Friday, April 23, 2004


Green Mountain Power takes its obligation to deliver safe, reliable and customer-focused service seriously. That's why I'm so troubled about some misleading points made by Mark Sinclair of the Conservation Law Foundation in his April 15 My Turn.
First, Sinclair asserts that "the lights are not about to go out."
In fact, the most recent serious reliability issue occurred in mid-January 2004, when frigid weather caused a spike in demand when a local generating plant and transmission equipment in Canada malfunctioned.
These events placed the northwestern Vermont system in peril of total blackout. If one more generating plant tripped out or a tree fell on a transmission line, the result
could have been a long and widespread outage that would have required a "black start" of the entire area.
Vermont temperatures were 15 degrees below zero, and human health would have been in jeopardy from any outage longer than a few hours.
VELCO is proposing the Northwest Reliability Project to ensure the continued reliability of northwestern Vermont. Much of the transmission line that is being upgraded was built in the late 1950s or early 1960s. How many homes, business structures or towns have remained the same since then, either in terms of physical structure or in their requirements for electricity?
Second, Sinclair states that the VELCO proposal is less economic than an alternative that would require hundreds of millions of dollars of conservation investments and significant additional local power plant construction.
In fact, the VELCO proposal is not more costly than Sinclair's preferred approach (as shown in the same VELCO analysis Sinclair cites).
The unprecedented experiment Sinclair advocates would require Vermont to spend hundreds of millions of dollars for efficiency measures that might not be available or effective when the system peak is reached. Efficiency and conservation can reduce energy consumption, but have never been demonstrated as strong tools to reduce peak demand.
Clearly our local and regional transmission grid operators cannot place much faith in Sinclair's conservation approach. There is no evidence that approach has ever delivered the reliability that is assured by the Northwest Reliability Project.
Third, Sinclair suggests that power plants can be added in Chittenden County.
Siting and permitting pre- sent significant obstacles and have always made power plant construction a difficult and uncertain proposition. In order to accomplish the reliability benefits of the Northwest Reliability Project, at least three to five plants of the size of the McNeil wood plant would be required in Chittenden County, rather than one transmission line.
If Sinclair's approach were adopted, it could also have a significant impact on the cost of power in Vermont because we would not have transmission capacity to access the southern New England power market where lower-cost supply may be available.
Finally, Sinclair argues that the transmission cost allocation rules, under which 95 percent of the cost of the Northwest Reliability Project will be paid by non-Vermont entities, is a "free lunch" that ignores that Vermonters must "help pay for all the other gold-plated expansion proposals in the region."
VELCO recognizes that under the New England transmission cost-sharing rules, we will pay our 5 percent portion of all regional upgrades. The important point here is that Vermont is responsible for 5 percent of all other regional project costs, whether we pursue the Northwest Reliability Project or Sinclair's inferior and risky alternative.
All in all, Sinclair's opposition to the Northwest Reliability Project is shortsighted, and would lead to an unreliable transmission grid and higher power supply costs.
Mary Powell is senior vice president and chief operating officer at Green Mountain Power Corp.