Public Service of New Hampshire officials say they will spend millions of dollars over the next several years to upgrade the state’s transmission lines to improve reliability and incorporate more renewable energy.
Fortunately for PSNH ratepayers, according to David Plante, PSNH’s project manager, the utility has been performing the upgrades on a piecemeal basis over several years. Unlike some of New Hampshire’s neighbors, he said, the state has not been forced to undergo a massive project to upgrade its transmission system.
“We got started earlier than Maine did and we did it in a piecemeal fashion,” he said.
Central Maine Power officials in Augusta recently rolled out a $500 million project to upgrade 485 miles of transmission lines that stretch from northern Maine to South Berwick and Eliot.
Mary-Jo Boisvert, a PSNH spokeswoman in Manchester, said the utility, which owns 1,000 transmission lines in New Hampshire, began several projects as early as 2001, as the state’s population grew by 9 percent between 1998 and 2007. Electricity usage over that same period increased 28 percent, and utility company officials realized they needed to improve the system so it could meet future demand.
Boisvert said several public policy decisions made by state lawmakers and regional power grid operators at ISO-New England in Holyoke, Mass., also precipitated the need to improve the transmission system.
As a result, PSNH’s capital budget has increased from $25 million in 2001 to more than $80 million in 2007. Boisvert said the cost of power transmission and upgrades represents a small percentage of the 14.5 cent per kilowatt average retail rate that PSNH customers pay.
She said it is actually less than one cent of that figure.
Tom Frantz, head of the electrical division at the New Hampshire Public Utilities Commission in Concord, said PSNH’s capital budget is projected to increase to more than $100 million in 2008.
Boisvert said future projects only will result in more spending as the utility carries out needed improvements.
She also said one of the most expensive projects on the horizon could be the proposed Coos County Loop. She said this project requires the transmission lines in Coos County to be upgraded so new biomass, wind and solar power generated there can be transported to Southern New Hampshire and other states as needed.
Boisvert said PSNH has to carry out that project to meet the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standards approved by state lawmakers. They call for the state to receive 25 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources by 2025. Several other states, including Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts, have passed similar laws.
Boisvert said that project is still in the planning stages, but PSNH officials estimate it could cost $150 million to $200 million. One issue that is not clear is who will pay for those upgrades, she said.
It has yet to be determined if the costs will be borne by PSNH ratepayers, New Hampshire state taxpayers or shouldered by customers of member utility companies that make up ISO-New England throughout the Northeast.
“There’s no definitive answer,” Boisvert said.
As a way to help meet the portfolio standard, several New England states, including New Hampshire, may explore ways to import renewable energy from biomass, wind and hydroelectric plants in Canada, Boisvert said.
Some projects that PSNH is close to completing include the $75 million Monadnock Region to upgrade power lines and a new substation in Fitzwilliam, Plante said. The project also involves rebuilding 50 miles of 115-kilovolt transmission lines, he said.
As part of that project, Plante said, some of the lines between Franklin and Bow are being upgraded in addition to lines between Goffstown and Hillsboro. Some work also is being done on the lines located between Swanzey and Keene, he said.
A $28 million project in the White Mountains Region also is being done to improve transmission reliability, Plante said. He said three substations in Conway, Campton and Tamworth are being upgraded.
“We don’t really have anything huge planned for the Seacoast at the moment,” Plante said.
Plante said PSNH crews recently completed a new 140-megawatt transformer project at the Timber Swamp Substation in Hampton that cost $15 million.
Some projects still in the conceptual stages include the proposed construction of a 450-megawatt transformer at the Deerfield substation, Plante said, adding that the project also will involve rebuilding 12 miles of 115-kilovolt transmission lines from Deerfield to Madbury.
That project could cost as much as $40 million and be completed in 2012, he said. A new $12 million substation could be constructed in Rochester in 2012, he added.
By Robert M. Cook
14 July 2008