VELCO asks public to offer input on long-term future of electrical grid

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(Host) The company that owns and runs Vermont’s electrical transmission grid wants the public to weigh in on its long range plans.

The Vermont Electric Power Company – or VELCO – has been holding meetings around the state to discuss its draft plan for keeping up with Vermont’s power demands over the next two decades.  

The company was in Brattleboro Wednesday night. VPR’s Susan Keese files this report.

(Keese) A 2005 Vermont law  requires VELCO to present a long-range plan every three years and involve the public in the planning process. The plan identifies possible weaknesses in the network of poles, wires and substations that move electricity around the state.

(LaForest) "We identified 23 different problems or deficiencies if you will  and there are 25 different fixes to resolve each of those."

(Keese) VELCO Transmission Planning Manager Dean LaForest was among the planners and utility spokesmen who fielded questions  in a Brattleboro  meeting room.

LaForest said most of  VELCO’s 25 solutions involve improvements to substations or redesigning existing lines. Two possible projects involve building new transmission lines within the next decade or so. One would run from Georgia to St. Albans. This other is a 30-mile power line expansion from Plattsburgh to Essex.

LaForest says these scenarios are only the beginning of a process that calls for lots of public input and for "green" solutions  to be considered before new infrastructure is built.  

(LaForest) "And it’s to provide information in terms of what communities, what the distribution utilities need to know and understand in terms of what we see as needs for the transmission system. So that they may understand where the problems are and look for alternatives to what we’re actually putting on the table as this first part of the planning."

(Keese) LaForest  says he hopes utilities, communities, and groups like Efficiency Vermont will come up with local generation or efficiency ideas that could delay or even defer the need for new transmission infrastructure.

Jim Matteau,  the executive director of the Windham Regional Commission, says VELCO could have given those new ideas more thought.

(Matteau) "The plan it seems to me has very little about alternatives to increased transmission, and it doesn’t have much about things that are on the cutting edge coming like smart grid technology and the like."

Smart grid refers to computerizing  power distribution systems to create new efficiencies.

VELCO spokesman Kerrick Johnson says it’s hard to factor  ‘smart grid’ into a 20-year plan, because the technology is unfolding so fast.

(Johnson) "The rules for the economic stimulus dollars that could go towards smart grid are still being written. A proposal with Vermont utilities is just being written… But you can’t put it in the plan now if essentially what you’re talking about is this is what might happen."

The plan will be filed with the Vermont Public Service Board in July.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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