New Haven brings skepticism to Vt. Green Line Q&A session
NEW HAVEN — New Haven residents continue to grapple with whether — and on what terms — to accept the Vermont Green Line, a 400-megawatt renewable energy transmission project that proposes to site a large electrical converter station near the VELCO substation.
Last Tuesday, Dec. 8, more than 100 residents packed the New Haven Town Hall for an informational meeting, conducted according to Town Meeting rules and overseen by town moderator Pam Marsh.
Residents — standing and identifying themselves by name and street of residence — pitched questions at Vermont Green Line representatives for over two hours.
Among the many concerns raised were health and safety, compensation for adjacent property owners, benefits to the town, whether the converter station might be a target for terrorism, the project timeline, interactions with the Public Service Board, details about construction, and decommissioning.
Among the most contentious issues throughout the evening were sound mitigation and trustworthiness.
Members of a community that has seen big energy projects from VELCO, Vermont Gas and large-scale solar arrays were keen to know the precise mechanisms by which the Vermont Green Line partnership would be held accountable for promises made to the town. New Haven residents also asked their selectboard members more than once how the board would assess the will of the people, specifically if they would put the issue to a vote.
The biggest announcement on the part of the Vermont Green Line partnership was that they would install an HVDC (high voltage direct current) cable of only 400 MW, rather than the 800 MW cable originally planned. VGL spokesperson Joe Rossignoli called this change in plan “a significant concession by the company.”
Rossignoli also presented a slightly different version of the town “benefits” package. In November meetings, the VGL partnership offered the town municipal taxes of roughly $271,600 to $358,050 (depending on the estimated value of the building) plus an additional $700,000 per year for 20 years. At the Dec. 8 meeting, Rossignoli offered the town municipal taxes plus whatever amount would bring the total to $1 million.
Finally, he said that the converter station might be unmanned and run remotely rather than manned 24/7 by one to two persons as previously indicated.
WHAT IT IS
The VGL partnership, which calls itself the Green Line Infrastructure Alliance (GLIA), brings together large-scale electric transmission project developer Anbaric Transmission of Wakefield, Mass., with investment partner National Grid, a British electric and gas company with U.S. headquarters in Waltham, Mass.
The proposed Vermont Green Line would link — via 60 miles of underground cable — wind and hydropower generated near Beekmantown, N.Y., to the New England power grid at the VELCO substation in New Haven. The use of 400 MW HVDC cable allows the project to be buried and to transmit electricity long-distance efficiently.
The converter station — as large as a football field and five stories high — would convert the DC power to AC power before putting it onto the 345 kV VELCO lines. The proposed five-acre site is an L-shaped piece of land off Route 7, directly west of the VELCO substation. In addition to the converter station the compound would include storage and administration buildings.
The VGL partnership says the New Haven substation is the most cost-effective place to plug into the New England grid.
As proposed, the renewable energy would go to Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island; Vermont would receive no renewable energy credits from the project to help toward meeting the state’s goal of getting 90 percent of its power from renewable sources by 2050. A GLIA spokesperson said in an email to the Independent that “VGL is completely open to discussions regarding the participation of Vermont utilities in procuring renewable power over the line.”
SOUND AND FURY
GLIA had six representatives at Tuesday’s meeting. In addition to the selectboard, New Haven was represented by Montpelier attorney Richard Saudek, recently hired to by the town.
As at several of the earlier meetings, concerns about sound — converting DC to AC is a noise-generating process — were voiced on Tuesday.
At the Dec. 8 meeting GLIA officials committed to sound levels of:
• 40 dBA outside any residences, which it defined as equivalent to a quiet office, and
• 35 dBA for tonal sounds, equivalent to a quiet library.
But numerous residents questioned GLIA representatives about sound levels at the perimeter of the conversion facility. These exchanges drew the most heat from the audience and the most gruffness from Joe Rossignoli, National Grid’s director of U.S. business development.
Resident Kathleen Ready: “I would like to know at the fence line what the decibel level is. I would like to know what the decibel level would be at your boundary line.”
Rossignoli: “I respect that you would like to know that but, again, we’re thinking that it’s more important for folks to know what it’s going to sound like in their home. No one’s going to live at the property line.”
Ready: “This is an issue of transparency.”
Rossignoli: “Could you elaborate on why it’s important to know that.”
Ready: “You’ve been asked multiple times what it’s going to be at the property line. Answer the question.”
Rossignoli: “I think I have.”
Ready: “So their answer is that they’re refusing to measure it at the property line. You can make your conclusions based on that.”
Rossignoli then said that they could model the sound, but that “we don’t intend to commit to a standard or a sound level at the property line.”
Saudek noted that issues around sound created by energy-generation projects have often ended up in court and that residents were wise to raise their concerns.
In answer to concerns about how GLIA would bind itself to its agreements with New Haven, Rossignoli assured the crowd that his company would adhere to whatever was in the regulator’s Certificate of Public Good. Residents immediately said this was of little assurance.
New Haven resident Victor LaBerge, who works for Middlebury’s water utilities, pointed out the difference between reality and expectation in the case of municipalities’ dealings with Vermont Gas Systems.
“So if you build it and it doesn’t come out as promised do you go back to the town and say, ‘Boy, we’re really sorry we didn’t get it there?’” LaBerge said. “What’s the action to get what you promised?”
“What kind of enforcement are we going to get?” asked resident Mike Lee. “Is there going to be some sort of agreement with the town?”
Rossignoli replied that requirements would be put into a written document with the selectboard.
Another resident asked if National Grid had data on how property values had changed when utility projects went in. He said he did not. Someone else asked why the payment to the town in addition to taxes would last only 20 years. Rossignoli said that that was the length of expected utility contracts in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Part way through the evening and again at the end, residents asked the selectboard how it intended to assess the will of the community.
“Does that mean a vote?” someone asked. “Or does that mean we say something?”
As chairs scraped and coats began to be pulled on, several attendees informed moderator Pam Marsh that there was one more question.
“I’m just curious, is the sentiment right now among the selectboard members to decide this amongst yourselves or to have a town vote?” asked resident Al Karnatz.
Selectboard members then responded individually, with both Doug Tolles and Kathy Barrett saying that hadn’t been discussed.
“I personally think that we will take it to the voters,” said Barrett, “but that is my own person opinion.”
No other selectboard members directly responded to the question of a vote, either binding or advisory.
One of the most impassioned addresses from the floor came from Suzy Roorda.
“We need to start gathering some information,” she said. “I have a lot of concerns: Money is great but if you’re not around to enjoy it, it doesn’t really matter. This project is huge, but the benefits to Vermont are minimal. I think we need to have educated and determined people to help us with our knowledge before we make any kind of commitment or decision. I think we have an awful lot of options on the table.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is at [email protected]