Major power line upgrade criticized

July 16, 2003
By DAVID GRAM The Associated Press

MONTPELIER — The company seeking to build a series of major new power lines in Vermont is resisting suggestions that it tell abutting landowners about its plans.

Kimberly Hayden, a lawyer for the Vermont Electric Power Corp., told the Public Service Board on Wednesday that state law and a 1970s Vermont Supreme Court decision allow the company not to provide such notification.

Board Chairman Michael Dworkin asked, “Your position is you don’t have to give notice to property owners abutting the project?”

“No, I don’t,” Hayden answered.

The exchange came during a preliminary board hearing on what was described Wednesday as the largest utility construction project in Vermont in at least 20 years.

VELCO is the company that handles bulk transmission of power to Central Vermont Public Service Corp., Green Mountain Corp., and the state’s other distribution utilities.

It formally notified the board last month of its intent to spend $128 million to build:

u A new 345,000-volt power line parallel to a smaller, existing line, from an existing major transmission station in West Rutland to New Haven.

u An increase in capacity on the existing 115,000-volt line between New Haven and South Burlington.

u Installing a larger wire on an existing line between Barre and Williamstown.

u And upgrades at 13 substations around Vermont.

VELCO says the project is needed to shore up Vermont’s aging power transmission system to keep pace with recent growth in power demand, especially in northwestern Vermont.

Also Wednesday, Hayden told the board VELCO is under time pressure if it wants to have Vermont ratepayers pay only a small part of the costs of the project.

Under a recent ruling by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the project will have to be done and in service by the end of 2007 if it is to be designated as a “pool transmission facility.”

That designation would allow sharing the costs of the project with utilities — and their ratepayers — around New England. Since Vermont represents only about 4.5 percent of the region’s electricity usage, only about $12 million of the project’s $128 million cost would be absorbed in Vermont, Hayden said.

The huge impact of a project which is expected to affect at least 17 towns from West Rutland to Milton — along with Barre and Williamstown — already has generated intense public interest. Several new groups have sprung up — particularly in Addison County — to oppose the project.

James Dumont, lawyer for one of the groups, contested Hayden’s reading of the law on notifying property owners near the project.

Dworkin asked lawyers to file written arguments on that question by next Tuesday.

Dumont said after the hearing that opponents have two principal concerns:

They believe the project, or at least most of it, isn’t needed, and that the power demand growth could be countered with more aggressive energy conservation efforts.

He also said recent studies by the World Health Organization and the National Institute for Environmental Health have raised new worries about the health effects on people living and working near high-voltage power lines.

Tom Dunn, project manager for VELCO, said the company had studied energy conservation as a solution to its system reliability problems. He said it could work only in conjunction with the construction of new power plants.

Dunn said electro-magnetic radiation from the power lines would be far below the limits set by the only two states that have such limits: New York and Florida.