Board approves VELCO transmission line, imposes conditions

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(Host) State regulators have approved a $130 million transmission line for the northwestern side of the state. But the Public Service Boards imposed many conditions on the project, including a requirement that the line be buried near Lake Champlain in Shelburne. The board also said the Vermont Electric Power Company had done a poor job of planning for the region’s energy needs.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) After more than a year of hearings, the Public Service Board concluded that the transmission grid needs to be strengthened in order to improve reliability in northwestern Vermont.

But in its lengthy order, the board imposed substantial conditions on the Vermont Electric Power Company, which operates the state’s transmission network. First, the board wants VELCO to bury 1.4 miles of line near Lake Champlain in Shelburne. The PSB says VELCO must also move a controversial substation in New Haven and come up with a better proposal for its line in Charlotte.

Regardless of the conditions, VELCO President John Donleavy said he was happy with the order.

(Donleavy) “We are pleased with the ruling by the Public Service Board that the project is necessary and it promotes the general’s good of Vermont. This is a huge step forward in getting this much needed project built.”

(Dillon) The new power lines are designed to improve the transmission network feeding northwestern Vermont and Chittenden County, the most populated area of the state. The project includes a 345 kilovolt line from West Rutland to New Haven and a 115 kilovolt line from New Haven to South Burlington.

The power lines sparked controversy in several towns along the route. Residents of Charlotte and Shelburne wanted the line buried through their communities.

Although the board ordered VELCO to bury 1.4 miles of the line in Shelburne along Lake Champlain, Shelburne Republican Representative Joyce Errecart was not satisified.

(Errecart) “Well, I’m disappointed. This could have worse, but it could have been better. The town position was that roughly three miles should have been buried because there’s roughly three miles comes very close to homes, some 20 or 30 feet from some people’s homes.”

(Dillon) Shelburne residents were concerned that the lines posed a cancer risk for children and other people living nearby. But the PSB said the overall evidence is weak that electromagnetic fields pose any health risk.

Perhaps the strongest language in the ruling was aimed at VELCO’s planning process. The board said that if VELCO had reacted earlier to a surge in electricity demand and had focused strongly on energy conservation, it might have found alternatives to the project. The board opened up a new docket designed to improve VELCO’s forecasting abilities.

Although the board chastised VELCO, Mark Sinclair, a lawyer for the Conservation Law Foundation, said it should have take stronger action.

(Sinclair) “This is just a bark without a bite. The utilities are not serious about actually investing in a clean energy future for Vermont. And our regulators are willing to let them get away with violating our laws. So I’m very frustrated with the failure of our regulatory system to actually achieve a clean energy future for our state.”

(Dillon) The PSB also required VELCO to relocate and lower many of its poles, plant protective screening along the route, and take other steps to reduce the visual impact of the project.

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

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