Company proposes to run new transmission line through Vermont to southern New England market

TransmissionLineCanadaA Wall Street financial services subsidiary is proposing to run a 150-mile high voltage power cable from massive hydro power systems in Canada to southern Vermont.

If the project, the New England Clean Power Link, is approved by federal, regional and state regulators, 100 miles of the direct current line would be laid underneath Lake Champlain starting from the Canadian border area.

The remaining 50-mile line would be buried underground and would run from Lake Champlain across southern Vermont to the east through Rutland, to VELCO’s Coolidge substation in Cavendish. From there, the electricity would likely be transmitted to the Vermont Yankee substation in Vernon and to points south.

Transmission Developers Inc., doing business as TDI New England, proposes to spend $1.2 billion to create the first “merchant” transmission line project in Vermont. The company would pay for the line and contract with utilities to recoup its investment. TDI is a subsidiary of Blackstone Group, a financial services firm.

Don Jessome, the president of TDI, said that the New England governors’ carbon dioxide reduction targets and the closing of Vermont Yankee in 2014 created an opportunity for a hydro transmission project of this scale.

“We have been following closely the last several Eastern Canadian premier and New England governors conferences in Quebec City where they discussed how to integrate more Canadian hydro into the market,” Jessome said. “We were interested in figuring out how we could be helpful. When Vermont Yankee announced it was shutting down that was the tipping point. We saw we could integrate a large scale project into the VELCO system.”

Jessome says the company’s objective is to transmit 1,000 MW, or enough power for 1 million homes to a 30,000 MW market.

Two six-inch cables would transmit the direct current power, acting as a kind of an expressway for hydropower from remote areas of northern Canada to high voltage lines that travel to Boston and New York. The power would come from Hydro-Quebec or Nalcor Energy in Newfoundland and Labrador.

See the map.

VELCO, the “incumbent” high voltage transmission company in Vermont, would be obliged to move the power from the New England Clean Power Link or any other merchant transmission project that is built in the state, according to Kerrick Johnson, a spokesman for VELCO.

“This is the first [merchant transmission line proposal], and I suspect there will be others,” Johnson said. “There’s supply to north and people to south and Vermont is located in the middle. It is part of a regional picture with most of the grid reliability investment in transmission.”

Johnson said there could be an opportunity for a VELCO investment in the project that could result in power rate “suppression” for Vermonters.

“Our task is to work with ISO-New England to ensure system reliability as well as seek to identify areas where we can create value for VELCO and for our distributed utility owners in Vermont,” Johnson said. “We want to ensure if this project is built that it’s done consistent with Vermont values.”

TDI made the plan public on Thursday. The company has asked ISO-New England, the regional electrical grid operator, for an “interconnection” study to determine whether the power from Canada would enhance power reliability for the region. TDI has also made an “interconnection request” with Hydro-Quebec TransEnergie.

State and federal permits would be filed next year. Construction is slated for completion in 2019. Jessome anticipates the regulatory process will take two to three years.

TDI is also obtaining permits for a power line that also runs beneath Lake Champlain on the New York state side of the lake.

Jessome says the New England Clean Power Link project is similar to the Champlain-Hudson Power Express, which is in the permitting process. The company hopes to break ground on the New York project next year.

TDI would use existing rights of way, including state highways, for the line, which would be buried to minimize the aesthetic impact.

“On the Vermont side we are extremely confident it can be done with minimal impact to the environment,” Jessome said.

Most importantly, he said, the project will reduce greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change.

Chris Recchia, the commissioner of the Department of Public Service, said the power link project could help to diversify power and “put pressure on prices.” In order to make their money back, Blackstone needs to transmit power competitively, Recchia said, and in a scenario in which New England has several sources of electricity, he said, “no utility could hold the region hostage.”

Recchia said Vermont and other New England states are discussing an RFP style process to encourage companies to make competitive power distribution proposals that could benefit the whole region.

If constructed, the so-called New England Clean Power Link could also obviate the need for the highly controversial Northern Pass project that has been proposed for the remotest area of the White Mountains in New Hampshire and has drawn the ire of conservationists and the general public.

In a statement, the Conservation Law Foundation said the New England Clean Power Link is “promising,” because it offers a cost-effective alternative to the proposed Northern Pass project, which relies on new overhead towers and transmission lines.

Sandy Levine, an attorney for the CLF office in Montpelier, said her organization will be assessing the impact of the project on Lake Champlain, greenhouse gas emissions and local renewable power generation.

“We want to make sure power that would come through this transmission line replaces older fossil fuel generation and not take the place of other renewable supplies,” Levine said. “We need to make sure it advances the transfer of the regional energy supply in a way that makes it cleaner.”

Levine said the Conservation Law Foundation is encouraged that TDI takes environmental mitigation seriously.

As part of the Champlain-Hudson Express project, TDI will invest $117 million in a Lake Champlain clean up fund. Levine said a similar fund could be created on the Vermont side.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 5:51 a.m. Nov. 1.

Correction: The substation is in Cavendish, not Ludlow, as originally reported.

Anne Galloway

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  • Please add to the headline Canadian power owns most of Vermont power in a clever set of moves and now wants to use our most precious Lake Champlain as a transmission field while simultaneously trying to make our rural neighborhoods into Gaz transmission fields. Where Vermont lawyers Vermont Yankee to submissive death, you make omissions which endorse this disgustingly weird idea. Putting a giant extension cord in our lake for Canada to sell power to the big city. At least Question this….Please dig a little more.

    • Mary,

      Numerous underwater, high voltage direct current, HVDC, power lines already exist, FOR DECADES , between Denmark, England, Germany, Sweden, Norway, France, Belgium, the Netherlands.

      Nothing weird about it. In fact, it is most rational. It is about time New England catches up.

      The clean, abundant, CO2-free, low-cost, politically-stable, Hydro-Quebec energy will serve New England’s needs for many decades. The energy will likely be sold to utilities at 6 c/kWh, adjusted for NE grid prices, under long-term contracts, which is MUCH LESS EXPENSIVE than energy sold to utilities from SPEED and Lowell Mountain produced at a cost of about 15-20 c/kWh.

      • Lisa Grout

        interesting alternative given the fact that the ecological damage is a done deal in northern Quebec… are there environmental and health concerns related to underground cables? Seems reasonable in comparison to the destruction of currently pristine ridgelines with the installation of enormous wind turbines that have know health and environmental repercussions.

        • Lisa,

          Europe is more environmentally conscious than the US, even than VT (considering VT thinks ridge line destruction is OK).

          Europe likely looked into this, and judged other alternatives, and settled for the best.

          No point for VT to delay the obvious by trying to reinvent the wheel.

          There are Vermont RE aficionados who think their businesses should be protected from the high-quality, clean, abundant, no-particulate, CO2-free, low-cost (about 6 c/kWh), politically-stable, energy from Hydro-Quebec.

          In comparison, GMP’s Lowell Mountain wind energy, low-quality-junk energy by ISO-NE standards, is produced at a cost of about 15-20 c/kWh, and that wind energy is minimal, or near-zero, about 30% of the hours of the year, because wind speeds are less than the 7.5 MPH needed to turn the rotors, or too high for safety.

    • Karl Riemer

      Commentary by caricature is unconvincing.

  • Bob Zeliff

    While there are many details yet to be reviewed, it sounds like a great idea in general.

    It will be important that the installation process and maintenance process is well understood and comparable with Lake Champlain ecology.

    Finally a power transmission plan that does not add huge towers marching across hundreds of acres of land.

    • Bob,
      ….and ruin many miles of pristine ridge lines with mostly FOREIGN, 459-ft high, noise making, visually-offensive, health-damaging, property-value-lowering, society-dividing, industrial-size, wind turbines.

    • Matt Fisken

      Bob, I assume you meant to say, “compatible with LC ecology.”

      Because the primary problem with these lines are the magnetic fields, which penetrate the ground with no problem, burying them along roadsides does nothing except hide the danger and put it closer to our bodies. Sinking them in the Lake, likewise, does not do much except expose an environment to these fields that has been previously compromised in other ways.

      Both submarine proposals are nothing more than speculative ventures by a company whose sole purpose is to make money for its investors. They are betting (correctly) that the natural gas bubble is about to pop along with it’s ability to produce cheap electricity and that the nuclear plants currently supplying much of NYC metro’s power will be going offline in the coming years. That leaves Quebec Hydro as the only safe investment, and Vermont gets to be the mule to keep the lights shining bright in Times Square.

      What I want to know is who is the marketing genius who came up with the name “New England Clean Power Link”? Probably the same person who asked, “why only run a single line when we could run two?”

      All of this reeks of the failed LightSquared venture which sought (maybe is still seeking) to provide data bandwidth via microwaves using a “wholesale” model. Let’s leave the utility transmission building to companies that actually have some experience doing it (TDI only has proposed projects) and not turn Vermont into (even more of) an electromagnetic thoroughfare to benefit investors in other states and countries.

      • Moshe Braner

        Matt: regardless of whether 60-Hz (AC) fields are harmful or not, they are irrelevant to this proposal, since it’s a HVDC (high voltage _direct_current_) line. Modern semiconductors have made it possible to efficiently convert high voltage (as in half a million volts) AC to DC and back again, so now we can use DC for the long range transmission, which has lower losses, in part due to there being no induced magnetic fields.

      • Bob Zeliff

        Matt

        re the concern of the magnetic fields. While I do not know in any quantitative way what the field strength or effects of a buried, under water DC power line is ( would like to see a peer reviewed paper on this), I think it is one of the factors we have to understand. I do know that we humans have evolved and live with magnetic fields. i.e. the earth magnetic field leads us to the north pole. I believe most of the potential detrimental effects effect are in oscillating the fields like in AC currents as in our houses where we have 110V Alternating current surfing us in our walls all day and night. Some of us evan use electric blanks and wrap ourselves in the magnetic fields and warmth. Very strong fields are how MRI work and many of us have had them. But again we need quantitive facts not just casual fears to make good decisions.

  • The sub station is in Cavendish – not Ludlow; this also explains the doubling of line capacity from Cavendish to Vernon in the past several years.

    • Ralph,

      I wouldn’t make the leap that their is a conspiracy going on here (doubling of line capacity from Cavendish to Vernon). I have been on the VELCO Board of Directors since 2006 and last month was the first we heard of this project.

      VEC would have to be convinced that this project would be a significant benefit to Vermonters to support it, as it would require some costly upgrades to substations and conversion facilities. The goal of these type of projects is to sell power to southern New England and New York, who have very large power needs, as compared to Vermont.

      I also would not oversell the value of Hydro Quebec power. Our present Hydro Quebec contract is adjusted every year to reflect the current market cost, so I would not call it a good deal. It does not ensure long term stable rates if the cost of power starts rising, although it does have some protections from market shock.

      It is too early to draw conclusions. If this is a serious project, it will get a lot of scrutiny.

      Dave Hallquist
      CEO, Vermont Electric Cooperative

      • David,

        The deal you have buying clean, abundant, CO2-free, low-cost, politically-stable, energy from Hydro-Quebec is MUUUUCH better than the deal you have with GMP buying Lowell Mountain wind energy, which is junk energy by ISO-NE standards, and is minimal or not available about 30% of the hours of the year, because wind speeds are less than the 7.5 MPH needed to turn the rotors.

        You would be very wise, and serve your customers well, to buy MORE of HQ energy and forget about expensive wind energy (produced at a cost of about 15-20 c/kWh) that ruins many miles of pristine ridge lines with mostly FOREIGN (Vestas, Iberdrola), 459-ft high, noise making, visually-offensive, health-damaging, property-value-lowering, society-dividing, industrial-size, 459-ft high, wind turbines.

      • Moshe Braner

        What Dave says there is very important: “Our present Hydro Quebec contract is adjusted every year to reflect the current market cost… It does not ensure long term stable rates if the cost of power starts rising.” – I’m not sure if the “present” contract is already that one, but anyway the old one we’ve enjoyed for the last 20 years or so was for a FIXED price. Alas nobody offers such contracts any more, since they understand that future prices are heading up. The reason is that “the market price” is dominated by the price of natural gas, and that’s a finite resource. The current hype about fracked gas nonwithstanding, as soon as that bubble pops (probably within a couple of years now) the extraction rate will peak and the price will head up again. The current price is half the cost of extraction via fracking, so it’s clearly not sustainable, the whole flip-a-gas-lease game is a pyramid scheme.

        In other words: get ready for expensive electricity. Learn to use less of it. It’s really not that hard. Turn lights (and computers) off when not needed – that costs nothing to do and saves a lot. Use efficient light bulbs (CFLs are dirt cheap now). Do not light up the outdoors. Dry clothes on a line. Get rid of that old second frig in the garage. Don’t heat on electricity unless it’s via a heat pump. And the tough one: use less (if any) air conditioning. That latter bit is getting harder as our climate starts resembling New Jersey’s, but careful management of window shades and fans over the day and night can help a lot. Plant deciduous trees on the SW side of your house if possible.

        • Moshe,

          The EIA does not foresee any “bursting of the natural gas bubble”.

          ON AVERAGE, NG prices will gradually rise at about the rate of inflation, or a little more, for the next few decades.

          Whereas NG prices have been about $4/million Btu, or less, since about 2007, Vermont electric prices have gone up much more than of other New England states, because of the various expensive RE follies, hatched in Montpelier, that produce energy at 3-4 times grid prices, such as SPEED and ridge line Lowell; BTW grid prices have also been near 5 c/kWh since about 2007.

          New England already has a glut in energy generating capacity, MW, and consumption, GWh, is DECLINING. Why be irrational and waste money adding more capacity?

          Because RE subsidies are available, does not mean we should be irrational, i.e., put the horse behind the cart.

          Klein, et al, are hard-pressed to find money for energy efficiency, because:

          – about $300 million has already been wasted on dysfunctional ridge line projects, that ruin many miles of pristine ridge lines with mostly FOREIGN, 459-ft high, noise making, visually-offensive, health-damaging, property-value-lowering, society-dividing, industrial-size, wind turbines,

          – and about $100 million has been wasted on dysfunctional SPEED projects, both of which produce energy at 15-20 c/kWh, with grid prices at 5 c/kWh.

          VT household electric rates already are the 4th highest in the US, after Alaska, Hawaii and Connecticut. Soon 3rd highest, courtesy of inane, dysfunctional, Klein/Smith/Shumlin/DPS/PSB/REV-inspired RE programs.

          Already-struggling households and businesses have been dealing with a near-zero-growth Vermont economy since 2007, with the tax-burdened, hollowed-out, private sector shrinking relative to the coddled, growing, government sector, a sure recipe for economic stagnation.

          The last thing they need is another tax of about $200/yr on fuel bills in the form of an Efficiency Vermont surcharge; one such surcharge/tax of about $80/yr on electric bills is more than enough.

          About 65% of Efficiency’ Vermont’s annual budget is wasted on expenses for salaries, benefits, office, travel, etc., of its 180-person staff, leaving very little for in-the-field energy efficiency projects.

          NOTE: EV showed extremely poor judgment. It has an a full-page ad in Architectural Digest, Dec 2013, a glossy, upscale, magazine that caters to the top 0.1% and their $5 million and up mansions!!!!!! Talking about wasting money; five mobile homes could have been winterized with that money.

    • Ralph,
      That doubling has to do with ISO-NE grid reliability requirements unrelated to present proposals.

  • Don Peterson

    It is resistance by citizens that causes developers to take visual criteria like burying cables into account.

    NIMBYS can take heart; there are better ways to do things, and resisters led the way.

    THe only bad news is that Vermont has invested in wind energy, and the hydropower goes elsewhere as a result.

    • Don,
      Vermont has opted to ruin its ridge lines so in-state and out-of-state multi-millionaires, with lucrative tax shelters, can get their paws on a much subsidies as possible ,as quickly as possible.

      MUUUUUCH better solutions exist, at a much lower cost, without such destruction of ridge lines and without the coddling, crony-capitalism of those millionaires.

  • Anne,

    PLEASE use MW instead of mW.

    megawatt is MW, milliwatt is mW

    Please tell Mr. Stein as well.

    • Moshe Braner

      You’re right Willem, but this is minor. As long as they get power (KW/MW/GW) vs. energy (KWH, etc) straight we’re making progress! What is really wrong is “watts per hour” (there is no such thing), or, “this [insert proposed project here] will power XXXX homes for a year”, as if at the end of the year the thing self-destructs.

      The 1000 MW (1 GW) capacity of this proposal is significant – for comparison, the average electricity consumption of the whole state of VT is about 700 MW.

      • Moshe,

        More about HVDC.

        There exists a 580 km-long, underwater, HVDC line from the northern tip of Holland to the southern tip of Norway; capacity, 700 MW; voltage, 900,000 V; cable resistance at 50 degrees C, 29 ohm; cable losses at rated load, 2.5%; capital cost, 600 million euro; in service 6 May 2008.

        When, on windy days, Germany sends its excess wind energy to the Netherlands to avoid disturbing its own grid too much, variations on the Dutch grid are sensed by the hydro plants in southern Norway.

        They reduce and modulate the flow to the hydro turbines to counter the variations; a part-load ramping mode that is CO2-free.

        NOTE: Denmark has been using the hydro plants of Norway and Sweden for that purpose for at least 4 decades.

        Also, the Dutch have a large component of gas turbines on their grid that also reduce their outputs and modulate; a part-load-ramping mode that is NOT CO2-free.

  • Matt Fisken

    Well, it appears VELCO and DPS are on the same page, a day after this announcement. Power rate “suppression” and “put pressure on prices” are two less-than-fancy ways of saying, “we know the price of electricity is going up, so IF we build more transmission lines the price won’t go up as much.” Of course, once the lines are built and prices go up, there’s no way of knowing how the alternative (not building a new line) would have resulted.

    We’ve seen this before with other projects. The dangling carrot trick will only work so many times before people figure out it is straight-up extortion.

  • Keith Brunner

    Important to note that not all environmental groups are supporting the project:

    Rising Tide Vermont denounces mega-hydro transmission project, calls for transition away from extreme energy

    Rising Tide Vermont today issued the following statement regarding the New England Clean Power Link [1], a proposal for 150 miles of new transmission lines from the Quebec border, under Lake Champlain and across the state of Vermont. Financed by one of the largest private equity firms in the world [2], the proposed project would transport electricity derived from mega-dams in Quebec and Labrador to New England markets.

    “Rising Tide Vermont stands in solidarity with First Nations communities who are defending their traditional territories against resource colonialism and environmental devastation,” said Sara Mehalick, a member of Rising Tide Vermont. “For decades, Cree, Innu, and Inuit communities in Quebec and Labrador have been organizing to halt the construction of massive hydroelectric dams on their ancestral lands, which have severely impacted wildlife, watersheds, and the livelihoods of nearby communities. The New England Clean Power Link would be a green light for the continued colonization of these territories, now under the guise of so-called ‘clean energy’.”

    Last summer, a delegation from the Innu community of Mani-Utenam in northern Quebec travelled to Burlington to protest the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers’ promotion of mega-hydro electricity from their territory [3]. Over the past few years, Innu community members have engaged in hunger strikes, blockades, and other direct actions to halt the construction of dams on the Romaine River, which began without their free, prior, and informed consent.

    Mehalick said, “We are firmly opposed to the expansion of extreme energy infrastructure in New England, and call on the relevant decision-makers to reject this false solution to climate change, which exacerbates social and environmental injustices without addressing the root causes of the climate crisis.”

    “Instead of the Governor’s vision of Vermont as an energy highway for fracked gas and mega-hydro power, we find inspiration in the innumerable community-based solutions which are every day coming from the grassroots,” she added.

    • Keith,

      US NATIVES

      You are aware US native indians were herded towards and into reservations after their buffalo herds had been exterminated by the US Army to disrupt their lifestyle and starve them off their lands.

      The “freed” land was given by the federal government to homesteaders/settlers.

      You must have learned this in high school history; at least I did.

      The US Army became available for that extermination job after finishing the Civil War.

      CANADIAN NATIVES

      Canada is fully compensating its natives. No one is herding/starving them. They are provided with resettlement money, healthcare, education, housing, jobs, etc.

    • Wendy wilton

      I am sure the investor group seeking the transmission line will get scrutiny in the press as it absolutely should.

      Rising Tide is an out-of -state special interest group with lots of money to spend on Petri dish Vermont. Follow the money from that entity, VT Digger!

    • David Carpathian

      @ Keith

      Actually, in performing a simple Google search, one would see that Hydro-Québec has vastly improved its relations with Québec’s native peoples, in particular the Cree, over the last three decades. Negotiations with the Innu are on-going for a land claims agreement. Québec has led the way on compensation programs, and integrating Aboriginal peoples into the decision-making, planning and construction processes for hydroelectric infrastructure.

  • Al Isselhard

    The Champlain Hudson Power Express and this New England Clean Power Link are a great idea to power NE and downstate NY instead of hopelessly intermittent, expensive, volatile wind energy that devalues property, divides communities and creates numerous health problems and much more. No source of electric energy is benign but buying hydro from Canada surely tops coal power and may discourage fracking Marcellus shale for gas. I see nothing wrong with buying electric from the Canadians and how this power line will be installed. I believe this idea is completely privately financed. Let’s support this idea!

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