January 06, 2005

It's My Turn: VELCO and Champlain Valley in 2014

By Sen. Vincent Illuzzi

The year is 2014.

Imagine standing on the deck of the USS Ticonderoga and looking west toward Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks beyond, in the direction of Vermont Electric Power Company's 115kV lines and poles in a new transmission corridor.

Looking to the east, the tops of new VELCO 345kV towers can be seen in an expanded transmission corridor heading north through the neighboring towns of Monkton and Hinesburg to the Burlington area.

The first thought to cross your mind isn't, "Shelburne Museum is where Vermont's past truly comes alive."

It's difficult to look through the wires and poles to appreciate fully the beauty of Shelburne Farms, another national treasure, designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.

You wonder why a state that for decades struggled to protect its undeveloped natural beauty (banning billboards, protecting highway corridors) authorized the construction of unnecessary transmission projects through its most scenic corridors.

You question why The Burlington Free Press, vociferous in its opposition to wind energy because of towers, supported the for-profit utilities' position to sell more electricity by cutting large swaths and placing huge towers through these scenic valleys.

And where was Vermont Gas? It should have teamed up with the likes of IBM, Fletcher Allen and UVM to supply and construct small, gas-fired turbines to generate clean electricity locally and keep some energy dollars in Vermont.

Why wasn't UVM's President Dan Fogel encouraged to site an efficient co-generation project at the Vermont campus as he did when he was at Louisiana State University?

Did anyone in 2004 read JRS49, introduced that year and available at

If approved by the Public Service Board, VELCO's transmission project will cost Vermonters in more ways than destroying the view from the Ticonderoga.

The negative consequences will be on a larger scale than the mistake made 13 years ago by VELCO's principal owners, Central Vermont Public Service and Green Mountain Power. In 1991, they convinced the state to approve long-term power purchase contracts with HydroQuebec.

Instead of investing in local generation and efficiency, the utilities imported power from the north and exported energy dollars to Canada. They committed to buying electricity they couldn't use at a higher price than others were paying in the wholesale market. These companies almost went bankrupt, but they were bailed out by their customers who still pay higher electric rates.

If you think high electric rates don't hurt the state's economy, ask IBM why it transports eight-inch wafers made in Essex to IBM in Quebec for cutting and testing.

It's deja vu. VELCO's goal now is to import power from the south, over new transmission lines instead of investing in efficiency and local generation.

The Department of Public Service -- supposedly the ratepayers' watchdog -- has endorsed the transmission project without getting answers to critical questions.

Although we need reliable electricity, don't be fooled into thinking there is no alternative to VELCO's "Northwest Reliability Project."

VELCO's own evidence shows that a combination of local generation and efficiency would address reliability standards and cost $66 million less than the transmission project.

Why commit Vermont to a course that will continue to export millions by importing electricity generated elsewhere?

If you're the utilities, there are two reasons. First, the utilities profit by selling more electricity. Second, no power moves through Vermont unless VELCO gets paid to use its electric grid.

The ratepayers? Over the long term, an energy efficiency approach lowers electric bills.

For these reasons, the department should petition the board to reopen evidentiary hearings and request the Board:

1. Reject VELCO's proposed 115kV transmission line in a new corridor that would blemish sections of New Haven, Vergennes, Ferrisburgh, Charlotte and Shelburne;

2. Approve construction of a new 115kV line from New Haven to Williston co-located in the same corridor as the existing 115kV line to address immediate needs;

3. Order VELCO and its owner utilities to vigorously implement at ISO New England's expense energy efficiency, local generation and load management to address future reliability challenges;

4. Direct VELCO, DPS, GMP and Burlington Electric to work with major businesses in Chittenden County to explore local generation; and

5. Require any future lines to be buried underground at ISO New England's expense, since the project benefits the region.

Growing our own electric generation and reducing electric demand will make unnecessary VELCO's plan to construct the bigger 345kV lines and make us less dependent on out-of-state power sources.

Sen. Vincent Illuzzi is a Republican representing Essex-Orleans. He has served in the Vermont Senate since 1981.