Burlington Free Press
Commentary
November 2, 2003

UPGRADES SHOULD BE DENIED

By Linda Hamilton

I have reviewed the Vermont Electric Power Company's permit application to the Public Service Board for a Certificate of Public Good related to what it is calling the Northwest Vermont Reliability Project.
They propose to replace much of their 535-mile network between Rutland and Burlington with higher capacity lines and substations and install additional high voltage lines between West Rutland and New Haven and from New Haven through Ferrisburgh, Charlotte and Shelburne to South Burlington. I have very serious concerns about this project and believe strongly it does not warrant a Certificate of Public Good.
First and foremost, I question the presumption of need. In a time when Vermont and the nation must be moving quickly and creatively toward sustainable production strategies and conservative use of energy, this application represents basically more of the same old attitudes and approaches which will not lead us toward the desired energy-secure future.
What the larger community "needs" is a working partnership of energy producers, movers and distributors which facilitates the production and sale of clean renewable energy (preferably from decentralized, small-scale production units), and meaningful financial and other disincentives for wasteful use of energy, and incentives for conservation.
VELCO, as the main mover of our electricity, could be a leader in such a partnership. But this application shows that it is not only failing to move us toward reliability, it is reinforcing approaches to energy which make the current system unsustainable.
This proposed upgrade of facilities and lines promotes the continuation of a system which must be radically changed if we are ever to have electric service to Vermonters which is truly reliable. If we want reliability, the system must be sustainable. This means clean, renewable ways of producing energy and moving it around, and fair distribution of the environmental, social and economic costs of consumption. The current system is certainly not reliable in these terms, and this makes the need for change to a sustainable system urgent, before what we have collapses. And collapse it will, if a system is not sustainable environmentally and/or socially.
VELCO's reason for being is to manage the transmission grid of high voltage lines and substations for 16 Vermont utilities and make money as a company in the process. This application seems to me to be mostly about managing the grid in order to make money, and this does not serve the community well. It is too short-sighted and self-serving.
It is up to the community through the Public Service Board to hold VELCO and the whole energy industry to a much higher standard of social responsibility. They only serve us well if the whole system -- energy production, movement, and distribution to users -- is clean and fair. Only that will make it sustainable and therefore reliable.
I call for the denial of this permit application by the Public Service Board, and a creative joint re-thinking of energy strategies by municipalities, the citizenry and the energy industry, so that five years from now we are not sitting with the Public Service Board again discussing yet another transmission line and substation upgrade without having come to grips with the real problems of how to build a grid which supports production of clean renewable energy and promotes its careful conservative use.
Linda Hamilton, a Charlotte resident, serves on the Charlotte Conservation Commission.