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Stowe's VELCO bill projected at $7M

New estimate comes amid massive hike in project's costs

December 17, 2004
By Lisa McCormack

Stowe will have to pay about 40 percent of the cost – or about $7 million, according to current plans estimates – to construct a proposed power line that will serve the greater Lamoille County area.

The Vermont Electric Power Company (VELCO), which builds, owns, and operates the state’s high-voltage electric system, filed a permit application for the project with the Vermont Public Service Board on Dec. 6. The new 115 kilovolt (kV) power line would run from Waterbury to Stowe along the existing 34.5 kV line.

Both VELCO officials and representatives from Stowe Electric Department say the project is needed to meet the area’s increasing demand for electricity.

The estimated cost of the project has soared by 50 percent since it was introduced earlier this year from an initial estimate of $13.4 million to a current estimate of $20.3 million. Company officials attribute the cost increase to design changes and the use of outside contractors to construct the line.

VELCO officials have said that about $2 million of the cost of the project will be eligible for regional cost sharing, with Vermont paying approximately 5 percent and other New England states paying the other 95 percent.

The remaining $18.3 million would be absorbed by ratepayers that receive services from utilities in the area: the municipal electric departments of Stowe, Hardwick, Hyde Park, Johnson, and Morristown; Central Vermont Public Service; Green Mountain Power; Washington Electric Co-op, and Vermont Electric Co-op.

Stowe’s share of the cost would be about 40 percent, according to incoming Stowe Electric General Manager Ellen Tillotson.

“(VELCO Chairman) Bob Clark estimates that our share will be nearly 40 percent, however, the exact amount is still being arbitrated,” said Tillotson, currently the associate general manager at the local utility.

The final amounts that Stowe and the other utilities will be responsible for must be approved by the Vermont Public Service Board, Tillotson added.

Just how much local electric fees and bills will go up to pay Stowe’s $7 million share is unknown.

Growing demand

The load (demand for electricity) in Stowe is already overwhelming the current power line, which was built in the 1940s, according to studies done by VELCO.

“Right now there are any number of periods throughout the year when brown outs could occur,” said VELCO spokesman David Mace. “The single failure of a single line or piece of equipment could knock out the power to Stowe.”

Stowe Electric Manager Bernard Machia agrees that the new line is necessary and said that if the Vermont Public Service Board doesn’t approve the project, it could hinder future development in Stowe.

“If the project doesn’t get approved and built, Stowe’s growth will be nil,” Machia said. “The mountain project would come to a standstill along with other development projects.”

Although Stowe will be the primary beneficiary of the power line, it would benefit other towns over time, Machia said.

“Stowe will see the primary benefit, but other utilities will see a benefit, too – some right away, some later,” Machia said. “As their loads grow, they will become greater beneficiaries.”

The new line must be completed by November 2006 because that is when the town’s 10-year contract to receive transmission services from a power line that runs from Johnson to Morrisville will expire, Machia said. Stowe currently shares the line with Hardwick and Morrisville, but Morrisville will eventually own the line and its transmission services.

This could greatly impact Stowe’s electric rates because the federal government has enacted an open access transmission tariff that will go into effect in late 2005 or early 2006, allowing utilities that own their own lines to charge tariffs on transmission services.

The proposed project would provide Stowe with its own transmission services, thereby making the town self-sufficient and allowing it to avoid paying tariffs.

VELCO hopes to receive a permit for the new line this spring and begin construction during summer 2005 in order to meet a November 2006 completion deadline.

Public concerns

The power line project has been significantly revamped since it was introduced to Stowe residents at a public meeting in April. During the past several months VELCO has received extensive public input and made changes where possible, said VELCO spokesman Mace.

The company had initially proposed building 10.5 miles of new 115 kV line between Duxbury and Stowe, with a new substation at each end. The new line would have been adjacent to an existing 34.5 kV subtransmission line owned by Green Mountain Power that is parallel to and west of Route 100.

Some landowners and officials in Stowe, Waterbury, and Duxbury expressed concerns about the plan to expand the 100-foot-wide right of way corridor to 150 feet, and about the visual impact of the wooden “H-frame” structures to support the lines.

The latest project design calls for single wooden poles, and the new configuration will not require any new easements but will instead result in the new line being built entirely within the existing 100-foot transmission corridor.

For most of the 9.5-mile route, the existing 34.5 kV line will be relocated to 25 feet from the center line of the right of way where a new 115 kV line will be built. In a short segment in Waterbury, the existing 34.5 kV line will be removed and replaced by the new line.

The new design also replaces the Duxbury substation with a much smaller device connected directly to one of VELCO’s existing 115 kV lines. In addition, the company will upgrade an existing substation in Moretown to improve the reliability of the system.

Opposition steady

Many Stowe landowners with properties along the proposed line have opposed the project since it was introduced.

Stowe formed an ad hoc committee last summer to serve as a liaison between concerned residents and VELCO. More recently a group of landowners from Stowe, Waterbury, and Duxbury formed the Coalition for Alternative Power Line Options (CAPLO).

The group, which was founded this fall and received a certificate of incorporation from the state last month, has already raised $15,000 to hire an attorney to investigate its legal options.

Property owners are worried about the visual impact of the new poles and the impact they would have on property values. They also fear that once it has been approved, the power line will be extended through Morristown and beyond, further blemishing the county’s scenic corridor.

Black Bear Run resident Rick Oden says that he moved to Stowe five years ago because he fell in love with the natural beauty of the area. He’s become a vocal opponent of the project because he fears it will mar that beauty.

Oden acknowledges the need for increased electrical transmission in Stowe, but he decries the current plan because of the visual impact it would have on Stowe’s neighborhoods and on tourists entering the town, especially as they approach Moscow and Nichols Field. He would rather have the line buried or run through the Waterbury State Forest where it would be largely hidden from public view.

“I’m not going to be able to see it (the power line) from my home,” Oden said. “I just don’t want to see the whole landscape along the entrance to Stowe destroyed.”