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Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Businesses back power line upgrade

By Aki Soga
Free Press Staff Writer
More than a dozen Vermont business groups formed a coalition to support a $125 million project to upgrade the state's electric power distribution system.
"The coalition represents several thousands of small and large businesses across the state who employ the majority of working Vermonters," Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce Chairman Scott Carpenter said Monday.
"The bottom line is that reliable electricity is critical to Vermont being an attractive place to do business, work and live," he said.
Carpenter, who spoke at a news conference flanked by representatives of several business groups before the steps of the chamber building on Main Street in Burlington, said the business groups would not be donating money, but offering the time of its members.
The Vermont Electric Power Co. is seeking regulator approval for the project, which would triple the size of power lines from West Rutland to New Haven with higher poles and broader rights of way. In addition, a new power line will be built from New Haven along the Lake Champlain shore to South Burlington, most of it along an existing power line route.
Carpenter laid out three main reasons for the upgrade:
-- Vermont's transmission system is more than 30 years old and in need of an upgrade.
-- Demand for electricity in northwestern Vermont increased 9 percent between 1999 and 2002, with demand outgrowing capacity.
-- Risk of system outage or blackouts because of current load levels and rising demand.
Opponents of the upgrade cite several concerns and alternatives including:
-- Putting more emphasis on conservation to ease the pressure on the system and relying more on small, local power projects.
-- The effect of electromagnetic fields surrounding power line on people.
-- How the bigger and taller poles -- averaging 79 feet tall -- would affect views along Lake Champlain.
Lisa Ventriss, president of the Vermont Business Roundtable, said no major improvements have been made to the transmission lines since the 1980s.
"Imagine if you had to operate our computers and businesses with the same information technology -- the same wires -- that existed in 1980," she said. "We'd think that was totally unacceptable and archaic."
Contact Aki Soga at 660-1866 or asoga@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.