Top stories of 2015: #7 — Big power lines proposed for Addison County
Vermont continued to figure prominently as a pathway for proposed large-scale energy transmission projects moving renewable energy from Canada and northern New York toward large markets in southern New England. Two proposed projects, in particular, would affect Addison County.
In April, the Independent reported on the $1.2 billion New England Clean Power Link, proposed by TDI New England. The Clean Power Link would transmit 1,000 megawatts of wind and hydro power from the Canadian border to a transfer station at Ludlow. Ninety-eight miles would be buried under Lake Champlain, including a stretch running near Ferrisburgh and Panton and then hugging the shorelines of Addison, Bridport, Shoreham and Orwell. The Clean Power Link would veer onto land south of Addison County, in Benson. The Addison County towns wondered if they could charge property tax on the power line.
In July, TDI New England agreed to pay the state $720 million over the expected 40-year life of the project, including $261 million for Lake Champlain cleanup and restoration. The agreement would also give the state the option of purchasing 200 megawatts of power in the future.
At year’s end, TDI New England’s petition for a permit to build the power line was still pending.
In August, TDI competitor Anbaric Transmission, backed by investor National Grid, proposed a similar project, the Vermont Green Line, which would tie onto the grid in Addison County.
The proposed Vermont Green Line would move 400 megawatts of wind and hydropower by underground cable from near Plattsburgh, N.Y., to a converter station in New Haven, where a VELCO substation is the northern terminus of VELCO’s 345 kV transmission lines.
As currently proposed, the renewable energy — roughly equivalent to two-thirds of the power generated by the now shuttered Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant — would be sold to Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
The line would go under Lake Champlain to Kingsland Bay in Ferrisburgh and run underground along roadways to Route 7, then continue south through Waltham into New Haven.
The New Haven converter station would be as large as a football field and five stories high. The proposed five-acre site is an L-shaped piece of land near the village and directly west of the VELCO substation. In addition to the converter station the compound would include storage and administration buildings.
Since August, the VGL developers have been actively wooing the three Addison County towns. New Haven has raised the most resistance and continues to be the hardest sell.
In Ferrisburgh, VGL developers are estimating nine miles of power line would generate about $150,000 in local property taxes and $900,000 in state school tax revenue. In New Haven, they said the estimated $130 million converter station would generate roughly $300,000 in local property taxes and $2.3 million in state school tax revenue.
In November, VGL developers considerably sweetened the deal for both Ferrisburgh and New Haven.
In addition to tax revenue, the latest offers are $350,000 a year to Ferrisburgh for 20 years, including for town rights of way, and roughly $700,000 a year for 20 years to New Haven for purchasing town rights of way and hosting the converter station. (Later, the developers adjusted their offer to be the difference between $1 million and municipal taxes.)
The VGL developers have offered additional enticements to New Haven, including up to $3 million for a new fire station.
In Waltham, where the VGL involves just 1 mile under Route 7, the selectboard recommended that the town support the project. In Ferrisburgh, the selectboard appointed a three-person committee to negotiate a memorandum of understanding.
“Hopefully, they understand we are not going to roll over and show them our soft side,” said Ferrisburgh selectboard Chairman Steve Gutowski.
For its part, New Haven hired Montpelier attorney Richard Saudek, who has successfully represented a number of Vermont towns in energy-related lawsuits and negotiations, and appointed two members of the selectboard to be the point persons.
As the year drew to a close, the New Haven selectboard organized a town meeting-style informational meeting that drew more than 100 participants, who peppered VGL representatives with questions for over two hours. New Haven residents also asked selectboard members how they planned to assess the town’s wishes, including whether they would take the matter to a vote.
At year’s end, negotiations were still in progress and no decision had been made as to whether New Haven residents would get a direct vote on the issue.