Regulators quash plan to remove Peterson Dam

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(Host) Vermont regulators have quashed a plan to remove a hydroelectric dam on the Lamoille River in Milton. Supporters of the plan say getting rid of the dam would improve the Lake Champlain fishery.

The state Public Service Board says it can’t justify passing the costs associated with the dam’s removal along to Vermont’s ratepayers.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) The hard-won agreement to remove the Peterson Dam was reached in early 2003 after many years of negotiation between the state, environmental groups and Central Vermont Public Service, Vermont’s largest utility.

On Wednesday, the Public Service Board informed the parties that it would not approve the agreement.

The Board’s said there are some environmental benefits to the dam’s removal but there’s is no guarantee that it would significantly improve fish habitat in the lower Lamoille River.

The board also said its job isn’t to consider the environmental issues: Only whether or not to grant CVPS’s request to charge its ratepayers for the costs associated with decommissioning Peterson.

The board called that an extraordinary request that couldn’t be granted.

The board also cited Act 61, which was passed two years after the Peterson Dam agreement was reached. The act sets goals for increasing the state’s use of energy from renewable sources.

Steve Costello of CVPS says the board’s decision reflects a new emphasis on renewable energy.

(Costello) “It certainly ends what has been roughly two decades of debate and litigation and I think it represents an evolution of the state’s position on renewable energy and clearly through Act 61, the state has put a high priority on renewable energy and the board reflects that in its decision.”

(Zind) Jon Groveman of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, one of the parties to the agreement, sees the Public Service Board decision differently. Groveman says the Board was mostly concerned about ratepayers being charged for the cost of the dam’s removal.

He says eliminating the dam doesn’t run counter to the state’s commitment to renewable energy.

(Groveman) “We’re not out there advocating that any other hydroelectric dam generating power besides the Peterson Dam be removed. The Peterson Dam is a unique circumstance where the dam was placed in the worst possible location in terms of its impact on fisheries.”

(Zind) Groveman also said CVPS worked to undermine the agreement after it was signed.

The utility says Peterson Dam is a source of cheap, reliable power and that it only signed the agreement at the request of then-Governor Howard Dean – and to end long years of litigation.

Groveman says no decision has been made about what to do next, but he says too many people have worked long and hard on the effort to remove the dam to quit now.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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