Switchboard, Vermont Public Radio, November 9, 2004
Governor Jim Douglas, interviewed by VPR’s Bob Kinsell, on VELCO's proposed transmission project

Bob Kinsell: I want to ask you about the Northwest Reliability Project. It’s an effort to bring some power up the western side of Vermont. As you look at all of New England this part of New England is viewed as sort of a weakness in the overall system but there are some folks in Shelburne who are very upset about the plan to run power lines through their community and they want to bury those lines for part of the way. They had a press conference today, a bi-partisan group of lawmakers who were pretty critical of the Department of Public Service for not looking into their interests and not being willing to consider putting these power lines underground. There are some aesthetic considerations and also some safety considerations. Will you consider putting these lines underground?

Governor Douglas: Well the Department certainly is looking at all possibilities, obviously there were some similar concerns expressed in Addison County last year and there were some very significant steps taken to reroute the proposed line, provide some other mitigation such as smaller substations, berms to hide some of the infrastructure that’s being constructed, and we certainly want to work with the people of Shelburne and other communities that are affected to find ways to mitigate the impact as well.

This is a tough one, Bob, because I think everyone agrees that we need the power. Last January 15th we came very close to a brown-out in our state, we lost the Highgate substation, we lost the McNeil generating plant and it was far below zero on the night when electricity was certainly going to be very important to a lot of people in our state. There’s a similar reliability issue in southwestern Connecticut and the people there are having the same kinds of conversations we’re having here. The problem with undergrounding is financial. It’s far more expensive than the above-ground lines and poles. There’s a lot of discussion about how much more expensive it is and I won’t get into specific numbers and debate that tonight, but I think it’s pretty well recognized that it costs a lot more. And the responsibility of the Department of Public Service is to represent the interests of ratepayers. We have very high electric rates in Vermont compared to other states and to have some undergrounding or other steps that are taken that will exacerbate that would certainly be disadvantageous to many ratepayers. But I don’t think this debate is over by any stretch of the imagination. The town and other interests will be represented before the Public Service Board and the Board I know will consider the aesthetic and other concerns and will make a decision that’s in the state’s best interest.

Bob Kinsell: This group of lawmakers from Chittenden County and residents of Shelburne were saying today that southwestern Connecticut project in fact they are going to bury some of the lines down there and the costs are going to be socialized, that’s the fancy term for all ratepayers in New England are going to absorb these costs.

Governor Douglas: I don’t know that that’s been determined finally by ISO New England which is the operator of the system throughout our region. My understanding is that’s still a matter that’s yet to be resolved.

Bob Kinsell: What about the safety of these lines? Are you convinced that it’s okay for someone to have a house within 30 or 40 feet of these lines?

Governor Douglas: It’s not aesthetically pleasing. I certainly grant that, but our Health Department has been involved in this process from the beginning and they are convinced and believe strongly that there is no safety concern in terms of the power that’s running through these lines. I know that people are talking about some studies and I guess you can always find a study that says just about anything but our Health Department takes this responsibility very seriously and their view is that it does not present a safety risk.

Bob Kinsell: There may be some loss of property value.

Governor Douglas: Well that’s always a possibility I suppose. I don’t know how that would be considered but we want to find a way to minimize the impact and it’s not easy, given the nature of this type of infrastructure, but we’ll continue to work with the people of Shelburne, as we did in Addison County and try to find the best outcome.