Utilities plan for N.E. expansion
By Louis Porter Vermont Press Bureau | December 19,2008
MONTPELIER — Two large New England utilities want to build a transmission line that would bring electricity from the Hydro-Quebec network of dams north of Vermont to southern New Hampshire and carry power on to the rest of New England.
If approved the large transmission line — now in the very early stages — would be the first such major line that takes power from Hydro-Quebec to New England without going through Vermont.
"We believe it will help bring in not only low emission power but competitively priced power," said Sandra Ahearn, a spokeswoman for Northeast Utilities, which is proposing the power line. "We believe it will go a long way towards stabilizing the long-term price" of electricity.
Hydro-Quebec power could have several advantages for southern New England utilities and customers. It would provide power that could come through long-term contracts. It could stabilize a power price largely dependent on natural gas prices. And it would satisfy some of the requirements of anti-global warming rules that limit how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases can be produced.
But what impact would such a line — expected to cost roughly $500 million — being built in New Hampshire mean for Vermont?
It could help the state by providing another access point to Hydro-Quebec electricity, said Commissioner of Public Service David O'Brien.
"That is one more option for us," he said. "The more options you have … to supply power to ratepayers the better."
Northeast Utilities and Massachusetts utility NSTAR recently requested permission to build the line from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and would need local approval as well.
If built the power line could benefit Vermonters according to officials at the two largest Vermont utilities.
"I am really excited about the proposal," said Mary Powell, president of Green Mountain Power. The proposed line may, if it is approved, dovetail with the company's plan to decrease or ramp down the amount of power it buys from the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant over the next decade or so, and increase how much it gets from Hydro-Quebec and others sources.
Steve Costello of Central Vermont Public Service said the utility, the largest in Vermont, is interested in the idea as well.
"We view the potential as very positive both for New England and for Vermont," he said. Another avenue for Hydro-Quebec electricity may help control prices of power, although the project is still in the early stages, Costello added.
There may be something else at stake, however. Something that dates back to the days two decades ago when the previous Hydro-Quebec power contracts — set to expire about the time the proposed line could be built — were created.
"This has been a long-standing gambit among New England and New York entities to deal with Hydro-Quebec," said Richard Sedano, a director of the Regulatory Assistance Project and a former director of Vermont's Department of Public Service. "It is about control."
"Since then there has been competition for many years about where the next slug of power would go," he added. "This proposal to FERC represents an effort by two utilities to control a significant amount of power from Hydro-Quebec."
And what about the Vermont Electric Power Co. or VELCO, responsible for power transmission lines in Vermont?
"This is a big project with important ramifications for Vermont and the region," Kerrick Johnson, vice president for External Affairs, said. "Our responsibility will be to work with our Vermont utility owners and regulators to evaluate if it is in the state's best interest."
The power line would be paid not by all ratepayers across New England — the way some transmission projects are — but by those utilities and ultimately their customers who use the power. The electricity would likely be sold through long-term power contracts, a kind of contract once out of favor in the deregulated power markets — everywhere in New England except Vermont — but now apparently attractive again.
Contact Louis Porter at email@example.com.