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VT upgrade a priority for New England electric grid    

Bob Kinzel    

MONTPELIER, VT (2003-09-09)    
(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says a proposed transmission line upgrade in northwestern Vermont has become a top priority for the New England power grid. But Douglas says he's concerned the federal government might try to take over the project if the state's review takes too long.
VPR's Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) Taking steps to strengthen the region's electrical power grid became the top agenda item at this week's meeting of New England's governors and Eastern Canadian premiers, following last month's power blackout in much of the area. New England's transmission system is thought to have two areas of weakness: southwestern Connecticut and northwestern Vermont.
To deal with the Vermont situation, the Vermont Electric Company is proposing to upgrade its transmission lines from West Rutland to Burlington. It's a $128 million project that's currently in the public hearing process. Douglas says the proposal is a critical component for the region's power grid:
(Douglas) "We're certainly going to hear all of the concerns and make sure that it's done in a way that is not harmful to our natural environment or to the esthetic concerns of the communities in that area. But we have very little choice but to upgrade our transmission system. So we have to have a system that's reliable and clearly the northwest reliability project is the second most serious need in terms of the transmission grid in New England."
(Kinzel) However Douglas is concerned that federal regulators will try to preempt the state's authority to evaluate the project if the state doesn't review the proposal in a timely manner:
(Douglas) "I expressed concern to my colleagues about the proposal that the federal government has preempted authority to site transmission lines. But there is a dependency among other jurisdictions for the transmission grid as a whole. We rely on each other and it might just as easily occur in some other state at some point in the future. So I don't want to see that preemption; I want to see states retain their regulatory responsibilities. But it's important that we act promptly and take this seriously in order to insure the reliability of the grid."
(Kinzel) Douglas on Tuesday was named as the new chair of the New England Governors Conference. The governor will begin his term in January.
For Vermont Public Radio, I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.