Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Residents air concerns about power line upgrades

By David Gram
The Associated Press
CHARLOTTE -- About 200 people filled the bleachers at the Charlotte Central School gym Tuesday night as they heard praise and criticism of a major power system upgrade planned for northwestern Vermont.
Speakers included numerous business representatives who strongly supported the project, saying it is crucial to keeping Vermont's economy running smoothly.
"Our clients are depending on us making sure their businesses are operating," said Carolyn Edwards, CEO of Competitive Computing in Colchester. "Reliable power is essential to this operation."
"If you want jobs in the state, you need a reliable electricity network," said Bill Driscoll of Associated Industries of Vermont.
Others in the crowd took turns at the microphone to tell the Public Service Board to voice their concerns about damage to property values, the environment and possibly to human health from the expanded power lines.
Donna Deforge of Shelburne said the new right of way for the power line would be 40 feet from her front steps.
"I have grandchildren who are in my home constantly. I do not want to worry about their health," she said to applause.
Tuesday's session was the third of three public hearings hosted by the Public Service Board, which regulates utilities and must rule on the proposal by the Vermont Electric Power Co. The previous two, in Barre and Brandon, were sparsely attended.
The Charlotte hearing had been expected to draw the biggest and most vociferous crowd, and it met those expectations.
Several speakers cited a study by the national Institute of Environmental Health Sciences that concluded that electromagnetic fields given off by power lines can cause cancer in humans.
Tayt Brooks, of the state homebuilders and remodelers association, said he had grown up on a farm in St. Albans Town where the property had been crossed by a high-voltage power line.
"For 30 years we've had no problem with it," he said.
Other speakers also questioned the need for the power line, with some saying the growth in demand could be offset by more aggressive efficiency measures.
Richard Esty of New Haven said the problem is Chittenden County's to solve: "If northwestern Vermont needs the power, let them build their own generation," he said.
Power line expansion

Under VELCO's proposal, power lines from West Rutland to New Haven would be tripled in size with higher poles and broader rights of way. In addition, a new power line is slated to be built from New Haven, north along the Lake Champlain shore to South Burlington, most of it along an existing power line route.
VELCO has argued in testimony to the board that the project is needed to meet growth in demand in and around Chittenden County, a region that accounts for about half of Vermont's use of electricity.
Four large transmission lines serve the area; the line to run along the Lake Champlain shore would add a fifth. VELCO project manager Thomas Dunn has told the board that the system as currently configured would be in danger of blackouts during times of stress.
ISO New England, the Massachusetts-based organization that dispatches power around the region, has listed northwestern Vermont second to southwestern Connecticut among parts of the region most in need of improvements to their bulk power transmission system.
Tuesday's hearing came one day after a group of Vermont business leaders, spearheaded by the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, gathered to endorse the project, calling it crucial for continued economic growth in northwestern Vermont.