Power line questions remain unanswered
NEW HAVEN — The tidy yellow house in mint condition has stood unsold since first constructed in 2005.
“Within months of when we broke ground, they broke ground,” said contractor Ken Ruddy of Fiddlehead Construction, remembering when VELCO dug in on its 2006 upgrade to the New Haven to West Rutland electric power lines.
For 10 years the yellow cape on Town Hill Road in New Haven has sat, sometimes rented but largely unoccupied, in the shadow of the 90-foot towers that carry VELCO’s 345 kV transmission lines across Addison County.
A new proposal by Anbaric Transmission to add 400-800 MW of power to the transmission lines has some wondering if those 345 kV transmission lines will have to be upgraded again. The 70- to 100-foot poles that carry this line, which passes through four Addison County towns — Leicester, Salisbury, Middlebury and New Haven — were erected just a decade ago.
Wakefield, Mass.-based Anbaric is proposing to lay 60 miles of cable from upstate New York, under Lake Champlain, and into New Haven along existing roadways, all underground. The power line would come above ground at the proposed new converter station just west of the VELCO substation. Anbaric proposes to lay two cables capable of carrying 400 MW each, but to build a converter station to handle just 400 MW and apply for permits to onboard the additional 400 MW later.
Anbaric calls the project the Vermont Green Line (VGL) because it would deliver electricity generated from renewable wind and hydro sources in upstate New York to customers in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
VELCO’s 2006 upgrade left Addison County with two sets of high voltage transmission lines, a smaller 115 kV line that is more the size of ordinary power lines and a 345 kV line set on 70-to-100-foot-tall poles that are taller than most trees, barns and other structures as far as the eye can see.
“It sounds like this project is certainly profitable for Anbaric and its investor National Grid and has the potential to be a good thing for the New England environment in general, but the question is, ‘Is it a win for the town of New Haven?’” said New Haven resident Mark Pedersen. Pedersen, an electrical engineer, has begun using his professional training to further investigate the project and its potential impacts locally.
POWER LINE UPGRADE?
When asked, neither VELCO nor Anbaric Transmission could say definitively what impacts the proposed addition of 400-800 MW of electricity would have on the VELCO transmission grid. Some New Haven residents and officials are asking: Would that increased load require higher-voltage transmission lines and higher towers?
Anbaric’s own preliminary studies lead them to believe that plugging their power in at New Haven will cause no appreciable changes. In fact, an earlier iteration of the project called the Grand Isle Intertie designed to plug into the New England grid at the Essex substation was scrapped in favor of the Vermont Green Line ending in New Haven because the transmission lines north of New Haven are only 115 kV. That makes New Haven the northernmost terminus of the New England energy superhighway west of the Green Mountains.
In the northeast corner of the state a 450 kV line runs south from the Canadian border. VELCO says the average height of the towers carrying those transmission lines is 100 feet.
The only organization that could answer New Haven’s concerns definitively is ISO-New England, a nongovernmental nonprofit entity that regulates the six-state electrical grid. ISO-New England coordinates the flow of electricity over the region’s high-voltage transmission system, oversees wholesale electricity markets, and does long-range planning.
“We’re in the midst of a very long study process with the ISO,” said Anbaric project manager Bryan Sanderson when asked if current power lines in New Haven could handle the power Anbaric would like to deliver there. “The ISO is currently conducting a series of system-impact studies designed to measure the interactions with all the other players on the grid, all the generation units, etc. So it is a very long and detailed study process. We’re anticipating that by the end of the year they’ll start to have some results from that process, but right now we really can’t say.
“What we believe and what our own internal analysis has shown,” continued Sanderson, “is that there’s adequate head room on the existing grid to handle our flows without triggering major upgrades. Again, that’s our internal analysis. We don’t know what the ISO’s position will be at the end of the study process — there are so many assumptions that go into the modeling.”
A representative for VELCO, which owns the power lines from New Haven south, is less certain about keeping the status quo.
“I think it’s fair to say it wouldn’t surprise us if there were requirements for upgrades in the system that may or may not take place at that particular substation in New Haven,” said VELCO Vice President of Communications, Systems and Strategy Kerrick Johnson.
Johnson said that according to ISO rules, if a company such as Anbaric causes changes to the system, that company has to pay for those changes. Too many changes, Johnson said, would make a project less profitable and hence less desirable to an independent company such as Anbaric.
For its part, ISO-New England won’t shed any light on the subject.
Asked when Addison County residents could see the results of the ISO’s system impact studies on the Vermont Green Line, ISO spokeswoman Marcia Blomberg responded, “We can’t discuss specific projects, their status, or the status of studies involving them.”
Blomberg did say that at the end of the study process it sends a “determination letter” to the applicant, “including any conditions that may be required to ensure no adverse impact,” and that that determination letter is then posted on the ISO’s website.
BETWEEN SUPPLY AND DEMAND
Finding and transmitting renewable energy is a hot topic. Last April, the governors of all six New England states met to discuss how to increase the supply of renewable energy throughout the region. This past June, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a law requiring that 55 percent of the energy sold by Vermont utilities come from renewable sources by 2017.
But northern rural states like Vermont — and small towns like New Haven — now find themselves in the path of multimillion- and billion-dollar renewable energy projects that would deliver green power from Quebec and upstate New York for far larger populations and energy demands to the south. Projects such as the Vermont Green Line would help the region but not Vermont itself meet its renewable energy goals. For VGL, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island would get the renewable energy credit.
“Vermont finds itself between supply — low-carbon supply — and low-carbon renewable energy demand,” said VELCO’s Johnson. “But the fundamental question of, ‘What exactly is our role and what will that mean for the impacts on the landscape?’ — that’s what we’re wrestling with on a grand scale.”
At present, three high-voltage projects are being proposed to go through Vermont or under Lake Champlain. In addition to Anbaric’s Vermont Green Line, competitor TDI (Transmission Developers Inc.) has a proposed New England Power Link that would run a 1,000 MW cable from the Canadian border, under Lake Champlain and underground to Ludlow. TDI has also proposed the Champlain Hudson Power Express that would run a 1,000 MW cable under Lake Champlain and underground in New York state to New York City. Three similar projects known as the Maine Green Line, Northeast Energy Link and Northern Pass are in various stages of proposal and development in New Hampshire and Maine. Citizen protest in New Hampshire just resulted in changes to the Northern Pass project, the developer of which has now agreed to put 60 miles of cable — rather than just eight miles — underground.
The overall complexity of the energy grid and how the pieces interconnect and are financed and regulated is changing, said Johnson.
“The form of generation, what energy is produced, where it is produced, how it’s transmitted and how it’s being used — it’s all changing. In addition to the overarching policies that govern the financial impacts and the siting considerations — all that is changing,” Johnson said.
“I know that doesn’t present a whole lot of comfort if you just want to say, ‘What am I going to see out my kitchen window?’” Johnson added. “We’re all kind of in this together. Everyone is feeling this change and trying to strike that balance that conserves Vermont and carves out an appropriate role for us within the regional, national and international picture.
“It’s evolving at a pace that it hasn’t evolved at heretofore. And that pace of change, that pace of transformation is accelerating.
“What we’re advocating at the regional level, advocating at ISO, is, ‘Let’s do more with nontransmission alternatives.’ And that’s moving a very large ship.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected].