Landowners Concerned About Power Lines Near Wind Project

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(Host) A proposal for 20 turbines on Lowell Mountain has stirred controversy in the Northeast Kingdom. But there’s another piece of the project that hasn’t received as much attention. Utilities want to build a new, 15-mile power line to get the wind power out to the grid.

The line would cross many pieces of private property. And as VPR’s John Dillon reports, some landowners don’t like it.

(Dillon) Carolyn Arel lives in the farmhouse that her grandparents bought early in the last century. Her fields border Route 100 in Lowell, right along the route where Green Mountain Power and Vermont Electric Co-operative want to put up a new power line for the wind project.

(Arel) "At first I didn’t think it was a bad idea, but after I got hearing more about it, it’s for the high, high-powered line. I mean, it’s no use to me. I mean, I can’t hook on to it for power or to build a house or do anything."

(Dillon) Arel has rebuffed the utilities efforts to buy an easement on her property. She says the existing power line is along the road. The new line would cut into her fields.  And she doesn’t want to look at it.

(Arel) "This is my grandmother’s farm. It’s been in my family for three generations. And there’s never been an easement down through my fields. And there’s not going to be one now."

(Dillon) Arel is among the hold-outs on the power line project. Green Mountain Power and Vermont Electric Co-op need permission from 111 landowners. The utilities have 84 easements in hand, with 27 left to go. Robert Dostis, a GMP vice president, says a handful of people have just said no.

(Dostis) "The people who are holding out have their reasons. I think the important thing is that we’ve gotten most of the folks to agree to the easement, already."

(Dillon) Dostis says that for the most part the new line will follow an existing right of way. And he says that’s the case with the portion on Arel’s property. He says it follows the road and does not cross her fields. Dostis says GMP does not need to condemn any of Arel’s property. It’s a 46 kilovolt line – not huge, but the poles would be taller than the structures in place now.

(Dostis) "The current ones, the poles range between 32 feet and 37 feet. That’s existing. The new poles will be between 47 feet and 52 feet."

(Dillon) Letters from the utilities say the companies could go to court and condemn the land if they don’t get permission for the power line. Lawyer Brice Simon, who has represented opponents of the Lowell wind project, says that seems to be a heavy-handed tactic.

(Simon) "It does appear to be presumptuous for them to proceed so aggressively with letters to the landowners essentially assuming that they’re going to get their permit when that matter is still under advisement with the Public Service Board."

(Dillon) But David Hallquist, the general manager of the Vermont Electric Co-op, says taking property by eminent domain would be a last resort.

(Hallquist) "I wouldn’t certainly like to do that because I think that’s a sign of failure in negotiations. However, at the same time, that is the public process. It is about serving the public good."

(Dillon) Hallquist says that even without the wind project the line is needed to replace aging infrastructure. He says it benefits the co-op because Green Mountain Power will pay 58 percent of the $12 million project.

But Carolyn Arel in Lowell says she’ll fight the power line in court, if necessary.

(Arel) "It’s almost like they’re threatening me: ‘If you don’t sign this and take this money, we’re going to take your property through a condemnation.’ Well, we’ll see."

(Dillon) The Public Service Board is expected to rule on the Lowell project and the power line within the next few months.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

This story has been updated to reflect the following correction:

This morning we aired a story about a transmission line that would serve the wind power project proposed for Lowell Mountain.

We reported that a property owner said the line would cut across her fields. She said it would be closer to her house than an existing line.

But a Green Mountain Power map of the project shows that the line and poles would follow the existing highway right of way along Route 100, which parallels the property.


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