State regulators approve powerline project, but with plenty of conditions

Script on VELCO decision -- WCAX-TV
State regulators approve powerline project, but with plenty of conditions -- Burlington Free Press
Controversial High-Voltage Line Gets Go-Ahead -- The Champlain Channel
Power line project increases reliability -- Vermont Press Bureau
Board approves VELCO transmission line, imposes conditions -- Vermont Public Radio
Regulators approve controversial power line with conditions -- AP
Velco power line proponents, foes, react to board order -- AP
Fri 28-JAN-2005 6 P.M. News Script

Good evening, I'm Sera Congi. And I'm Marselis Parsons. A decision is out today on a major power line construction project in the Champlain Valley. The Vermont Electric Power Comapny's Northwest Reliabiliuty Project was approved by the state Public Service Board -- but with several conditions attached. Andy Potter has been following this story and has the latest from Montpelier ... Andy... Sera and Marselis ... The Public Service Board decision runs 244 pages and will take time for everyone to analyze. Opponents may take heart at some of the conditions attached, but at the end of the day, VELCO wins approval for its project.

The power transmission company argued for the line expansion to guarantee reliability of the electric grid. And the public service board agreed. ((JOHN DONLEAVY/VELCO CEO: "number one, the agreed with the project, they agreed with the need for the project, and no two, that the project is for the gnereal good of Vermont.")) VELCO's chief executive John Donleavy says VELCO proved its case by winning approval for the Northwest Reliability Project. But he avoided specific comment until his company fully reviews the 244-page document. Opponents like Representative Joyce Errecart are not pleased. ((REP. JOYCE ERRECART/R-Shelburne: "well, my initial take is disappointmnet.")) Industry officials say increased demand for power in the form of new construction must be met by increased capacity. Velco responded with its 130-million dollar upgrade of an existing transmission line corridor between West Rutland and South Burlington. Critics say VELCO glossed over a requirement to look into alternatives including electric efficiency measures. ((Errecart: "The big picture here is that the board found that VELCO had done inadequate planning and as a result of that we con't have choices now... Unfortunately, the logical consequences should be something negative for the utility, but it seems what's happened instead is that because they haven't done what they should do they got most of what they wanted.")) The board did order some changes to the project, including a requirement to bury one-point-four miles of the line in Shelburne rather than install it overhead. That will please some opponents, but will increase the cost by several million dollars. ((Donleavy: "it's fiar to say that additional conditions that are put on the project above how it was originally proposed to be built will cost additional funding in order to built it."))

The Public Service Board found what it called "significant flaws" in VELCO's planning process and says it will open an investigation into that. One more finding in this order: the PSB found no evidence that power lines pose a risk to human health. And so the existing policy of "prudent avoidance" will be maintained.
January 29, 2005

State regulators approve powerline project, but with plenty of conditions

By Matt Crawford, Matt Sutkoski and Shawn Turner
Free Press Staff Writers


Controversial High-Voltage Line Gets Go-Ahead
PSB Faults Velco For Lack Of Long-Term Planning

POSTED: 8:43 pm EST January 28, 2005
UPDATED: 8:58 pm EST January 28, 2005

BURLINGTON, Vt. -- A major new high-voltage power line between Rutland and Burlington is getting the go-ahead.

The controversial project had been just an idea for nearly two years.

On Friday, the Public Service Board gave the project the green light, but with plenty of strings attached.

PSB agreed with Vermont's electric utilities and granted permission to build new high-voltage lines from Rutland to Burlington.

"Our conclusion was that it is needed and it's needed fairly soon," said PSB Board Chairman Michael Dworkin. PSB ordered a number of changes to the $130 million project, which is supposed to improve electrical standards across northwest Vermont.

PSB said it looked carefully at whether high-voltage lines through neighborhoods are a danger to human health. Citizens groups in Shelburne and South Burlington argued the point.

Velco, the lead developer of the project, is relieved that PSB decided the "links to real risks are very weak." They hope to begin construction within months and finish by 2007.

The board did fault Velco for doing a poor job of long-term planning. It said if it had had more lead time, it could have considered a wider range of alternatives to building new high-voltage lines.

Power line project increases reliability

January 29, 2005
By LOUIS PORTER Vermont Press Bureau

Vermont Electric Power Co. linemen Kevin Kelly, (left), and Albert Stebenne descend a power transmission tower Tuesday in Milton.

MONTPELIER – The Public Service Board on Friday approved a huge new power transmission project to increase electrical reliability, particularly for the northwestern part of the state.

Included in the approval of the Vermont Electric Power Co.'s proposal were several conditions in response to some of the criticisms of the plan.

Non-reflective wire will be used on the new transmission line, which will stretch from West Rutland to New Haven. In addition, a 1.4 mile section of the line in Shelburne will be buried, under the Board's ruling, and the placement of a substation in New Haven will be changed.

Opponents of the power line project said they had received some but not all of the safeguards they hoped for from the board.

"We are very pleased by the ruling of the Public Service Board," Velco president and chief executive officer John Donleavy said.

The plan, the largest power line project in 20 years, is expected to cost about $129 million. About $12 million of the total will be paid for by Vermont's electrical consumers, while the rest of the cost will be spread over New England. The plan calls for the construction of 36 miles of 345 kilovolt line and 27 miles of smaller power lines as well as the upgrading of 13 substations.

The project is expected to be completed by late 2007.

The Public Service Board's decision was also a critique of Velco's planning process.

"Velco has made several missteps which have cost ratepayers money and extended the schedule," the board's decision notes. "We are troubled that apparent past inaction by Velco in pursuing non-transmission alternatives may have required us to now approve the proposed project in order to ensure the electrical reliability of northwest Vermont."

The three-member board promised to open a new investigation into Velco's planning process to make sure that electrical demand was forecast properly, and that Velco would give adequate consideration to other alternatives to building power lines in the future, including "focused intense efficiency efforts".

Donleavy said he does not view the Board's decision as criticism of his company.

"It is early for me to speculate on the full impacts of the specifics of the order," he said. "We would welcome the opportunity to talk about our planning process with the board and the required stakeholders."

Legislators have been watching the issue of power planning, and the approval of the Northwest Reliability Project.

"I am pleased the board recognizes that Velco can't be expected to make long range plans to provide for anything other than Velco's profitability," said Sen. Mark MacDonald, D-Orange. "Someone else needs to guard the chickens."

There are certain infrastructure improvements which clearly must be made, but it is the responsibility of the Legislature to make sure they are not excessive, MacDonald said.

As a regulated utility Velco receives a rate of return set by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on its assets, including the new power lines.


Board approves VELCO transmission line, imposes conditions
John Dillon

 MONTPELIER, VT (2005-01-28)

(Host) State regulators have approved a $130 million transmission line for the northwestern side of the state. But the Public Service Boards imposed many conditions on the project, including a requirement that the line be buried near Lake Champlain in Shelburne. The board also said the Vermont Electric Power Company had done a poor job of planning for the region's energy needs.

VPR's John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) After more than a year of hearings, the Public Service Board concluded that the transmission grid needs to be strengthened in order to improve reliability in northwestern Vermont.

But in its lengthy order, the board imposed substantial conditions on the Vermont Electric Power Company, which operates the state's transmission network. First, the board wants VELCO to bury 1.4 miles of line near Lake Champlain in Shelburne. The PSB says VELCO must also move a controversial substation in New Haven and come up with a better proposal for its line in Charlotte.

Regardless of the conditions, VELCO President John Donleavy said he was happy with the order.

(Donleavy) "We are pleased with the ruling by the Public Service Board that the project is necessary and it promotes the general's good of Vermont. This is a huge step forward in getting this much needed project built."

(Dillon) The new power lines are designed to improve the transmission network feeding northwestern Vermont and Chittenden County, the most populated area of the state. The project includes a 345 kilovolt line from West Rutland to New Haven and a 115 kilovolt line from New Haven to South Burlington.

The power lines sparked controversy in several towns along the route. Residents of Charlotte and Shelburne wanted the line buried through their communities.

Although the board ordered VELCO to bury 1.4 miles of the line in Shelburne along Lake Champlain, Shelburne Republican Representative Joyce Errecart was not satisified.

(Errecart) "Well, I'm disappointed. This could have worse, but it could have been better. The town position was that roughly three miles should have been buried because there's roughly three miles comes very close to homes, some 20 or 30 feet from some people's homes."

(Dillon) Shelburne residents were concerned that the lines posed a cancer risk for children and other people living nearby. But the PSB said the overall evidence is weak that electromagnetic fields pose any health risk.

Perhaps the strongest language in the ruling was aimed at VELCO's planning process. The board said that if VELCO had reacted earlier to a surge in electricity demand and had focused strongly on energy conservation, it might have found alternatives to the project. The board opened up a new docket designed to improve VELCO's forecasting abilities.

Although the board chastised VELCO, Mark Sinclair, a lawyer for the Conservation Law Foundation, said it should have take stronger action.

(Sinclair) "This is just a bark without a bite. The utilities are not serious about actually investing in a clean energy future for Vermont. And our regulators are willing to let them get away with violating our laws. So I'm very frustrated with the failure of our regulatory system to actually achieve a clean energy future for our state."

(Dillon) The PSB also required VELCO to relocate and lower many of its poles, plant protective screening along the route, and take other steps to reduce the visual impact of the project.

For Vermont Public Radio, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.

Regulators approve controversial power line with conditions

By David Gram, Associated Press Writer | January 28, 2005

MONTPELIER, Vt. -- The Public Service Board on Friday conditionally approved a major new power transmission project proposed to serve fast-growing northwestern Vermont.

"The board found that increased electrical demand in northwestern Vermont, in conjunction with the lack of major improvements to Vermont's transmission system for many years, has resulted in lower than desirable levels of reliability for that region," the three-member panel said in a statement accompanying its 240-page order.

The board approved the project with what it termed substantial conditions. Among them were the use of non-reflective wires throughout, burying 1.4 miles of the line underground near the Lake Champlain shoreline in Shelburne, and moving a major substation planned for New Haven.

Velco spokesman David Mace said the company hoped to have a 345-kilovolt line between West Rutland and New Haven completed by the summer of 2006 and the entire project, including a new 115-kilovolt line between New Haven and South Burlington, completed by the end of 2007.

John Donleavy, Velco's president and chief executive officer, said in a brief interview, "We are very pleased with the ruling by the Public Service Board that this project is necessary and promotes the general good of Vermont. This is a huge step forward in getting this much-needed project going."

Under the rules of the regional power dispatch agency ISO New England, Vermont ratepayers will bear only about $12 million of the project's $129 million price tag, but also will chip in for transmission projects elsewhere in the region.

Project opponents vowed to continue their efforts to block it.

"You can count on a legislative response," said Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans, chairman of the Senate Economic Development Committee. "I consider this decision round one. There are several more rounds to go before the bell rings and construction starts."

James Dumont, a lawyer for the town of New Haven, which has fought a major expansion of the Velco substation there, said he expected opponents would also contest wetlands permits the project must get from the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He said the company also should expect big fights from individual landowners as it tries to acquire additional right of way by eminent domain.

Northwestern Vermont has been identified by ISO New England as one of three transmission bottlenecks in the region. The others are greater Boston and southwestern Connecticut.

Velco officials have argued from the inception of the project, first taken to the board 18 months ago, that the high demand, coupled with a lack of high-voltage transmission lines or nearby power plants serving northwestern Vermont, placed the region at unacceptably high risk of blackouts during peak demand.

And peak demand is growing: Vermont set an all-time record of 1,086 megawatts of simultaneous demand on Dec. 20.

Critics of the Northwest Reliability Project -- or NRP -- sought to persuade the board and the public that Velco had not done enough to study alternatives to the power lines, including energy efficiency and small-scale, local generation.

The critics also voiced concerns about studies showing exposure to the electromagnetic fields put off by high-voltage power lines as a possible cause of cancer. In addition, they said some of Vermont's most valuable real estate -- especially in the Lake Champlain shore towns of Shelburne and Charlotte -- would be marred by the taller poles the new lines would require.

The board said small-scale local generation would not be enough to remove the need for the transmission upgrade. Rather, the local generation option would require "building and fueling at least three mid-size 40 (megawatt) bulk generation power plants in Chittenden County."

It also said a "major reduction in expected demand," achieved through efforts at energy efficiency unprecedented in Vermont, would be required to offset the need for the power lines.

On the health issue, the board cited a report from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences saying that the scientific evidence on any threat from electromagnetic fields was weak. It said the best course was "prudent avoidance" of people coming in close contract with the lines, saying it would support "policies that limit magnetic field exposure whenever this can be done for a small investment in money and effort."

The board faulted Velco for "deficiencies in forecasting expected electricity demand ... leading to a need to consider and install new facilities in a shorter time-frame than desireable."

It also faulted Velco for not giving early enough consideration to alternatives like energy efficiency, "leading to the present situation in which transmission construction must be chosen as the least-cost reliability solution, despite the fact that an earlier, greater, effort at efficiency might have opened up alternatives."

Velco power line proponents, foes, react to board order

By The Associated Press | January 28, 2005

Some of the reactions to Friday's Public Service Board order granting conditional approval to Vermont Electric Power Co.'s plan for a major transmission line upgrade for northwestern Vermont:

John Donleavy, president and CEO of Velco: "We are very pleased with the ruling by the Public Service Board that this project is necessary and promotes the general good of Vermont. This is a huge step forward in getting this much-needed project going."

David O'Brien, commissioner of the Department of Public Service: "We believe the board reached the right decision in approving the project. ... I just think they deserve recognition for the hard work that they have to do on a case of this magnitude. I know their cars have been in the parking lot on Saturdays and evenings. It's not been easy for them."

Mark Sinclair, lawyer for the Conservation Law Foundation, which opposed the project: "The board admits that Velco didn't do the proper planning and implementation of other alternatives as the law requires, and then let Velco off the hook. ... What's the purpose of the regulatory system if you never say no?"