Permit sought for transmission line under Lake Champlain

A company seeking to build a high-voltage power line beneath Lake Champlain applied for a state permit Tuesday.

TDI New England is asking the Public Service Board for a certificate of public good to build a 154-mile underground and underwater power line that would carry hydroelectric and wind power generated in Canada to metropolitan energy markets.

The route of a proposed transmission line under Lake Champlain.
The route of a proposed transmission line under Lake Champlain.

The company, which is a subsidiary of a Wall Street financial services group, also said it would contribute nearly $300 million to the state for environmental and other purposes. The $1.2 billion project is expected to be completed by 2019, company officials said.

TDI says it has purchased enough private property to build the project. The company is also seeking permits from federal regulators.

The 1,000 megawatt transmission line is the first of its size to be reviewed for environmental impact on the lake, a state official said. The transmission line would pass under nearly 100 miles of Lake Champlain to a proposed converter station in Ludlow, crossing wetlands and streams along the way.

The company, a subsidiary of financial firm Blackstone Group, which manages more than $200 billion in assets, is offering the state a benefits package of $298 million over the project’s 40-year lifespan.

Of that, $120 million would go into a fund to aid in Lake Champlain phosphorus cleanup, habitat restoration and recreational improvements.

The company is also paying the state’s transmission utility, Vermont Electric Power Co., or VELCO, $136 million. The state’s electric utilities, which own VELCO, would receive the money based on how much power they provide to customers. The money is expected to be used to reduce electric rates, a state official said.

Tom Dunn, CEO and president of VELCO, said the project could provide benefits to Vermont and the region, but state regulators will decide whether it is of public benefit. He said the money will not affect VELCO’s review of the merits of the project.

“We’re pretty much acting as a conduit for the money,” Dunn said. “We are not going to compromise the reliability of the grid for this project or any other project.”

TDI New England would also contribute $40 million to the Clean Energy Development Fund. The company says the project will generate millions of dollars in property tax and sales tax revenue, create hundreds of construction jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emission and lower electricity prices.

TDI New England Chief Executive Officer Donald Jessome said the project and associated benefits will be good for Vermont.

“We’re asking the state of Vermont to host a major infrastructure project,” Jessome said. “We will be running through Lake Champlain. That water body is a public trust and we certainly understand that not every project will get permitted.”

The company will not own the power running through the lines. Power suppliers in Quebec could contract with Vermont utilities to sell and deliver the power, he said. No long-term power purchase agreements have been made.

Department of Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia said the state is just starting to review the project. He said while the state will not likely receive any of the power from the project, the benefits package addresses an appropriate need.

“We won’t be getting any power from this project. Our utilities don’t really need it,” Recchia said. “So it’s really important that if Vermont does host a project like this, that we have a significant benefit.”

Anbaric pursues project in Maine

The developer of another transition line project in Vermont is moving forward on a project in Maine.

Massachusetts-based Anbaric is partnering with National Grid, a London-based power supplier, to bring up to 3,000 megawatts of power to the region, the two companies announced Tuesday. For now, Anbaric will focus on a 1,000 MW transmission project in Maine. The company plans to use public money to finance the project.

The transmission company developed what it calls a “winning” combination of wind power and on-demand hydropower. The company eventually hopes to bring utility-scale wind power from New York and hydropower from Quebec under Lake Champlain to a substation in Burlington. Anbaric has not applied for a state permit.

The project does not have the money it needs to go forward. Unlike TDI New England, Anbaric is planning to use ratepayer funds if the six New England states can reach an agreement on how to share the cost of transmission line projects.

The regional initiative came to a halt this summer when the Massachusetts Legislature failed to pass a bill that would require electric utilities to purchase long-term contracts for renewable power.

The proposal would have socialized the costs of infrastructure upgrades through electric rates. The anticipated projects are estimated to cost billions of dollars.

Gov. Peter Shumlin has questioned whether transmission projects would leave the state with avoidable costs. This comes after VELCO warned that several of the transmission line projects proposed in the region have been underestimated.

The region’s dependence on natural gas and limited pipeline capacity have nudged electricity prices up at a time when large power generators, including Vermont Yankee, are scheduled to go offline. States are also looking for renewable sources of power to meet renewable energy targets.

Despite setbacks in the effort to collaborate as a region on infrastructure development, the region’s grid operator has made it clear that reliability and economic concerns are front and foremost.

As Anbaric’s CEO Ed Krapels put it, “The need to do something hasn’t gone away.”

Stan Blazewicz, vice president of U.S. business development for National Grid, said the region will need to find more renewable power to meet escalating renewable portfolio standards. He said that means looking for wind power backed up with constant hydropower.

“Frankly, we’re just simply running out of the low-hanging fruit,” he said.

He said the partnership would allow Anbaric to use its project development experience to begin projects and National Grid could use its engineering and operating skills to build and maintain the line.

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  • Paul Lorenzini

    We are gonna catch some big fishes after we electrify the lake, I bet!

    Delicious fishes to eat,
    Much better then beets,

    3 cheers for further verses.

  • Carl Marcinkowski

    That is just silly, Paul.
    The main concerns, as I understand this are from disturbing previous pollution deposits and upsetting fish spawn. If these issues can be properly addressed then the underwater cable is environmentally preferable to the existing above ground towers and cables and much less costly than underground cabling.

  • Harriet E. Cady

    What I am beginning to question is why do the protesters keep saying VT won’t benefit? It is now the way of the world that we have a power grid that gets electricity to whatever section of the country needs it and feeding that grid is the responsibility of planners to foretell what the future needs are.
    VT’s faltlanders have come in and changed what was the Vermont I grew up in and not always for the better for the residents, taking many to the now dependence on government to think and do for them rather than the Independence that was a Hallmark for Calvin Coolidge and Senator Atkins.

    • Jeff Noordsy

      In reading the article I see no mention of protestors. Can you explain?

  • Joel Miller

    I agree with your observation that “flat lander” political and social attitudes have created dependency for many of our citizens on government largesse, however many of these flat landers may be found in our legislature today. I too am a flat lander who retired here but my connection with the state goes back to 1938 with my parents who had great respect for the independence and sel sufficiency of the Vermonters that they interacted with over the years…..

  • Jane Palmer

    I have no knowledge of the way an underwater high voltage transmission line will affect water and wildlife. Does anyone? I know that you can hold a fluorescent light bulb under the over land transmission lines and it will light up. I also know that just because humans can’t see something, doesn’t mean it isn’t causing harm to something somewhere. I think the attitude that if we can’t see the towers, it will be better is a knee jerk reaction and all of the repercussions should be studied. And I don’t have faith our Department of Public Service is up to the job. I think their “studies” will fall on whichever side the governor decides they should.
    Too much is at stake. This lake is our life blood.

  • Rich Lachapelle

    There was a time of more common sense 30+ years ago that the idea of making clean, renewable hydropower available to people who currently use electricity derived from fossil fuels would have been hailed as progressive. Can anyone really think of a better way to run a powerline from Quebec to NYC? But we obsess about turtles, butterflies and methylmercury.
    Not to advocate for the interests of Big Energy, but in order to make use of clean sources of power like HydroQuebec, power lines need to be run. For Vermont, which boasts one of the highest per-capita petroleum consumptions in the entire US due to our commuting distances and reliance on heating oil, people in other nice, formerly pristine areas had to put up with the oil wells, the refineries and the transportation infrastructure so WE can be warm and cozy
    and keep our Priuses on the road.
    What if those people decided to be NIMBYs and say to hell with those snobby, hypocritical Vermonters?
    Without this project the power hungry NYC Metro area would be instead using the dreaded “fracked gas” to generate electricity.
    Pick your poison folks.

  • Keith Brunner

    Jeff, here is a statement by Rising Tide Vermont from when this proposal was first floated last fall:

    11/2/2013: 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.

  • Barrie Bailey

    The goal of supplying the NYC Metro area with renewable electricity is laudable, but the means of transmitting it is up in the air.

    No one knows at this point how a high power electric transmission line will effect the lake environment and living creatures. It is such a gamble that it would probably be wiser to use overland transmission

    And that brings us to the final concern, Should Vermont allow itself to be the industrial energy corridor for metropolitan areas afar. Now we have not only proposals for more high power gas transmission lines but also two high power electric transmission lines. All will disrupt the rather pristine environment that is our economic livelyhood, and disrupt peoples live and homes.

    We will have to think very carefully on this, which so far I don’t think the Department of Public Service and the Public Service Board are capable of doing as shown by their bending over to serve the corporations and ignoring towns and persons who will have to live with the effects.

  • Glenn Thompson

    This link is from 2010. Informative and applies to this article!

    It’s hard to oppose this project if a substantial amount of money will be used to help cleanup Lake Champlain! How else can it be accomplished?

    From the article!

    “Of that, $120 million would go into a fund to aid in Lake Champlain phosphorus cleanup, habitat restoration and recreational improvements.”

    • I agree Glen, it’s much needed funding for the lake… do we sell out “soul” to obtain it though??? I don’t pretend to have the answer for that question, as I know very little on what the impacts will be. Maybe no one does.

      As long as the money goes into some type of escrow account and not directly into state coffers. I could see it being used to fill budget holes.

  • I’m glad that everyone is weighing carefully what this project will do to Lake Champlain. Please don’t forget about those of us in rural north Ludlow, who will have this high voltage line running right by our homes. And, by the way, in three spots near us, it won’t be buried under ground. I have no idea if it is dangerous or not. However, I do know that it is not likely to affect our electric rates one way or another, and, at the very least, it’s going to be an eye-sore.