VELCO to change route of upgraded transmission lines

John Dillon
COLCHESTER, VT (2004-02-07)

(Host) The company that owns Vermont's high voltage power lines wants to change the route of a major transmission project to avoid neighborhoods and reduce environmental impacts. But the project faces a continuing legal challenge from opponents who have asked regulators to appoint a special counsel to represent the public interest.

VPR's John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Officials at the Vermont Electric Power Company, or VELCO, say they've responded to public concerns and will relocate the line in four different places. The changes include a new route around the city of Vergennes, and moving lines near Ferrisburgh, Charlotte and Shelburne to avoid neighborhoods and a school.

Tom Dunn is the manager for VELCO's Northwest Reliability Project, which involves building new power lines between West Rutland and Chittenden County. He says the changes came out of a series of public meetings held over the past two years.

(Dunn) "Well, it certainly addresses some of the concerns that we've heard about. I think it improves, it's improvement over what we've filed. Certainly not everyone is going to say this resolves all the concerns, but it's some significant changes to the project to try to make it better."

(Dillon) But a lawyer for the town of New Haven says his client will continue to fight the transmission upgrade. Attorney Jim Dumont says energy conservation is a better alternative.

(Dumont) "A good way to think about it is, if we invested money in conservation that otherwise go into this project, we wouldn't need this project. And we would save ratepayers hundreds of millions of dollar that they wouldn't be paying in their electric bills."

(Dillon) VELCO has two major selling points for the $128 million project. The first is that northwestern Vermont desperately needs to strengthen the power grid to reduce the risk of blackouts. The second selling point is that under the rules of the regional power grid, 95 percent of the cost will be covered by ratepayers in other states.

But Dumont says he's learned that investments in energy conservation would also be shared by other members of New England Power Pool, known as NEPOOL.

(Dumont) "VELCO's experts have said the conservation alternative will work, it's out there. But they're saying we can't afford it, it's too much money. Well now we know in Connecticut, NEPOOL and ISO-New England are paying for alternatives to transmission. They should be doing the same thing here."

(Dillon) Tom Dunn, the VELCO manager, says Dumont is wrong about the cost-sharing issue. And it's clear VELCO isn't looking anymore at energy conservation alternatives.

(Dunn) "We think the transmission solution is the best option of all the options on the table regardless how they're paid for."

(Dillon) Dumont and the town of New Haven have also asked utility regulators to appoint a special counsel to represent the public in the case. Dumont says the state Department of Public Service is for the project, and that the ratepayers need a stronger advocate.

For Vermont Public Radio, I'm John Dillon.