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New Haven's Green Line talks progressing

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Posted on March 31, 2016 |
By Gaen Murphree



NEW HAVEN — Negotiations continue between New Haven and developers of a renewable energy power line and high-voltage converter station in town, but town officials would not commit to when residents would get a vote on the matter.

The pace of these talks has become important as Middlebury has invited the Vermont Green Line project, which proposes running cable to move wind and hydro power from upstate New York to southern New England, to build the converter station in that town. And a VGL official has cautioned that the project must keep to its own schedule.

New Haven Selectman Steve Dupoise, who is one of two town negotiators, said talks with VGL developers Anbaric Transmission and National Grid are moving along.

“We are in negotiations, we have made some significant progress, and we’re meeting again tomorrow to hopefully continue that progress,” Dupoise said on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the New Haven selectboard warned an emergency meeting for Friday, 8:30 a.m., in the town library. The two agenda items are an executive session on Vermont Green Line negotiations and an executive session on “Solar offer.” The Independent was directed to Selectman Doug Tolles for details on the solar offer, but he didn’t return a phone call before deadline.

At the Feb. 29 town meeting, New Haven residents made clear by a nonbinding vote that they wanted the decision on the VGL converter station to go to Australian ballot. Soon thereafter, National Grid U.S. Business Director Joe Rossignoli said his group would wait for the town to weigh in before VGL applied for permission from state regulators.

“But … there is certainly a timeline around our permitting process and to the extent that the permitting process timeline becomes threatened by the negotiations we will have to begin looking at surrounding communities for the converter station,” he said.

After being approached by Middlebury Business Development Director Jamie Gaucher, Rossignoli on March 22 presented the project to the Middlebury selectboard, which appointed Gaucher and Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay to negotiate with VGL representatives on a memorandum of understanding for siting the converter station in the town’s industrial park.

At New Haven’s March 22 selectboard meeting, Richard Saudek, the attorney New Haven hired as an expert negotiator for the VGL project, said he was “pretty annoyed by the whole thing,” according to meeting minutes, but added that “we are well into the discussions and negotiations with Anbaric.”

The Vermont Green Line is a proposed underground high-voltage direct-current cable plus converter station that would bring 400 megawatts under Lake Champlain and into the New England grid at a VELCO substation in New Haven. As described by VGL representatives, the converter station requires a site of roughly four to five acres and would be roughly the size of a football field and five stories high. Developers have estimated the value of the converter station at between $100 million to $150 million. The entire VGL project itself is estimated to cost roughly $650 million.

Switching to Middlebury would cost the developers an additional $45 million to run the converted AC power to the nearest VELCO substation, Saudek told the New Haven selectboard.

The developers have offered New Haven a $3 million fire station and an amount of property taxes plus cash totaling $1 million a year for 20 years. VGL developers also made a significant concession to New Haven by agreeing to limit the project to 400 MW, rather than the originally proposed 400 MW with the potential to expand to 800 MW.

As residents have learned about the project, many have raised concerns about property values, noise, light, the potential need to update the VELCO power lines, safety, and about how a project of this scale would fit into New Haven’s rural landscape.

NEW HAVEn negotiations

So far, New Haven has secured $75,000 from VGL developers to hire its own experts. The selectboard in early February hired Robert Amelang for engineering consultation, Essex Junction-based Michael Lawrence Associates for consultation on landscaping and aesthetics, and Massachusetts-based sound consultants Cross-Spectrum Acoustics.

Dupoise said that although there have been conversations with other consultants, none have been hired at this point.

That VGL money is also being used to pay Carol Hall $200 a month to serve along with Dupoise as the town negotiators. Hall was a selectboard member when originally appointed, but lost her seat to John Roleau in the March 1 elections; so the selectboard voted to pay her to continue on in that capacity.

According to New Haven selectboard chair Kathy Barrett and the meeting minutes, Lawrence Associates have begun their analysis and have already made some recommendations that the selectboard has incorporated into its negotiations. Cross-Spectrum began its study earlier in March, placing microphones around the proposed converter station site. Cross-Spectrum’s Herb Singleton spoke with the selectboard on March 22, providing background on sound assessment. Dupoise said that Amelang’s role has been to help them “understand how this all works.”

According to both Barrett and Dupoise, the selectboard’s plan is to continue negotiations until an agreement is reached and New Haven voters have a concrete proposal to consider. The town would need 30 to 40 days to warn a special town meeting, Barrett said. The town would hold at least one, if not more, informational meetings before the vote. Barrett said the selectboard would be posting the information from the consultants as it became available. Dupoise said that the selectboard would make the information available on the town website and/or at the informational meeting(s) before the vote.

“We are working diligently to try and come to some kind of resolution so that we can bring it forward to the townspeople ASAP,” said Dupoise.

“Once we have gathered all of our information and once we have completed some kind of an agreement with Anbaric, we will then hold a meeting for everyone in town to join and we will share all that information,” Dupoise continued. “We’re working diligently at getting this done and we are hoping to do that as soon as possible, but it’s going to depend on both parties being able to make that work. It’s an ongoing discussion, and that’s where we’re at.”

Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected]

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