Scott touts power project seen tied to lake cleanup

Governor Phil Scott this week championed a hydroelectric and wind-power transmission project that could bring hundreds of millions of dollars to ameliorate Lake Champlain’s phosphorus pollution.

Scott “strongly urge[d]” Massachusetts regulators to choose Transmission Developers, Inc. as a supplier for 9,450,000 megawatt-hours that the state’s utilities are looking to buy. Massachusetts utilities are required by law to acquire that amount of electricity from generators the state has deemed “clean,” such as hydroelectric, solar and wind sources.

If built, the 1,000-megawatt power cable would establish a sorely needed long-term funding source for a pollution-reduction effort on Lake Champlain that has been mandated by the federal government.

The project, called the New England Clean Power Link, was backed as well by Scott’s predecessor, former Gov. Peter Shumlin. Shumlin’s former chief of staff, Darren Springer, says he’s heartened to see Scott carry the torch.

Environmental advocates hounded Scott and lawmakers this year over their failure to nail down long-term funding for Lake Champlain’s phosphorus pollution problem, which is expected to cost Vermonters $30 million a year for the next 20 years.

The Clean Power Link would bring in roughly $7.5 million annually for the next 40 years, and administration officials have floated the idea of seeking a loan backed by future payments from the cable to pay for pollution-reduction efforts in the lake during the next two decades.

Scott’s communications director, Rebecca Kelley, said the clean-water funding was a big motivator for the governor’s plea to Vermont’s southern neighbor.

The funding was among a number of concessions negotiated from TDI through the state review process, Springer said.

“Governor Shumlin felt like his administration negotiated a good agreement with TDI … through the PSB process,” Springer said. “It sounds like Governor Scott continues to be an advocate for it as well.” PSB stands for Public Service Board, the former name of the Public Utility Commission.

It’s not unusual for someone in Scott’s position to prefer one private business over others, as he’s done for TDI over the other bidders for the Massachusetts clean-energy contract, Springer said.

“I think that’s what governors do, is look at projects like that, that are going to be a benefit to the state, and be a proponent of it,” he said.

TDI President, CEO and co-founder Donald Jessome said he’s thrilled to have received Scott’s support.

“We’re extremely pleased,” Jessome said. “To have the governor endorse our project so publicly like that … is a real differentiator for our project.”

Massachusetts will look favorably upon the fact that the project’s host state has given such strong support to the Clean Power Link when evaluating it against other bidders for the state’s clean-energy contracts, Jessome said.

The $1.2 billion project will carry roughly the same amount of power Vermont consumes as a whole. That power is generated by a series of hydroelectric dams on rivers in northern Quebec.

As part of the concessions TDI offered to the state leading up to Vermont’s approval of the project, Vermont has dibs to purchase 200 megawatts from the cable, should state utilities choose to do so.

The project’s backers — financial firm Blackstone Group, which manages more than $200 billion in assets — reached an agreement in 2015 with the Conservation Law Foundation that secures almost $300 million over 40 years for the state’s cleanup efforts in Lake Champlain. The environmental advocacy group negotiated more than $100 million in addition to what TDI originally promised, and in exchange CLF agreed not to oppose the project in the courts.

Those payments are on top of $136 million to be disbursed to the state’s electricity transmission utility, Vermont Electric Power Co. (VELCO), in annual payments over 40 years. That money will be used to keep electric rates lower than they’d be otherwise, VELCO officials have said, and will reduce the cost of transmitting electricity within Vermont by about 10 percent.

TDI has already secured permits from the state, from the Department of Energy, and from the regional power grid manager Independent System Operator-New England, which has stated that it would be compatible with the existing regional grid.

The cable will carry 1,000 megawatts of direct-current electricity 154 miles from the Canadian border to Ludlow, where a converter station would transform it to alternating current. From the Coolidge Substation in Ludlow and Cavendish, the power will flow into the ISO-New England grid.

Most of the cable’s length from the Canadian border will be buried beneath Lake Champlain.

Massachusetts regulators will choose successful bidders for the clean-energy contract in January, 2018.

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