Burlington Free Press

Editorial

Thursday, December 14, 2000

IT'S MY TURN: Any change in electric service needs full, open review

Richard Chapman, president and chief executive of VELCO, delivered a subtle announcement to Vermonters in his commentary ("It's My Turn," Dec. 2): VELCO is planning some transmission-line upgrades.

However, he left out one important detail.

The transmission line upgrades Chapman described have a name: The Northwest Interconnection. Chapman speaks about transmission line upgrades in very general terms; in fact, it is a well researched, comprehensive plan with an estimated cost in excess of $160 million that would allow Hydro-Quebec to use Vermont as a conduit to send an additional 1,150 to 1,200 megawatts of electricity through Vermont to major metropolitan markets such as Boston and New York City.

In an undated, eight-page document produced by VELCO, "The Northwest Interconnection," the project rationale says transmission constraints exist that limit the flow of power to New York City and southern New England. Therefore, "it has become increasingly apparent that new interconnections through Vermont could have major commercial value."

Under environmental considerations, the document notes that "no major impediments appear to exist, provided that Vermont and New York will accept taller transmission towers and double circuit construction where the project design requires, and that Vermont will allow the purchase of new right-of-way in the limited areas in which it will be needed."

VELCO's document says completion of the entire project is dependent upon the conclusion of commercial arrangements for its use for new power transactions. This is very important: The transmission line upgrades depend on making deals with Hydro-Quebec.

Chapman notes that a public body, the Public Service Board, with public input will ultimately decide the course of transmission construction.

Chapman will be stepping down as president of VELCO in March. He is being replaced by Martin Miller, the attorney for NYSEG/Energy East in the natural gas pipeline proposed for Southwestern Vermont. A former employee of Central Vermont Public Service, Wes Van Schack, runs Energy East. As the largest utility in the state, CVPS is a major shareholder in VELCO.

Energy East describes itself as a "super-regional energy services and delivery company." It purchased Central Maine Power, as well as energy companies in New Hampshire, northern Massachusetts and Connecticut. They have clearly set their sights on Vermont.

What stands in the way of Energy East's takeover of Vermont's electricity business? The sale of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, for one thing. If the sale goes through, Vermont's utilities will be free to be acquired by a larger company such as Energy East.

These comments should not be interpreted as insinuating that there is anything wrong or inappropriate. Having Energy East own Vermont's electricity businesses could be a good thing for Vermonters. Or it might be a bad thing. It's too early to tell.

What I can speak to is the corporate mentality Energy East displayed to Southwestern Vermont residents in the gas pipeline case: arrogant and disrespectful. Whatever this company's agenda, it warrants a public airing.

Only by full and total disclosure will Vermonters be able to determine if planned changes in the way electricity is delivered are in our best interests. Keeping us in the dark serves no one's interests -- except perhaps the out-of-state businesses that may ultimately control our electricity future, and the people planning to make money on the transitions.

Annette Smith of Danby is executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.