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Electric Grid's Reliability Focus of PR Campaign    

John Dillon    
MONTPELIER, VT (2004-07-20)    
(Host) The agency that operates the New England electric transmission grid has launched a public relations campaign in support of a major power line proposal in Vermont. But an opponent of the project says the agency is misleading regulators and the public.
VPR's John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) ISO New England is the independent system operator that oversees the regional transmission network. The Massachusetts-based non-profit says northwest Vermont faces a looming transmission bottleneck that could lead to blackouts in 2006.
The ISO strongly supports a $150 million power line upgrade that the Vermont Electric Power Company wants to build from West Rutland to South Burlington. Dominic Slowey, a public relations consultant for the ISO, says Vermont faces a triple threat to its electric supply. He says there's not enough in-state generation sources, there's a growing demand in the summertime and an inadequate transmission network.
(Slowey) "It will reach a point where, during the peak time during the summer, and we project that could come as early as 2006 where there just won't be enough energy produced in-state and the transmission system won't be able to carry it from out-of-state. So we'd end up with a situation where there'd be emergency electricity transmission issues during the high-demand periods."
(Dillon) In an information package supplied to local media in Vermont, Slowey says energy conservation programs alone will not work to solve the problem. He says last year's black out in the Northeast shows that one failure in the transmission grid can cascade to cause massive problems across the region.
But Jim Dumont, a lawyer for the town of New Haven, says the ISO is simply repeating the same misleading arguments. During a break in a hearing on the project on Tuesday, Dumont says that conservation should still be on the table.
(Dumont) "This is the same information they submitted last winter, just heated up and served all over again. They ignore the fact that the sworn testimony disputes some of what they put in this PR notice. The sworn testimony from VELCO's experts is that they've known about this problem since the 1990s and they did nothing to study the conservation alternative until the last possible second when it was too late to get everybody else on board. That's why we're in this pickle."
(Dillon) Project opponents want VELCO to place some of the power lines underground for aesthetic reasons and to reduce the impact on property values.
But ISO says if Vermont chooses to bury the lines, the project will not be eligible for a regional cost-sharing proposal. Under that plan, 95 percent of the cost would be covered by ratepayers in other states. Dumont says the cost-sharing question is still undecided.
For Vermont Public Radio, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.