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VEC members OK power line upgrade  

Credit:  Robin Smith, Staff Writer, The Orleans Record, orleanscountyrecord.com 27 July 2011 ~~

Vermont Electric Cooperative members voted in favor, by nearly a five-to-one margin, of a proposed transmission line upgrade to carry electricity generated by the Lowell wind project.

The vote announced Tuesday evening was 5,340 in favor of the power line upgrade to 1,379 opposed, according to VEC officials.

Of 34,000 members, nearly 20 percent or 6,719 voted by mail-in ballots they received at the beginning of July. Some opted to cast ballots in person during Tuesday evening’s special meeting at VEC’s Johnson headquarters. About 100 people attended the Johnson meeting.

VEC and opponents to the Lowell wind project called Kingdom Community Wind lobbied fellow members by phone, mail and in advertising in local newspapers in the past three weeks. Opponents, including seven Orleans County legislators, said that a “no” vote would delay the Lowell wind project enough to kill it.

“It was a great turnout,” VEC Executive Director David Hallquist said Tuesday evening. “A silent majority” spoke in favor of the upgrade, he said.

The power line upgrade “is a last major hurdle for Green Mountain Power” and its wind project, Hallquist said.

“Vermont Electric Coop members demonstrated their strong support for an important infrastructure upgrades for reliability and cost-effective transmission of electricity, including that which will come from the renewable energy wind project in Lowell,” said Robert Dostis, GMP customer relations and external affairs official.

“The decisive ‘yes’ vote allows our partnership with VEC to move ahead so that we can provide the lowest cost new renewable energy to our customers and their members,” he said.

Opponents were “obviously disappointed” with the results, said Luke Snelling of Energize Vermont. But they weren’t surprised, he said, noting that VEC spent $55,000 in its campaign to “influence the vote.”

And much of the territory of VEC lies well beyond the Lowell area, Snelling said. But he said the size of the no vote showed that opposition is growing. Opponents will continue to fight the project, he said. Albany and Craftsbury are challenging the project’s certificate of public good in court and they are involved in all the permits still outstanding.

“We think there is plenty of ground for this project to be stopped,” Snelling said.

“It doesn’t end here.”

The opponents believe they are having an impact in how the rest of the state views ridge line wind projects, he said.

Also during the special election, members in District 3 elected Carol Maroni of Craftsbury, who campaigned against the Lowell wind project, to serve on the VEC board of directors.

District 3 serves the Lowell-Albany-Craftsbury area.

Maroni won with 379 votes. Others were: Michael Ladd, 311 votes; Larry Chase, 240; Joe Torter, 184; Steve Merrill, 86; Amy Kelley, 79; and Dianne Laplante, 66 votes.

State regulators on the Public Service Board granted a certificate of public good to GMP to erect 21 industrial-grade wind turbines on the Lowell ridge line and for VEC to upgrade the power line in a joint project with GMP.

VEC required a vote of its membership to carry out a joint project with GMP.

VEC has a contract to buy power at cost estimated at 9.5 cents per kilowatt-hour from the Lowell wind project, the cheapest renewable power available in Vermont, officials said.

The project is contingent on a slew of conditions and outstanding permits such as storm-water runoff controls.

GMP was also waiting to see if VEC members would vote for the upgrade.

The upgrade is also designed to improve reliability and redundancy for the Lowell-Westfield-Jay area.

GMP will now pay $7 million toward the $12 million upgrade and also pay 58 percent of the power line’s maintenance. VEC said it would save the co-op $6.7 million over the next 10 years. The upgrade is superior to what VEC would have done on its own, officials have said.

“It will benefit all of our members from Lowell to Jay, Highgate to Newport,” Hallquist said.

Jay Peak Resort President Bill Stenger had come out in support of the power line upgrade, saying that Lowell’s support for the wind project convinced him to support it.

The special election also included the approval of a contract with Hydro Quebec by 5,970 to 700 and a new bylaw 5,572 to 991 that would formalize dividend payments to members in good years.

The turnout of this special election was two- and a-half times the turnout during the annual meeting vote this spring, VEC officials said.

Under VEC bylaws, there will be no recount of the vote. A margin of 5 percent or less between yes and no votes would have been needed to allow members to seek a recount, Hallquist said.

He had hoped for a 30 percent turnout to clearly show the will of the membership, but said he was satisfied with the results.

“High voter turnout reflects the importance of energy issues to VEC members,” Hallquist said. “As an electric cooperative, our members have a voice in making important decisions about our energy future.

“The level of involvement in this election is unprecedented and we view this as a very positive sign for the future of our democratic organization. This is one of the advantages of being a co-op,” he said.

He hopes that the opponents continue to participate in the co-op.

GMP won’t start construction until some conditions and other permits, including water quality and storm-water permits, are secured or met.

GMP wants to begin construction in August in order to have the turbines spinning by the end of 2012 – in order to receive federal production tax credits that expire at the end of next year.

GMP has hired contractors, which held two job fairs in the past two weeks to hire local people.

GMP is also waiting for word from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources about problems found at the site last week – 10 trees were cut without permission of the state or GMP by a contractor doing surveying work – and some logging work done on land to be preserved in mitigation for the wind project may not meet best forestry practices.

“As we get closer to construction, we are excited about the jobs that will be created and how the project will boost the local economy,” Dostis said. “We are proud to partner with VEC and its members to do our part in taking control of our energy future with locally produced, cost-effective and clean energy from Kingdom Community Wind. Today’s decisive vote will help us achieve that aim in the most cost-effective manner with a valued partner in Vermont Electric Coop.”

Source:  Robin Smith, Staff Writer, The Orleans Record, orleanscountyrecord.com 27 July 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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