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VEC power line upgrade enters wind power debate

(Host) Ballots asking Vermont Electric Cooperative customers whether they support a new transmission line have gone out in the mail.

The co-op says an existing line is outdated and needs to be replaced.

But, as VPR’s Kirk Carapezza reports, the power line has become a way for people in the Northeast Kingdom to register opposition to a neighboring wind project.

(Carapezza) Vermont Electric officials say the transmission line work is needed regardless of whether a wind project is built on Lowell Mountain. David Hallquist is CEO of the co-op.

(Hallquist) “You can’t run an electric system to failure. It’s not like a bridge. We all know, a bridge gets closed, you find another route. But in the case of an electric system – especially up there – there are no redundant routes.”

(Carapezza) Hallquist says repairing the old power line will be expensive, at about $12 million. To share the expense, VEC partnered with Green Mountain Power, which it’s also working with to develop the wind project.

(Hallquist) “We were hoping and we were successful in getting GMP to share in some of those costs that would have been borne by the VEC members alone.”

(Carapezza) With the partnership, Hallquist says, it’s expected to cost co-op members $5 million. GMP would pay the rest and would also pay half the maintenance for the next 25 years.

But opponents want VEC members to vote down the measure because they question the project’s benefits. Pat O’Neil from Westfield is among those raising concerns about it. For one, she worries some members will carry a bigger burden than others.

(O’Neil) “And that violates co-op principles. And I don’t know how a co-op can behave this way but it apparently is.”

(Carapezza) O’Neil also says there’s no way to vote on the transmission line without considering the wind project. And she says the turbine project is out of scale.

(O’Neil) “I’m still trying to find out if there’s even turbines that have been in place in this kind of climate and geography for two years, and we’re supposed to just accept the budget for 25 years when there’s very little history there.”

(Carapezza) But VEC says the opposition is wrong to think that they can vote down this plan and stop the wind project. Again, here’s David Hallquist.

(Hallquist) “The ballot measure could get voted down, our members could see a rate increase, and they could still be staring at those wind turbines and not getting any of the benefit.”

(Carapezza) Ballots went out to VEC members this week, and voters have to mail them back within three weeks.

For VPR News, I’m Kirk Carapezza.