Douglas resists federal control of power grid

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he opposes a Congressional plan to give the federal government the authority to site new power lines if individual states don’t support these projects. Douglas, who supports an upgrade of transmission lines in northwestern Vermont, wants the state to determine the future of that project not the federal government.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) In the next few weeks Congress is scheduled to consider a major energy bill that sponsors say will help make the country more energy independent. Major debates are expected over a proposal to drill in the arctic wilderness, the size of energy conservation measures and the development of alternative energy sources.

Tucked away in the bill is a provision that could develop into a major states rights issue. The measure would allow the federal government to overrule a state’s rejection of major power transmission lines if federal officials determine that the project is needed to provide a sufficient supply of electricity on a regional basis.

Last month’s power blackout in parts of the northeast and the Midwest is being cited by backers of the plan as a reason why a federal approach is needed to upgrade regional transmission systems.

Douglas, who is the incoming chair of the New England Governors Association, thinks the federal approach is a mistake:

(Douglas) “I certainly hope we can resist it. It’s true that we are interconnected. We’re part of a New England power grid. We learned from the blackout last month that each state is connected to each other and beyond our region as well. But local control of siting decisions is very important to Vermonters and I want to maintain that as long as we can.”

(Kinzel) The upgrade of transmission lines in northwestern Vermont has been identified by regional power officials as one of the two weak links in the New England power grid. Douglas supports the upgrade of these lines, a proposal known as the Reliability Project, but he wants Vermont regulators to make the final evaluation of this project not the federal government.

(Douglas) “I think it’s very possible that the federal government would because of the interconnection of the grid around New England so I hope that our regulatory process through the section 248 proceedings through our Public Service Board will be able to find a way to site the Reliability project in a way that’s satisfying to the people of our state.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he hopes to work with other New England governors on this issue in the coming weeks.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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