State takes steps toward purchase of dams

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(Host) State officials took their first concrete steps on Thursday toward buying a stake in hydroelectric dams on the Deerfield and Connecticut Rivers. The company that owns the dams is in bankruptcy. Advocates say Vermont has the chance now to secure a stable, long-term power resource for the future.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The state has moved forward on two fronts toward buying the eight hydroelectric projects. The Vermont Renewable Power Supply Acquisition Authority decided on Thursday to seek legislative approval to negotiate for at least a 25 percent interest in the power dams. And the Senate agreed to spend 250-thousand dollars to continue work on the deal.

Governor Jim Douglas says the authority has studied the issue for a year, and is now working with a potential private partner.

(Douglas) “I think the process has worked quite well. We’ve gone through it in a deliberative way. We shouldn’t be making a multi-hundred million dollar decision for the state without giving it some thought. And now that thought has been given to the project, and I think we’re in a position to recommend moving forward.”

(Dillon) At full output, the eight dams on the Deerfield and Connecticut rivers produce almost half of Vermont’s energy needs. Even buying a quarter of the output represents a huge investment for the state. The company that owns the dams – P G and E National Energy Group – is in bankruptcy. And the state’s renewable power authority hopes the bankrutpcy court will allow the hydro projects to be sold off separately.

But Administration secretary Michael Smith cautions that many obstacles remain before Vermont gets into the power business. He says the company that the state is working with has to come out as the top bidder in bankruptcy court, and then the deal has to be right for the state.

(Smith) “There’s still a lot of hurdles here. The bankruptcy proceeding is still going on, so to say that this is a certainty would be an overstatement in terms of the ultimate outcome.”

(Dillon) Smith says he can’t identify the state’s potential partner. He says it’s a large company, with deep experience in energy projects.

For Vermont public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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