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New Haven wary of yet another transmission line proposal

NEW HAVEN — A standing-room-only crowd packed the meeting room at the New Haven town offices Monday night to hear a proposal for a renewable-energy transmission line project that would bring 400 megawatts of wind power and hydropower from upstate New York into the New England grid at the Vermont Electric Power Co. (VELCO) substation in New Haven.
While some welcomed the potentially huge property tax payments the project would bring to New Haven, others worried that it would have an undue adverse impact on the rural landscape.
The so-called Vermont Green Line (VGL) project is being proposed by Anbaric Transmission, a Wakefield, Mass., company that specializes in renewable power transmission projects. According to Anbaric, the project would benefit both the Vermont and New Haven economies and would benefit the New England region as a whole by bringing much-needed renewable energy into the grid.
The question-and-answer session following the presentation revealed residents’ concerns and frustrations fueled by the outcomes of previous energy projects, most notably by recent solar projects and VELCO’s installation of 79-foot towers carrying 345 kiloVolt transmission lines — a project that was fiercely opposed for a number of years before VELCO built it in 2006.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION
Anbaric Transmission wants to lay 60 miles of underground HVDC (high-voltage direct current) cable from Beekmantown, N.Y. (north of Plattsburgh), under Lake Champlain to a point near Kingsland Bay in Ferrisburgh, along public road right-of-ways to Route 7 and down into New Haven, explained Anbaric spokesman and VGL project manager Bryan Sanderson. The cable would be encased in concrete and buried four feet under the surface.
The HVDC technology allows the cables to move electricity across long distances with negligible loss of power.
As currently designed, the Vermont Green Line will be capable of moving 400 megawatts, roughly two-thirds the power generated by the now-shuttered 600 megawatt Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.
Although the project and converter station would be designed for 400 megawatts, Sanderson explained that Anbaric Transmission would be laying two cables in the VGL trenches, which would give the VGL the future capacity to carry 800 megawatts.
“To move to the higher voltage level and thus the higher level of power flow would require upgrading the converter stations to operate at plus or minus 320 kV,” Sanderson explained in a follow-up email. At the meeting, Sanderson explained that such a process would have to be re-permitted.
The company chose New Haven because it’s the northernmost point of VELCO’s 345 kV transmission lines. All 60 miles of the cable would be underground, in trenches four feet deep. To install the 40 miles of cable that would go under Lake Champlain, Anbaric would use what’s called a jet plow to create a trench and lay the cable.
As described in Anbaric’s presentation, the jet plow “uses high-pressure water to simultaneously create a trench and lay the cable, which is buried as sediments naturally resettle.” On the Vermont side, Anbaric says the underground cable would exit the lake at Kingsland Bay State Park in Ferrisburgh, travel east along public roadways to Route 7, go south along Route 7, and then continue along public roadways in New Haven to the currently proposed site near the VELCO substation south of Route 17. According to Sanderson, the company would aim for the project to have minimal impact and would restore and re-vegetate disrupted areas.
“We’re a small company that works with the communities that we’re involved with to minimize the impacts to the communities and to ensure that you here in New Haven see benefits,” said Sanderson.
In addition to the 60 miles of underground HVDC cable, the Vermont Green Line project would begin and end with a converter station, one in Beekmantown to convert AC power from the New York grid into DC to be carried through the HVDC cables, and a converter station in New Haven to change the 400 megawatts back into AC power. Sanderson explained that AC cables would lose too much power to be effective in transmitting electricity such a long distance.
The proposed New Haven converter station requires a site of at least four to five acres and would be located due west of the existing VELCO substation. The converter station itself would be a 50-foot-tall structure, with a 150-foot-by-300-foot footprint (a football field is 160 feet by 360 feet) designed to look like a red barn. Two other far smaller outbuildings would complete the compound.
From the converter station, Sanderson said, an underground connection would then “put you onto VELCO’s 345 kV system, which is essentially part of the superhighway of the New England energy system.”
Sanderson stressed that Anbaric would be careful to screen the site as much as possible from its neighbors.
Anbaric looks to gather public feedback through a series of gatherings, this one being the first, and, if local favor is approved, to then begin the permitting process sometime in 2016 so that construction could start in 2017. Anbaric expects construction to last three years.
As currently proposed, the actual electricity carried to the VELCO “superhighway” by Anbaric’s Vermont Green Line project would be sold to ratepayers in Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts. These states have a combined population 18 times that of Vermont and together consume roughly 17 times the amount of electricity as Vermont. In March 2015, these three states issued what’s called a request for proposal (RFP) for delivery of renewable energy from new sources, and the Vermont Green Line project is Anbaric’s response to that RFP. According to Sanderson, the outcome of that bidding process won’t be finalized until sometime in the spring or summer of 2016.
FINANCIAL BENEFITS
The chief benefit Anbaric holds for New Haven is financial, largely in terms of tax benefits and lease payments. The proposed converter station will have an estimated value of between $100 million to $150 million.
Anbaric is also offering to make lease payments for the use of public rights of way to install underground cable along town roads.
On the whole, this would dramatically lower the property tax rate in town, said town officials.
New Haven’s grand list today is approximately $260 million. If Anbaric’s project comes in at approximately $130 million, that could increase the town’s grand list by 50 percent and add roughly $2.5 million annually to town coffers. That, in turn, would dramatically reduce the tax rate for New Haven residents, but Town Treasurer Barb Torian when reached on the phone Wednesday afternoon explained she couldn’t calculate the combined drop in school and municipal taxes on a moment’s notice.
Additionally, during the projected three years of construction, Anbaric believes the project would employ around 500 workers.
But given New Haven’s recent experiences with other energy-related projects, residents expressed doubts that promised financial benefits would actually accrue, a sentiment amplified by selectboard Chair Kathy Barrett.
As examples, Barrett noted the difference between what the town had expected and what it has actually received on solar array projects and on the Vermont Gas pipeline project.
Taxes on solar arrays decreased by as much as a third in some cases between 2014 and 2015, Barrett noted, when the Legislature changed how solar projects are appraised. Vermont Gas completed construction on the New Haven pressure regulation station in 2014, but the station cannot be added to the grand list and taxed until the pipeline is complete and natural gas begins to flow, she added. As protests against that project continue, it is unclear when or if that will happen.
As expressed by Barrett, many in New Haven feel like, “Whoa, wait just a minute here. We put up with this and now everything we thought we were going to get as a benefit is gone or drastically diminished.”
SKEPTICISM
Attendees at Monday’s gathering also raised concerns about noise from the converter station and the scale of the project.
“We don’t have things of this size here, and I don’t want to look at that,” said one attendee. “We don’t have things that look like that.”
And because many of the solar arrays haven’t been screened as promised, these concerns tapped into ongoing aggravation many residents feel at promises made but not kept by other electricity-generating and electricity-transmitting projects.
Many of the questions and concerns raised at Monday’s gathering centered around how or if Anbaric’s additional 400 megawatts might affect the existing VELCO powerlines, with its 75-foot towers and 345 kV wire. Attendees spoke out about the constant hum from the 345 kV wire, the ways that the 75-foot towers disfigure the Addison County landscape, the possible health risks of electromagnetic fields (a disputed subject) and the overall sense that with past power projects residents’ concerns had not been heard by those carrying out the project or by state authorities.
“The town just feels like we’ve become a dumping ground for any kind of energy,” Barrett said in an interview after the meeting. “We’ve had promises broken so many times or expectations were not fulfilled. Either we had too high of an expectation or we didn’t express it well enough. There’s a lot of different reasons. But what we had expected is not what we got.”
Attendees also wanted to know what would happen to the VELCO towers and high-voltage transmission lines if the Anbaric cabling was switched on to its full 800 megawatt capacity. Would VELCO bring in even higher steel towers or add an additional transmission system, as they did in 2006 when putting the new towers and lines alongside the old system?
Anbaric representatives answered questions as accurately and straightforwardly as they could, but they couldn’t answer a number of technical questions concerning VELCO’s capacity and other matters, saying they would find out those answers for future meetings.
Anbaric officials stressed that Monday’s gathering was the first of many projected opportunities for public discussion and that Anbaric would not go ahead with the project without public support.
“We’ve got to make it right for Vermont and make it right for New Haven,” said Joseph Rossignoli, director of Anbaric Transmission’s VGL investment partner National Grid, “or the project’s not going to work. Give us a chance, and we’ll convince you.”
Sanderson stressed that the company has worked carefully on other projects to minimize impacts and has been thoughtful on such issues as converter station design, where a locality wanted the converter station to be less visible. A converter station in Sayreville, N.J., for example, was designed to look like a brick factory, complete with clock tower.
When VELCO representatives were subsequently asked how or if Anbaric Transmission’s proposed 400 megawatt input at the New Haven station might affect VELCO’s transmission lines and the structures along the New Haven-Rutland corridor, they did not provide a clear answer.
Sanderson and the other Anbaric representatives said that if after a series of public outreach discussions it became clear that New Haven didn’t want the project, they would then look for a different route into Vermont, most likely through the VELCO substation in West Rutland.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].

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