Army Corps of Engineers approves $1.2 billion power cable

The Army Corps of Engineers signed off this week on a 1,000-megawatt electric cable that would run from Canada to Ludlow.

TDI New England’s $1.2 billion utility transmission project will feed the southern New England power grid, which company representatives say will be completed by 2019.

TDI now has two of three required permits for the cable. In addition to the Corps approval, the Vermont Public Service Board greenlighted the project last month. TDI is now waiting on White House approval, which is required of all energy transmission projects crossing international boundaries.

The transmission line will be buried under much of the length of Lake Champlain; the Army Corps permit allows the cable to carry hydroelectric power across wetlands and navigable waterways.

Donald Jessome, CEO and president of TDI New England, says the permit is a major accomplishment.

“It’s a very difficult permit to get, [involving] a very comprehensive review,” Jessome said. “Obviously, we’re very pleased. We were highly confident we would receive the permit … but with any permit, you don’t have it, until you have it.”

The Department of Energy has already reviewed the project and recommended that the White House issue a final permit for the project, Jessome said.

Jessome said the company is in the process of securing manufacturers for the cable, as well as contractors and financing. Some secondary permits must be obtained as well, he said.

The project has seen a quicker approval process than others of similar size, said Conservation Law Foundation senior attorney Sandra Levine.

Because the cable will be buried under Lake Champlain for almost the entire length, the project’s environmental and aesthetic harms will be minimal, Levine said. The sections above ground use existing rights of way, she said, which means the company doesn’t need to cut large swaths of trees and flora to accommodate the cable.

TDI New England made sure that regulators “got the information they need to issue the permits,” and the company was responsible in the way it addressed environmental impacts, Levine said.

Levine’s organization negotiated significant concessions from TDI New England, the benefits of which will mainly accrue to cleanup efforts in Lake Champlain.

The so-called New England Power Link is being built in response to renewable energy needs in New England states. Like Vermont, these states have aggressive renewable energy goals.

The cable will carry 1,000 megawatts, roughly the amount of power consumed by the entire state of Vermont. If it is constructed, Vermont will host the cable, and most of the electricity, which is expected to come from dams and wind turbines, will be transmitted to southern New England.

Vermont will have the option to purchase up to 200 megawatts, but Jessome said he doesn’t expect the state to take advantage of that option.

“Our expectation is that most of the energy will be consumed by the southern New England states, because the utilities in Vermont are in a very good position with local suppliers for their renewable energy needs,” Jessome said.

That may change over time, he said.

TDI 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.

The state’s transmission utility, Vermont Electric Power Co. (VELCO), will operate and maintain the transmission line. TDI has agreed to pay VELCO $136 million or $2.5 million annually over 40 years. That money is expected to be used to lower electric rates and would result in a 10 percent reduction in transmission costs for VELCO’s customers, according to officials.

VELCO spokesman Kerrick Johnson said the negotiated agreement between the transmission utility and TDI will benefit ratepayers.

“We viewed our role as to secure the greatest amount of risk-adjusted value we could on behalf of our owners, who would in turn pass on the benefit to our customers,” Johnson said.

In exchange for the payments to VELCO, the utility will take over maintenance and operations functions for the cable, where possible, Johnson said.

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. The transmission line is anticipated to be carrying power by 2019.

Mike Polhamus

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