The Conservation Law Foundation has agreed not to oppose a planned 154-mile high-voltage transmission cable that would run beneath Lake Champlain in exchange for the developer’s promise to increase the value of a benefits package for the state.
The agreement was filed Friday with the Public Service Board as part of TDI New England’s effort to obtain a certificate of public good for the proposed $1.2 billion transmission line. The cables would carry hydroelectric and wind power generated in Canada to metropolitan energy markets in the U.S.
The company has agreed to pay a minimum of $283.5 million over the 40-year lifespan of the project for Lake Champlain phosphorus cleanup, habitat restoration and recreational improvements — $121.5 million more than was originally proposed. Some of that money would also go to the state’s Clean Energy Fund.
Chris Kilian, Vermont director of CLF, called the increase “substantial” and said the agreement better defines how the money will be spent, which “dramatically” enhances the public benefit of the project. In exchange, CLF, which has standing as an intervenor in TDI’s certification proceedings, won’t “oppose or undermine” the project in filings with the PSB or other state and federal regulators that must approve the project.
TDI will also make two upfront payments of $1 million to state accounts, according to Kilian. If the bulk of the $283.5 million is paid out late in the 40-year life of the transmission line, it will lose value due to inflation, making it important that the benefit package include an immediate contribution, he said.
The agreement also requires TDI — if the project is approved — to file its contracts with energy suppliers to the transmission line, in order for the state to confirm the energy being transmitted is from renewable sources.
In a separate agreement, TDI has also agreed to pay the state’s transmission utility, Vermont Electric Power Co. (VELCO), $136 million or $2.5 million annually over 40 years. That money is expected to be used to reduce electric rates, according to state officials.
Chris Recchia, Department of Public Service commissioner, applauded both agreements in a statement saying they “enhance public benefits” from the New England Clean Energy Link, as the project is known. Recchia called the two agreements a “foundation” that his department hopes to build on as the certification process continues before the PSB.
TDI New England is a subsidiary of financial firm Blackstone Group, which manages more than $200 billion in assets. The firm anticipates permitting will take until mid-2016, with major construction beginning in 2018. If the New England Clean Energy Link moves forward, then the 1,000-megawatt transmission line is anticipated to be carrying power by 2019.
“This agreement strengthens the commitment the project has made to delivering substantial environmental and economic benefits to Vermont and the region,” TDI CEO Don Jessome said.
Jessome also thanked CLF for its “collaborative approach” in reaching the agreement.
The support for TDI’s plan comes on the heels of a Department of Energy environmental impact study that concluded the project would cause minimal harm and was in the best interest of the region’s renewable energy needs.