VELCO defends need for electricity transmission line

John Dillon
MONTPELIER, VT (2003-07-15)

(Host) Various citizens groups are organizing against a major power line project planned for western Vermont. The Vermont Electric Power Company says the new line is needed to prevent power blackouts in Chittenden County. But some opponents are concerned about the health effects of high voltage transmission lines. Others say the county's energy problems can be addressed through investments in conservation programs and renewable energy.

VPR's John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) By any measure the new power line proposal is big. The 345,000 volt lines would mainly follow existing transmission corridors and would stretch from West Rutland to South Burlington. The project is expected to cost at least $125 million.

VELCO - the company that runs the state's transmission grid - says the project is needed to keep the lights on in Chittenden County. But opposition may be growing. Michael Hurlburt comes from a farm family in Monkton and founded Citizens for Safe Energy more than 20 years ago. The small citizens group was formed to fight an earlier power line project. Hurlburt says his group will weigh in again this time.

(Hurlburt) "It's been a battle. They tried back, oh in 1982, they were talking about two, 345 kv lines when Hydro Quebec was all coming about. So it's been a battle. That's what Vermont is about. We have to fight to keep the land, you know."

(Dillon) Citizens for Safe Energy has hired a lawyer and plan to oppose the project in hearings before the Public Service Board. For Hurlburt, there are three main issues: the potential health effects of the high voltage power lines, as well as the impact on property values. And, he questions the need for the project.

That's also a question raised by a small, South Burlington group called Voice for Potash Brook. Fred Kosnitsky represents the organization.

(Kosnitsky) "That's one of the reasons we want to get involved is to make sure that the Public Service Board does sort of ask the hard questions as to whether this expansion is really needed for the benefit Vermonters, or whether this is really an expansion of transmission capacity so that energy can come from the north and up going to New York and Southern New England. Are we sort of having our lands and lives and habitats disrupted to service the energy needs of the people in the big city?"

(Dillon) Kostnisky and Hurlburt say the state could do more to save energy with conservation programs.

But VELCO says the project is needed now to serve the fastest growing area of Vermont. Tom Dunn runs the project for VELCO.

(Dunn) "Even in a scenario where we use lots of energy efficiency as part of the solution, the only way we can avoid building a 345 kv line is if we put a couple of generators up in Burlington immediately."

(Dillon) Dunn says that Velco will present expert testimony that electro-magnetic fields produced by the project won't harm public health.

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