Energy & Environment

TDI likely to transmit hydro, wind power to southern New England

The developer of a proposed 145-mile underground and underwater “clean power” transmission line announced Monday they have seven potential energy suppliers for the project.

The cable will run from the Canadian border to Ludlow, and for most of that length it will be buried beneath Lake Champlain.

Dubbed “The New England Clean Power Link,” the project is being built in response to renewable energy needs in New England states. Many states are attempting to reduce their dependence on the natural gas that in 2014 supplied 40 percent of the region’s power.

The cable will carry 1,000 megawatts, roughly the amount of power consumed by the entire state of Vermont. Assuming it’s built, Vermont will host the cable, but won’t purchase much of the energy, according to Ed McNamara, the regional policy director for the Vermont Public Service Department. Most of the electricity will be transmitted to southern New England.

Those close to the project say the cable is likely to carry hydropower, although company officials would not confirm, citing the confidentiality of ongoing negotiations.

McNamara said the line will likely carry hydro or wind, “but there’s an off chance it could be something else.”

State policy defines hydropower as a renewable resource. Whether dams produce “clean” energy is a question state officials say lies outside their purview.

“The ‘clean’ nature of [hydropower] is not as direct an issue for us, as something we consider when we consider a project, much like biomass energy is renewable but not necessarily as clean as other sources of energy,” said Public Service Department Commissioner Chris Recchia.

New England states all define hydropower as a renewable resource, which is why they’re seeking to add more hydropower to energy portfolios these days, said Donald Jessome, CEO of TDI New England, the firm that is behind the project.

States have sought greater fuel diversity for some time, Jessome said, both to reduce their dependence on natural gas and to forestall the effects of power plants closing over the next decade that could remove as much as 10,000 megawatts’ worth of power from the grid.

New England states are also seeking “clean” power sources that don’t contribute to global climate change, Jessome said.

Unlike states in southern New England, Vermont already holds long-term contracts for hydropower, he said. Those account for about 25 percent of the state’s power supply, he said.

Reservoirs emit an estimated 4 percent of global greenhouse gases, in the form of methane, according to Sarah Bardeen, communications coordinator for International Rivers, a national non-profit founded in opposition to dams. Submerged vegetation generates the gas as it rots, said Peter Bosshard, the organization’s executive director.

Dams are thought as well to have contributed to a 77-percent decline in aquatic species populations since 1970, Bardeen said.

“It’s very common that hydro is touted as clean and green energy,” she said. “Some dams are more destructive than others, but most large dams are destructive in various ways. It’s quite a fallacy to call them green and renewable energy, especially with [regard to] climate change.”

The Department of Public Service supports the project not so much for the product it will supply as for the economic benefits the cable will confer upon its host state, he said.

These include funding for cleanup efforts in Lake Champlain and for renewable energy projects, McNamara said. Municipalities will also benefit from tax payments associated with the project.

The shuttered nuclear plant Vermont Yankee in Vernon played a role in the TDI project’s inception, Jessome said.

“When Vermont Yankee shut down, we thought there was a great opportunity to plug into that transmission spot and develop our project,” he said.

Jessome said work on the project is scheduled to commence in 2016, and that the cable will be in service by 2019.

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Mike Polhamus

About Mike

Mike Polhamus wrote about energy and the environment for VTDigger. He formerly covered Teton County and the state of Wyoming for the Jackson Hole News & Guide, in Jackson, Wyoming. Polhamus studied at Southwestern Oregon Community College, University of Oxford and Sarah Lawrence College. His research has been commissioned on a variety of topics such as malnutrition and HIV, economic development, and Plato’s Phaedo. Polhamus hails originally from the state of Oregon. He now lives in Montreal.

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