in the summer peak in just three years.

VELCO is studying a new 60-mile line from West Rutland to South Burlington. The first segment would be a 345,000 volt line to New Haven. The second segment would run from West Haven to a South Burlington substation. In both cases, the power line would follow existing transmission corridors, although in some cases the rights of way would have to be wider.

VELCO is also studying alternatives, including a new power plant and greater energy conservation measures. Depending on the outcome of those studies, VELCO may file for permits next spring.

(Dunn) "While we haven't decided that the transmission alternative is the right alternative. We want to be prepared in case that we think that it is, if the result of the studies show that the transmission alternative is the right way to go."

(Dillon) The new power line could cost around $125 million, a cost that would be shared between Vermont and the rest of the region. The state agency that watches out for ratepayers wants VELCO to do a cost comparison before it files for construction permits. VELCO is supposed to complete the studies this December.

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