http://www.addisonindependent.com/velco.html

Significant conditions of VELCO project will add millions in cost

02/03/05
By ANDY KIRKALDY and JOHN FLOWERS

ADDISON COUNTY -- The fine print in the 244-page Public Service Board approval of Vermont Electric Power Company's $130 million Northwest Reliability Project reveals major changes from VELCO's original plans in Ferrisburgh, New Haven, Vergennes, Middlebury and Salisbury.

The PSB's Jan. 28 ruling granted a "Certificate of Public Good" for VELCO's plans for 62.6 miles of new 345 and 115 kilovolt lines with taller poles that will stretch from West Rutland to South Burlington -- much of it through Addison County.

But it also attached "significant conditions" that VELCO spokesman David Mace said will add millions of dollars to the project's bottom line. It is not clear at this point whether that extra expense will be borne by Vermont ratepayers or shared with utility customers throughout New England.

Those condition include the following changes:

· The 115kV line proposed for the center of Vergennes must be moved to a path that follows the railroad right-of-way in northeastern Vergennes and southeastern Ferrisburgh.

· Instead of enlarging an existing substation in New Haven, VELCO must build a new one at a different site further from the village center.

· Instead of enlarging an existing substation near the Otter Creek falls in Vergennes, VELCO must build a new substation near Kayhart Crossing in northeastern Vergennes.

· Lines originally planned to run near the Ferrisburgh Central School and a group of nearby homes must be moved further away.

· VELCO must improve the appearance of its lines and poles where they cross Route 7 in Ferrisburgh, around the new Vergennes substation, and at many other sites around the county.

· Lines owned by CVPS, Verizon and Adelphia must be buried near the intersection of Route 7 and 125 in East Middlebury, a requirement to mitigate the impact of new 345kV lines that will run nearby.

· Lines in Salisbury, Leicester and Brandon must be moved slightly and/or better screened from traveled roads.

The changes satisfied some, including Vergennes City Manager Renny Perry. Perry and other city officials last year struck a deal with VELCO to move the new 115kV line away from the city center and to have a new city substation built instead of the Otter Creek basin station enlarged. That deal, however, was contingent on PSB approval.

"Obviously, that's what we wanted, the least-impact solution," Perry said. "And that's what we got."

Others remained concerned that their towns did not get all they had hoped. Ferrisburgh selectboard Chairman Larry Simino said town officials there had asked for lowered poles near Round Barn Farm and Greenbush Road homes.

"(Concerns there) could be dealt with if they just lowered the pole heights," Simino said. "I'm concerned about pole heights."

Others opposed to the entire project were also unhappy. Vergennes resident Eben Markowski didn't get the 90-foot pole in his yard that was called for in the original VELCO plan, but was still dissatisfied with the PSB ruling.

Markowski pointed to the PSB statement that there were "significant flaws in VELCO's planning process" in foreseeing electricity demand in Northwestern Vermont and in "early consideration of feasible alternatives." He said the PSB ignored strong arguments that conservation and energy efficiency measures would have solved the area's energy reliability problem.

"It's a very confusing and frustrating ruling," Markowski said. "The only thing I can think of is the board had made up its mind in advance."

Vermonters for a Clean Environment, an organization that describes itself a "utility watchdog," also slammed the decision in a Jan. 31 press release.

Annette Smith, the VCE's executive director, said "the many, many concerns" raised by the PSB in its decision would lead the organization to continue its opposition.

"It seems the PSB agreed with community members, regional planners, even the experts who testified before them -- this project is not needed and is a poorly disguised effort to make more profit, not more reliability."

VELCO's Mace defended the company's work to meet Vermont's needs and said VELCO looks forward to the upcoming PSB probe of its planning.

"VELCO welcomes the opportunity to talk about our planning process with the board," Mace said. "We have an excellent planning department."

The full PSB decision may be found at www.state.vt.us/psb .

VELCO REACTION

Mace said the company was happy that the PSB accepted its central argument that the power line upgrade was required.

"We were very pleased with the ruling," he said.

Mace said it is too early to say how much the PSB conditions would add to the $130 million price tag.

"It's safe to say that these conditions ... will substantially add to the costs," Mace said. "Exactly how much will be determined. It will be in the millions of dollars."

As first proposed, 95 percent of the project's cost would be borne by ratepayers all over New England through Independent Systems Operators-New England, the non-profit company that works with VELCO and other regional power line firms on needs of the larger power grid.

Mace said it is also unclear how much of the additional cost will be borne directly by Vermont ratepayers or shared with their fellow customers on New England's grid.

Nor can VELCO predict when construction can begin. First, the company must have all its permits in hand, and any party to the PSB process could appeal the PSB ruling to the Vermont Supreme Court.

"It's too soon to tell where and when we would be able to begin any kind of construction," Mace said.

Mace pledged VELCO will work both with the "stakeholders" where the PSB required specific changes to mitigate the power line's appearance, and with towns and property owners who have concerns that were not specifically addressed by the PSB.

Those efforts could include changes to pole placements and heights or additional landscaping, he said.

"We will continue to work with all the parties to reduce the impact of the project to the greatest extent possible," Mace said.

FERRISBURGH AND

VERGENNES DETAILS

As well as dealing with screening for the Vergennes substation, the PSB also insisted that VELCO provide "improved screening ... for both the substation and the routing around the existing substation" off Long Point Road in Ferrisburgh near the area known as "the Slang."

"The 115 kV line crossing at Long Point Road adjacent to the Ferrisburgh Substation is aesthetically sensitive," the ruling stated. "Without appropriate mitigation, the crossing will create an undue, adverse aesthetic impact."

The PSB insisted VELCO maintain existing vegetation and screening at the station and along nearby roads and also took steps to ensure that the larger power lines will be less visible from boaters in the slang area by requiring plantings along the water's edge.

The central issue for Ferrisburgh and Vergennes remained the reroute along the railroad tracks from the original path through the heart of the city.

Even Ferrisburgh officials are happy with the proposed reroute even though it means more new lines in their town.

"I don't think that anybody could feel that going through the city of Vergennes and over the tops of houses was reasonable," Simino said.

Mace pledged VELCO would strive to meet PSB conditions for screening substations and moving poles where the line will cross Route 7 near Vergennes.

"Obviously VELCO will meet with the stakeholders in the areas specified in the board order to mitigate the aesthetic impact of the poles to the greatest extent possible," Mace said.

Simino said Ferrisburgh spent about $50,000 to present its case before the PSB, while the final Vergennes tab is likely to be between $35,000 and $40,000, Perry said.

SALISBURY

The major change in Salisbury comes in the area to the west of Route 7 near the Leicester border and the intersection of the state highway with West Salisbury Road.

The PSB called for moving the new 345kV line and an existing 115kV line out of open fields "closer to existing wooded areas that would provide some backgrounding .... Because travelers on Route 7 would see both lines in an open field and wetland for extended durations, both lines should be moved."

The PSB also called for more mitigation of proposed lines near or along the Arnold District Road in Brandon, along the Leicester-Whiting Road, and on and near Kelly Cross Road, near the Salisbury Elementary School.

MIDDLEBURY

Middlebury successfully lobbied the PSB for some changes, including the requirement for VELCO to bury distribution and telecommunications lines at the intersection of Routes 125 and 7.

Mace said VELCO will compensate Verizon, Adelphia and CVPS for burying those lines, work that might cost $500,000.

Town Planner Fred Dunnington was also pleased to see the PSB require VELCO to do some aggressive landscaping and planting near Halpin and Painter roads to mask the visual impact of the larger transmission towers.

Residents and towns that weren't actively involved in the permitting process will be allowed to give input before VELCO begins construction, Dunnington added.

"I think this was a huge decision, both literally and figuratively," Dunnington said of the PSB verdict. "I think the board carefully considered everything we had raised."

NEW HAVEN

Mace said the move of the substation about 1,500 feet is not a done deal because the new site must be investigated to see if there are native American artifacts or environmental problems there.

"The board has ordered us to attempt to move the New Haven substation to the general area presented by the town of New Haven," he said. "It's impossible to say with certainty the substation will be at the new location."

Meanwhile, New Haven officials and activists gave mixed reviews to the PSB decision. New Haven residents had voted a total of $35,000 to represent the town's interests at the PSB hearings.

VELCO had proposed substantially expanding its substation, now located on .88 acres off Town Hill Road, to 6.8 acres. Local officials argued that such a move would create an eyesore in an area close to the downtown and Beeman Elementary School.

The community instead urged the company to relocate and expand the substation at a less-obtrusive site around 1,500 feet southwest of its present location.

The PSB agreed with the town -- in spite of the fact that such a move is likely to cost VELCO between $1.8 and $2.3 million more. VELCO had hoped to spend $100,000 to mitigate the substation expansion at its current location.

The PSB concluded, "that the proposed project would have a substantial adverse aesthetic impact on the area ... The proposed substation would be out of context and not in harmony with the area in which it is located."

New Haven Selectman Larry Buck was pleased with the substation verdict.

"It would have been a major eyesore, so close to the center of the community," Buck said.

New Haven selectmen had not discussed an official response to the PSB decision as the Addison Independent went to press.

One New Haven resident, Sansea Sparling, a member of Voices for Sensible Energy Solutions (VSES), said she was "very disappointed" with the PSB ruling.

As a citizens' group, VSES closely monitored the VELCO project and raised money to pay for legal help and expert witnesses during the PSB review.

Sparling said she was concerned the PSB decision:

· Was made in the absence of a comprehensive energy plan for the state of Vermont.

· Did not adequately reflect less-costly alternatives -- such as conservation and new small power-generating plants in Vermont regions that need greater electricity generation.

· Paves the way for a 345kV line to eventually be installed between New Haven and Williston. The current VELCO project strings 345kV line from West Rutland to New Haven.

"I'm sorry (the PSB) wasn't more bold, that they didn't deny parts of (the project)," Sparling said.

Markowski and some other opponents would have preferred a complete return to the drawing board. Failing to address energy consumption needs and to produce clean energy in northwestern Vermont will simply result in the same issues arising again in the future, he said.

"We're just not progressing," Markowski said. "This is the same system that put us in this position that we're in now, and it gives them (VELCO) the opportunity to do it all over again."