• $1.2B buried power line planned for Vt.
    By
     | May 07,2014
     

    Private developers are proposing a $1.2 billion hydropower transmission line to run 100 miles underneath Lake Champlain from the Canadian border to Benson, then 50 miles east along and below major highway rights-of-way to a planned $200 million converter station in Ludlow.

    The New England Clean Power Link would carry 1,000 megawatts of high voltage direct current — enough to serve 1 million households — through two 6-inch-thick plastic-covered cables dug 4 feet under or near such state roads as Routes 4, 7 and 103 to the Vermont Electric Power Company’s current connector in Cavendish.

    “Once completed, the project will lower costs for consumers, reduce environmental emissions, create jobs, increase tax revenues and diversify fuel supply in New England, all while respecting Vermont’s natural beauty by burying the lines,” Transmission Developers Inc. of New England says on its website, necplink.com.

    The project, to be financed by investors who’ll charge tolls to electric companies using it, faces extensive federal, state and local review. But developers are aiming for completion by 2019 and estimate it could save consumers $2 billion in energy costs over the first decade of the line’s 40-year life.

    For people wondering if such a plan is a pipe dream, TDI notes it’s a subsidiary of the New York City-based Blackstone Group LP, an equity firm that manages $230 billion in assets. It also has received preliminary approval for a $2.2 billion Champlain Hudson Power Express project, which is on track to lay 333 miles of similar line from Quebec through New York state to Queens by 2018.

    Independent energy, economic and environmental interests are reviewing the plan with equal parts concern and curiosity.

    “We’re taking a hard look at the proposal, but we are intrigued,” Christopher Kilian, director of the Vermont office of the Conservation Law Foundation, said Tuesday. “With appropriate mitigation for potential environmental harms and assurances that this power supply will not undermine other important objectives like efficiency and other renewable sources, we think this should be given serious consideration.”

    Developers are starting by explaining their Vermont project to local leaders along the proposed route. On Monday, they unveiled a map to the Ludlow Select Board, which sat silently before one of its five members summed up their reaction with one word: “Interesting.”

    Project manager Josh Bagnato said the line would diversify the energy supply in a greater New England region set to retire not only the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon but also nearly 30 coal- and gas-fired facilities representing more than 25 percent of the area’s electricity-generating capacity.

    “There’s concern about having too much dependence on natural gas,” said Bagnato, noting the fuel now provides nearly 50 percent of the region’s power.

    The hydropower line, he continued, also would create hundreds of construction jobs and new tax revenue, reduce greenhouse gas and other air pollutant emissions, protect against volatility in electrical supply and prices and provide below-ground infrastructure strong enough to withstand most natural disasters.

    The first 97 miles would be laid under Lake Champlain using “low-impact installation techniques,” Bagnato said, while the remaining 50 miles would run along existing highway rights-of-way.

    “Our proposal is to bury it in your roads,” Bagnato told the Ludlow Select Board. “We’d leave them in better shape than we found them.”

    Developers explored other placement options, but found rail routes ran alongside too many wetlands and VELCO, which runs the 345-kilovolt Coolidge substation in Cavendish, had yet to respond to a request to use its own rights-of-way.

    “We want to stress that we are committed to constructing the line using the highest environmental standards to protect Lake Champlain and Vermont’s natural beauty,” Donald Jessome, TDI New England’s President and CEO, said in a statement.

    Developers recently received Federal Energy Regulatory Commission authorization to sell transmission rights at negotiated market rates, but still require U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permission to place the line in “navigable waters” and a federal Department of Energy permit for power transmission projects that connect at international borders.

    The plan also requires a Vermont Public Service Board certificate of public good and environmental, economic, energy and health and safety review by the state agencies of Natural Resources and Transportation.

    @Tagline:kevin.oconnor @rutlandherald.com

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