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Lowell wind: GMP seeking line easements

LOWELL – Green Mountain Power has asked state regulators to secure rights of way for transmission line upgrades to serve the Lowell wind project.

Sixteen property owners have not agreed to sell rights of way, called easements, to GMP for the line upgrades.

So GMP wants the state regulators on the Public Service Board to grant those easements and determine the compensation GMP would pay to the landowners.

GMP has already cut deals with 87 other property owners, according to GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure. The transmission line runs through Jay, Lowell and Westfield.

However, if some landowners don’t want to reach a private deal with GMP, the board has the authority through what’s called the condemnation process to grant easements to allow GMP to upgrade or move transmission lines.

“That’s for a project that is already determined to be in the public good,” Schnure said.

The Public Service Board in May said the Lowell wind project called Kingdom Community Wind serves the public good. The board gave GMP and its partners a state certificate of public good for 21 industrial turbines 459 feet tall on the Lowell ridge line.

The board also required GMP to meet a series of conditions before construction can begin in August.

GMP, its partners Vermont Electric Cooperative and transmission company VELCO are appealing certain parts of the certificate.

Opponents, such as Lowell Mountain Group and the towns of Albany and Craftsbury, are also appealing.

They want the board to rescind its approval or at the very least call for new hearings over a deal that GMP cut with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to protect hundreds of acres of wilderness in compensation for the ridge line development.

GMP and its partners need to upgrade the transmission lines in the area to handle the electricity to be produced by the wind turbines.

GMP has done studies to determine fair market value for the easements that are needed for the power lines, paying 90 percent of fair market value, Schnure said.

Most properties involved already have an existing power line overhead. GMP would pay additional compensation for the right to run a new line upgrade.

There are some properties where there is no existing power line because the line is in the town’s road right of way. However, GMP needs a wider easement to clear and maintain the ground below the bigger power line, Schnure said.

GMP compensates landowners for easements, based on the percentage of the property needed and the fair market value of the whole property.

Most are in the range of between $800 and $1,500, Schnure said.

GMP will continue to seek private agreements with the outstanding property owners while asking the board to act to require the easements, Schnure said.

Meanwhile, VEC is preparing for a vote of its membership on the $12 million upgrade. The vote will be done by mail in July by members throughout northern Vermont, including in the proposed view shed of the Lowell wind project.

GMP has agreed to pay 58 percent of the cost of upgrades to VEC on lines that are affected by the renewable wind development.

The line upgrades will also increase the reliability of electrical supply in the Jay-Lowell area. VEC officials have said that they had planned to upgrade the line in the next 10 years. They were able to move the project ahead because of the Lowell wind project.

By making these upgrades today, GMP estimates that VEC members will save approximately $1 million per year for the next 10 years.