Vermont Green Line short-circuits
NEW HAVEN — It could be the end of the road for the Vermont Green Line.
The companies that wanted to run an electric power transmission line through Ferrisburgh, Waltham and New Haven earlier this month withdrew their request for a permit to build the project.
The withdrawal of the petition for a Certificate of Public Good, which had been in process with the Public Utility Commission since October 2016, was not unforeseen since National Grid and Anbaric Transmission, the VGL development partners, late last year failed to win their bid to sell renewable power to Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
The Vermont Green Line, which would have transmitted electricity produced through renewable wind and hydropower, had promised to bring millions of dollars to the three Addison County towns.
Joe Rossignoli, director of U.S. business development for energy company National Grid, said that while VGL developers “feel as though the project has a lot of value, we want to find out what commercially the landscape looks like for new transmission lines after this giant Massachusetts procurement takes place.”
The “Massachusetts procurement” is a request for proposal, or RFP, put out by Massachusetts to purchase 9.45 terawatt-hours of renewable energy a year for 20 years. Massachusetts has scheduled a decision on the RFP by late January 2018.
Rossignoli said that VGL developers had submitted a bid involving two other high-voltage transmission lines under development but not the Vermont Green Line. One of these would run from Vermont’s border with Canada through the Northeast Kingdom and into New Hampshire, the other would run from New York into Massachusetts.
Concerning the withdrawal of the Vermont Green Line’s permit, Rossignoli continued: “Rather than continue with the process when there’s this sort of span of time while we’re waiting on an outcome in another process, we just felt as though it would be best to withdraw and then resubmit the project after its commercial value becomes clearer.”
The announcement leaves New Haven “in limbo,” said Selectman Steve Dupoise, who has been the selectboard’s lead negotiator with VGL developers.
“Joe (Rossignoli) called me a couple of weeks ago and said that they were going to be pulling that, and I said, ‘OK, where does that leave us?’” Dupoise said. “And he said, ‘Well there’s some other RFPs coming in Massachusetts and that might turn into something.”
In Ferrisburgh the VGL companies had been talking with officials about millions of dollars for the town over 20 years for use of town road rights-of-way.
The VGL partnership sought to lay 60 miles of high voltage direct current cable to transmit 400 megawatts of electricity produced by renewable sources from Beekmantown, N.Y., into the New England grid at the VELCO substation in New Haven. The cable would have gone under Lake Champlain to Ferrisburgh and then underground to New Haven.
Dupoise said that in response to the withdrawal of the permit, the New Haven selectboard sent a letter asking for clarification as to whether the project has been put on hold or cancelled. The selectboard has yet to hear back, he said.
“We know they pulled their CPG. We do not know what their plans are moving forward,” Dupoise said. “Do they want to continue to have this agreement with us? Do they want us to tear it up and scrap it and we’re done and if they decide to come back then we have to start over again? Is there an opportunity for someone else to try and do the same thing? We don’t know what’s going on.”
Asked about New Haven’s most recent letter, Rossignoli said only “we will respond.”
New Haven stood — or perhaps still stands — to gain considerably from the Green Line project. After more than nine months of intense debate within New Haven over the project’s desirability, New Haven residents said “yes” to the Green Line, 252-to-128, in a townwide survey in May 2016.
Highlights of the New Haven-VGL contract included:
• Payments of $1.4 million per year to the town for 40 years, with yearly 1 percent adjustments for inflation.
• $4 million to build a new fire station and a new town garage.
• A VGL Compensation Fund for designated abutters, with an initial amount of $1 million.
The VGL companies had proposed to run the power line along about a half-dozen miles of Ferrisburgh roads between Kingsland Bay and Route 7 at its intersection with Tuppers Crossing, just north of Vergennes. From there the line would have followed Route 7 to New Haven.
The proposed Host Town Agreement between Ferrisburgh and the VGL firms included not only unspecified compensation to the town for allowing work in the road rights-of-way, but also such items as design details, including how the work will handle culverts and where the line will cross town roads; construction techniques; restoration of affected land; and easement language.
Some of those issues had been resolved, or at least discussed, in the past two years. But the VGL companies had not said anything of substance on how they plan to pay Ferrisburgh since November 2015.
That’s when in a public meeting VGL representatives suggested said they would pay the town at least $350,000 a year for 20 years, on top of an estimated $150,000 a year in local property taxes the project would generate. They also left the door open for further talks that have not occurred.
The VGL firms did agree to spend $40,000 to support Ferrisburgh’s research efforts on project details and on fees for lawyers and technical experts.
Adam Lougee, executive director of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, that the proposed power line would have been a “relatively benign” project in the county. He would not be surprised to see more proposals to run power lines from Canada to Southern New England, as the cost of renewable energy in Montreal is much cheaper than it is in Boston.
He wasn’t sure that New Haven and Ferrisburgh, or other county towns, could take away any lessons from the experience with the VGL other than to continue asking for just compensation and insisting the construction details are fair.
“Selectboards should make sure it’s a good project for your town,” Lougee said.
One group that’s breathing a sigh of relief over the apparent demise of the VGL was the Friends of Kingsland Bay, which enlisted about 200 people, largely boaters, who saw the Vermont Green Line as a threat to the recreational use of one of Vermont’s most beautiful state parks. It urged the developers and the state regulators to relocate the power line so that it would exit the lake in an area of less harmful impact.
“FoKB’s position has not been to oppose the power line itself, simply the planned exit route through Kingsland Bay’s swimming and mooring area,” said the organization’s president, David Andrews. “While the developers claimed to be considering our proposal to change the exit route over to Hawkins Bay on the other side of MacDonough Point, we’ve had no assurance that this route was likely to be adopted. In view of that, the withdrawal of the application is good news for us. It is not such good news for the towns of Ferrisburgh and New Haven.”
HALTS AND SETBACKS
The announcement to pull the application for a Certificate of Public Good follows a series of halts and setbacks.
After VGL developers lost the bid to sell power to Southern New England last year, spokespeople for the project at the time said they would continue to submit bids on other large-scale renewable energy customers and that it was “business as usual.”
This past April, developers said that they were taking a new tack of peddling the project to other energy suppliers — rather than to energy purchasers — as a sort of high-voltage toll highway.
Then at the end of May, Green Line developers announced that they were requesting a voluntary suspension of the formal process for getting a state permit. Rossignoli at that time told the Independent that “resolving of some issues regarding the injection of power in northwestern Vermont was going to take a bit longer than we originally had planned given the number of stakeholders that it touches on and the complexities of the issues.”
Meanwhile, New Haven is “just on hold,” as Dupoise said.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen at this point in time,” he said. “We’re hoping that they will respond to our letter and that will give us some sense of what their true plan is.”
Additional reporting by Andy Kirkaldy and John S. McCright.
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