Plan would split costs of transmission line upgrade

John Dillon
MONTPELIER, VT (2003-08-20)

(Host) Advocates for a big power line planned from Rutland to South Burlington see a good deal. They say that much of the cost of the Vermont transmission line will probably be covered by other ratepayers in New England. But critics say that the financial arrangement is not guaranteed and would cause other increases for ratepayers here.

VPR's John Dillon has more.

(Host) The 60-mile transmission line planned by the Vermont Electric Power Company will cost $128 million. But under a proposal to share costs that's before federal regulators, about 95% of the bill will be paid for by customers in other states.

The idea is that all ratepayers in the region have a stake in a strong transmission system. VELCO President Martin Miller says last week's huge blackout shows why.

(Miller) "If people don't believe that, they've forgotten what happened last week. It's in everyone's interest to make sure that the system is reliable because otherwise a weak member of the system can bring down the rest."

(Dillon) The regional cost-sharing plan would require utilities, and ultimately their customers, to split the cost of $900 million in transmission upgrades throughout New England. That includes the VELCO project and a much larger, $700 million upgrade planned for southern Connecticut. A Maine utility has balked at the plan. And opponents of the Vermont project say Vermont customers could ultimately face a much larger bill.

Fred Peyser is a Monkton resident and director of Citizens for Safe Energy, a group that's fighting the VELCO power line.

(Peyser) "We're going to have to pay other expenditures made for other areas' benefits. That's the point. We don't know what that figure is, but it's certainly a cost that's got to be recognized when you evaluate whether this is a bargain or not."

(Dillon) According to Miller, the VELCO president, there's no guarantee, but he believes Vermont ratepayers will benefit from the cost-sharing deal.

(Miller) "We have done an analysis as best we could and Vermont comes out ahead for a period of years."

(Dillon) Besides the cost issue, opponents have raised concerns about the health effects impacts of high voltage transmission lines. They also argue that Vermont could reduce the stress on the transmission grid through more aggressive conservation programs.

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