Capital bill includes money to study dam purchase

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(Host) The Vermont Senate on Thursday gave preliminary approval to legislation that allocates nearly $40 million in state and local construction projects. The bill includes $250,000 to study the feasibility of having the state buy eight hydroelectric dams in the Connecticut River Valley.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The legislation is known as the capital construction bill. It’s an annual appropriation of state bond monies for a variety of projects across the state.

The bill this year includes several big ticket items such as: almost nine million dollars for school construction projects, three million dollars for the maintenance of the state college system, $8.8 million for community sewer and water treatment projects and just over four million dollars for a new courthouse in Rutland. The legislation also contains $250,000 to conduct a feasibility study to determine if it makes sense for the state to purchase several hydro dams in the Connecticut River Valley.

There are six dams on the Connecticut River and two on the Deerfield River. It’s estimated that about 20% of the state’s power needs could be generated from these dams. The bill creates a special acquisition authority that has the power to negotiate the purchase of the dams in the event that the study recommends that action. The Legislature would ultimately have to give its approval to the plan.

Senate Institutions chairman Vincent Illuzzi (R-Essex-Orleans) thinks the state should carefully review the possibility of buying these dams from a California based utility:

(Illuzzi) “Today we have an opportunity to perhaps acquire those assets at bargain basement prices. Because of the tumultuous nature of the energy business and because of the problems that plagued PG&E in the western part of the country including California, those assets have now been placed on the market for sale. And based on testimony received by our committee they may be available for a price of between $600 and $900 million, which could be less than half of what they sold for just a short time ago.”

(Kinzel) The legislation will come up for final approval in the Senate on Friday afternoon.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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