(Host) The Vermont Electric Power Company has won a round in its attempt to build new power lines in western Vermont. VELCO, which operates the state’s electric transmission grid, is also negotiating with some of the towns along the route over the aesthetic impacts of the project.
VPR’s John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) The proposed $128 million project is designed to strengthen the electric grid from West Rutland to South Burlington.
Part of the proposal includes a large-scale, 345 kilovolt transmission line to New Haven. The town of New Haven opposes the power line and asked state regulators to dismiss that portion of VELCO’s permit application. The town argued that the 345 kilovolt line should be judged separately from the rest of the power line upgrade. And the town said the high voltage line isn’t necessary to serve the state’s energy needs.
The Public Service Board rejected the town’s request. David Mace is a VELCO spokesman.
(Mace) “VELCO is pleased with the Public Service Board ruling that a project like this should be evaluated whole, and not piecemeal, as New Haven sought to do.”
(Dillon) Attorney Jim Dumont represents the town of New Haven. He says the Public Service Board will ultimately have to address the question of whether a project of this scale is needed.
(Dumont) “It’s definitely a setback. The board could have said, we’re going to cut this off right now, based on what we’ve heard, right now you haven’t got a case. And the board hasn’t done that, so that’s a setback for us. But the board is reserving decision on the merits and we’ll get a final word on this at the end of the case.”
(Dillon) VELCO, meanwhile, has started a round of confidential negotiations with some of the towns along the power line route. The negotiations are aimed at resolving some of the aesthetic issues. But the company has required that town officials not disclose to their constituents what’s being discussed in the VELCO negotiations.
The town of New Haven rejected the confidentiality requirement. Selectman Amos Roleau says there’s such huge public interest in the VELCO issue that officials decided not to negotiate in secret.
(Roleau) “We as a whole board, and it was unanimous, we felt that because the citizens of New Haven had been adamant about their negotiations with VELCO. We would never negotiate with them without all the citizens knowing all the facts.”
(Dillon) VELCO Spokesman David Mace compared the negotiations to settlement talks that take place in a court case. He said he could not disclose which towns have agreed to the confidential discussions. In addition to New Haven, the VELCO line will go through the towns of Charlotte, Vergennes, Ferrisburgh, Shelburne, and South Burlington.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.