An October motion before the Vermont Public Service Board rejuvenates an old fear for some: new transmission lines through Vermont from Quebec to Southern New England.
Sen. Vince Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans, in a motion to intervene in the board proceeding relating to a merger of the state’s two largest utilities, says Vermont will become “the route of choice” for transmission to serve population centers in Southern New England. Illuzzi attached a map produced by the Vermont Electric Power Company (VELCO) in 2008, showing two proposed high voltage transmission lines through the Northeast Kingdom to New Hampshire. Illuzzi’s motion states that the map shows “if transmission from Quebec was not possible through New Hampshire, then it could build two new high voltage transmission lines through the Northeast Kingdom.”
Not quite, say representatives for VELCO and Northern Pass Transmission, the limited liability company that applied for a 180-mile, 1,200-megawatt transmission line that would bring electricity from Hydro-Quebec’s hydroelectric resources to Southern New Hampshire.
Kerrick Johnson, vice president of external affairs for VELCO, said the utility prepared an initial diagram for possible routes through Vermont when the Northern Pass project was in its initial application stages. It never went any further than that, Johnson said.
As for the map, included as an attachment with Illuzzi’s original motion to intervene in the Public Service Board proceeding, “it was then and continues to be a document done by its lonesome,” Johnson told VTDigger.org.
Any future reliability project like a new transmission line would have to go through a certificate of public good process in Vermont and a Project Plan Application review by ISO-New England, the regional transmission organization, local planning commission review, and review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for wetland impacts. The VELCO board did not have any interest in pursuing new lines through Vermont, and therefore, Johnson said, the matter dropped.
Martin Murray, spokesman for Northern Pass Transmission and Public Service of New Hampshire, said there is no proposal for a high voltage line through Vermont. Currently, the N.H. project is in the preliminary scoping phase. Northern Pass Transmission applied for a “Presidential Permit” for the project, which requires an environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act. The company applied for the permit in October 2010. The original application contains no mention of any route through Vermont.
“We know what the situation is in Vermont, and we don’t believe it makes sense or is doable,” Murray said.
Existing transmission lines in Vermont are already at maximum capacity, so increased electricity transmission through the state would require a new right-of-way with a buffer zone, Murray said. This would require much more land and environmental impact than the proposed route through New Hampshire, Murray said. The New Hampshire proposal, Murray said, includes placing the project in an existing right-of-way for 140 miles of the 180 miles of its length.
Currently, Northern Pass Transmission is working to secure a new preferred proposed route through the north country of New Hampshire — an effort that has drawn opposition from the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, according to reports by the Union Leader newspaper.
While a possible line through the Northeast Kingdom, crossing into New Hampshire near Littleton, N.H., has been mentioned in the scoping process, it is not a part of an official proposal from the utility.
Murray said Northern Pass Transmission plans to amend its application with a new preferred route by the first quarter of 2012. Depending on the length of the process by the Department of Energy to create a scoping document and draft environmental impact statement, this document could come out in mid-2012. After another comment period, the Department of Energy would produce a final environmental impact statement.
The Conservation Law Foundation, a New England-based environmental group, has been advocating during the scoping process that the Department of Energy consider all reasonable alternatives.
Christophe Courchesne, a staff attorney in the group’s New Hampshire office, said “there are a number of potential reasonable alternatives the Department of Energy is obligated to consider, including Vermont.”
The Conservation Law Foundation comments proposed a comprehensive environmental impact statement that would address imports of all electricity from Canada into the Northeast. Because of the dramatic effects large-scale hydroelectric projects can have on the natural environment and human settlements, which have been displaced by dam development, a comprehensive environmental review is appropriate, according to the comments.
Other possibilities include a line through Maine or burying transmission lines. At this point, the possibility of going through Vermont is one of many potential alternatives.
A line through Vermont is still on the table, as far as anyone is aware, Courchesne said, but it appears there is not an “if this, then that” connection between a line through New Hampshire versus a line through Vermont. While an alternative through Vermont may emerge in an environmental impact statement, at this point, it is not officially in the works.
As VTDigger.org reported in August, Gaz Metro and Hydro-Quebec have been closely tied — through executive associations (leaders rotate through both organizations) and a previous ownership arrangement.
Correction: The original version of this article referred to the proposed Northern Pass Transmission project as a 1,200-volt transmission line. It will actually enable the flow of 1,200 megawatts of power.