By 2019, two 6-inch-wide cables would extend 150 miles from Quebec under Lake Champlain and across land to Ludlow, carrying 1,000 megawatts of hydro-electric power, according to an announcement Wednesday by TDI New England.
“There are a lot of parties that are going to be benefiting,” Donald Jessome, president of TDI New England, told the Burlington Free Press in an interview Wednesday. “This allows ratepayers to have access to a very stable, long-term, clean, lower-cost fuel source.”
The $1.2 billion project, called the New England Clean Power Link, would be privately financed through the Blackstone Group, Jessome said. The project, subject to approval by Vermont regulators, is similar but entirely separate from a transmission line that TDI has proposed from Quebec to New York City.
That other project, titled the Champlain Hudson Power Express, is also proposed to be built under Lake Champlain, but in New York state waters. The newly proposed New England project would be built on the Vermont side of the lake before veering east over land to Ludlow, Jessome said.
The New York project has won a certificate of public need from that state’s Public Service Commission and is awaiting federal permits. Permitting is running about two years behind TDI’s original schedule. The project has gained support from several environmental groups, but has faced opposition from existing power generators worried that it will replace locally generated power with Canadian power.
For the New England project, TDI has applied to ISO-New England for interconnection but is a year away from applying for state Public Service Board and Agency of Natrual Resources approval.
Jessome said TDI has done economic analysis and believes that over 10 years the project would save New England electric consumers $2 billion, but that it will be doing more specific analysis to estimate savings to Vermont ratepayers as it seeks a certificate of public good from the Public Service Board.
Jessome has discussed the New England project with a number of Vermont leaders, including Gov. Peter Shumlin. Shumlin. Chris Recchia, Shumlin’s public service commissioner, said the project shows promise as a way to make the New England grid more
“It is an interesting model that we should evaluate carefully,” Recchia said, noting that the project is in very early stages.
New England’s governors have been discussing how to replace the power from aging generators with reliable, low-carbon options. Jonathan Peress, vice president of Conservation Law Foundation in New Hampshire, has been part of those discussions and called TDI’s project a promising option.
He said the environmental organization plans to continue to be involved in discussions about any impact the project would have on Lake Champlain, and will pay attention to the greenhouse gas emissions involved in producing the power.
Jessome said he plans to meet Monday with officials from Green Mountain Power Corp., Vermont’s largest utility, to talk about the project. Green Mountain Power spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said the utility has a good power mix but is always looking for affordable, low-carbon electric options.
She noted that the 1,000 megawatts – enough to power a million homes – is almost as much power as Vermont uses during peak demand, so clearly the project is planned to supply power beyond Vermont to southern New England.
Jessome has talked to Vermont Electric Power Co., the entity that oversees Vermont electric transmission grid. VELCO wants to know what the project’s specific value to Vermont will be before determining whether to support the project, VELCO Vice President Kerrick Johnson said.
“We haven’t really begun to conduct the multiple analyses that need to be undertaken,” Johnson said, noting that it’s early in the process and that projects that are proposed don’t always make it to fruition.
David Hallquist, chief executive officer of Vermont Electric Cooperative, the state’s second-largest utility, said he has heard a little about TDI’s proposal. He said he sees the company’s goal as reaching the more populous southern New England market and he would want to know what potential benefits Vermont would receive from the line. Hallquist said his utility might be interested in buying more hydro power, but would want a long-term fixed-price contract.
Jessome said the project offers many benefits to Vermont, including jobs, new tax revenue and low-emission power transmitted over new, high-quality lines that are out of the public view.
TDI’s proposal is unusual in that transmission lines in Vermont have always been built by utilities for purposes of grid reliability, Johnson said. “This would be the first project to meet public policy/economic goals.”
Jessome said a growing number of transmission lines are being built by private companies across the country.
Jessome said TDI plans to bring the line under Lake Champlain in two 6-inch wide cables that would be buried 4 feet underground. The line would continue underground as it travels east via land to Ludlow, where TDI would build a converter station and connect the line with VELCO’s Coolidge substation. Johnson said that when VELCO met with TDI about two weeks ago, the plans were not that specific.
TDI New England would build and own the transmission line, Jessome said. The as-yet-undetermined supplier of hydro power would own the electricity, which it would sell, he said. Hydro-Quebec is one possible supplier, as are other hydro companies in Quebec, he said. The technology of burying cables underground and underwater is well-established and commonly used around the world, he said.
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