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Power import plan runs into grid capacity limits

Utilities and regulators are worried that a planned 400-megawatt power line under Lake Champlain could flood northern Vermont with so much imported electricity that in-state renewable energy generators would be forced to ramp down production to avoid overloading the grid.

The Vermont Green Line project is on hold after Green Mountain Power, Burlington Electric Department and the Department of Public Service all sought additional information showing why the cable won’t disrupt the power grid and Vermont’s economy.

“When you add 400 megawatts to an area where there are other generators that may or may not be impacted, those discussions need to be advanced, and they’re complicated, and they take time,” said Joe Rossignoli, project director with developer National Grid.

Power already goes onto the grid in northern Vermont from the 63-megawatt Kingdom Community Wind installation in Lowell, which GMP co-owns with Vermont Electric Co-op, and the 50-megawatt wood-fired McNeil Generating Station in Burlington, which GMP and BED jointly own along with the Vermont Public Power Supply Authority.

The $650 million Vermont Green Line is one of several transmission lines proposed to carry renewable energy to southern New England, where states require utilities to get part of the electricity they sell from renewable sources. The cable is planned to carry wind energy from New York and hydroelectric power from Quebec to a station in New Haven in Addison County that will convert the electricity from direct current to alternating current.

A state regulator noted separately that National Grid has other things on its plate, including its Granite State Power Link. That line would cross through northern Vermont on its way from Canada to Monroe, New Hampshire, and it is a competitor in the bidding process that will award a massive clean-energy contract to serve southern New England states.

Rossignoli said National Grid has asked the Public Service Board to halt the permit process for the Green Line project so the developer can talk with other grid users outside the formal board review.

“We need to have those discussions outside the [application] process, and that’s why we’re requesting a stay,” he said. He declined to elaborate on the parties or the nature of the discussions.

Filings with the board say the Vermont Green Line could flood northern Vermont’s electricity grid with more electrons than the lines are meant to carry, and that could require the Lowell wind installation and McNeil station to ramp down production.

Utilities aren’t likely to be able to take advantage of the excess cheap energy, because they’re already committed to long-term contracts with other power suppliers and are on the hook for the sunken costs of their own renewable energy generators, said Ed McNamara, director of the Department of Public Service’s planning and energy resources division.

Neither GMP, BED nor the DPS necessarily opposes the project, representatives from each entity said. But they said they do want additional study done to ensure the project won’t harm ratepayers or Vermont residents.

The 60-mile Vermont Green Line is proposed to run between Beekmantown, New York, and New Haven, with two-thirds of its length sunk beneath Lake Champlain. Another developer called Anbaric was involved in the project until January, when National Grid purchased the project in its entirety, as planned, Rossignoli said.

The project as proposed would supply New Haven’s town coffers with $1.4 million the first year, including property taxes. That amount would increase by 1 percent each year for the next 40 years of operation, representatives said.

The company also promised New Haven more than $3 million to replace its aging fire station.

The Vermont Green Line was one of 24 projects seeking to help utilities in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut meet requirements imposed by those states for getting power from renewable sources. National Grid said in October that it failed to win a contract through that round of bidding.

The project’s developers said at the time that they would build the line anyway, and applied to the Public Service Board for a permit that same month.

Rossignoli said the timetable for possibly resuming the permit process depends on the resolution of the talks with power producers.

“We’re committed to take as long as we need to resolve those issues,” he said.

New Haven residents surveyed last year supported by almost a 2-to-1 margin the proposal to host a converter station for the project.

New Haven residents are anticipating a wait, so the delay isn’t catching anyone off guard, said Selectboard Chairwoman Kathleen Barrett.

“We knew it was going to be a process. We knew it was going to take some time,” she said.

Regarding residents’ continued support for the project, Barrett said that “some folks are not in favor of it, but the agreement has been signed.”