CHESHIRE – Nate Plaza just sold one of his home lots on 170 acres of long-owned family land in Lanesborough, where one high-voltage transmission line already cuts through some of this property.
But Plaza fears a proposed, second 23-mile transmission line – built next to the existing line, and which will run from upstate New York through five Berkshire County towns – might mess with his plans to sell at least six more lots that have already been carved out.
“They’ll have the [new] power line right in front them, where now it’s a stand of trees,” he said.
GridAmerica Holdings, the renewable energy arm of parent company National Grid, will place a bid for its Northeast Renewable Link project next week with state electric distribution companies and the state Department of Energy Resources. And the company says the power will come from wind or hydropower sources in upstate New York.
GridAmerica won’t know until January whether the project is chosen. But letters have been sent to at least some landowners, and company surveyors are already asking for permission to see what kind of easements might be needed.
“I have five house lots that could be affected,” Plaza told The Eagle, speaking from his home in New Hampshire. “I own [land on] both sides of the corridor.”
All the lots are fields right now, he noted.
The company says the new line will begin at a substation in Nassau, N.Y., and run alongside an existing line through Stephentown, N.Y., Hancock, Lanesborough, Cheshire, Dalton and Hinsdale, where it would end at the Berkshire substation there.
Pete Kavanaugh of Hilltop Public Solutions – a Boston-based public relations firm – told the Cheshire Select Board this week that the 600-megawatt capacity line could be live by 2021, after about 36 months of working on environmental and other permits, followed by construction using “local” contractors.
And Rafael Sulit, a spokesman for National Grid, said while the towers would likely be about 60 to 80 feet high – the same size as the lines in the existing 350-foot corridor – the project was designed to keep the land and views as intact as possible.
He said he could not speak to the cost of the project, however, but said more details would be revealed after the bid was placed on July 27.
GridAmerica is also partnering on this project with Citizens Energy Corp. – a Boston-based nonprofit founded by former U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy II – whose mission is to keep energy costs down, especially for low-income residents.
The Eagle’s questions to Citizens Energy about the level of its involvement in the project were referred to its website, which says it also invests in transmission line projects and reinvests some of its profits back into the local host communities. For instance, half the profits from a California project went toward helping elderly and low-income residents there with energy costs, the website says.
And spokesman Brian O’Connor later sent a statement that said Citizens Energy is “proud to work with National Grid on a green transmission project to bring renewable energy into Massachusetts and provide benefits to low-income households and communities impacted by the project.”
Sulit said the line would add new capacity – that could be added to in increments – needed for the power to come east.
He said the Nassau and Hinsdale substations are the only two places where the corridor would be expanded – and only up to 150 feet.
“It’s not going to have any negative impacts on local communities or businesses,” Sulit told The Eagle. He said the company would continue talks with towns and residents to ease concerns.
Sulit said the project is a response to 2016 state legislation requiring electric companies to source some power from companies that use renewable methods. GridAmerica, he added, is still talking to wind and hydropower distributors in upstate New York, and expects to hammer out agreements soon.
The state Department of Energy Resources would ensure the energy on this new line will come from renewable sources, Sulit added.
When asked, Sulit would not say whether the new line will be restricted to carrying renewable energy only. “We’ll continue to share more as part of our community outreach,” he said.
And Sulit also would not say whether the company would bind itself to using Berkshire County contractors, since the company says local construction jobs and lower electric bills would benefit communities in its path.
“We’re doing this because we feel that people need more clean, renewable, reliable and affordable energy,” he said.
But Plaza is already vexed. He said a surveyor from GridAmerica’s consultant, New Hampshire-based Cornerstone Energy, told him he would be paid for an easement of possibly 150 feet, but he didn’t know how much.
Sulit said in an email he wasn’t sure how many abutters would be affected, but said letters had gone out, and he hinted that at least some would be paid.
“We’ll work directly with the impacted land owners relative to the easement document as well as applicable compensation,” he wrote.
He also said the utility towers would pass through some state land, which will require coordination and permitting.
The company had sent Plaza a letter last month asking for permission to survey his land. Plaza told The Eagle he had refused and went one step further.
“I have informed Lanesborough Police not to let anyone on that property,” he added. “They said I had a right to do that.”
The police might be right – until the company gets local and state approval, which could result in a land taking, according to Peter Puciloski, who practices real estate law in Great Barrington. Puciloski said a property owner can then sue, however, and land a utility company in court.
“As a rule, juries don’t like utilities,” he noted, adding that good land appraisers make all the difference in compensation to landowners.
Plaza said this is his second go-round with an energy project – this is the same corridor Kinder Morgan’s Northeast Energy Direct pipeline was set to run through at one point before it was scrapped last year.
“I refused to let those [pipeline] surveyors on my land, too,” Plaza said.
And Francis Tremblay, a director at the Pittsfield Sportsman’s Club, told The Eagle the new high-tension lines would also run through the club’s land. He said the club, which has about 150 members, got a letter from the company about the project, but had not heard anything about surveyors.
“I’m not going to let them go on the property to do any surveying until I know what’s going on,” Tremblay said, adding that he felt he wanted clearer and more frequent communication from the company about the exact scope of the project. He said he and another gentleman had tried to attend the Tuesday meeting in Cheshire, but because of a mix-up about the location, they ended up in Dalton.
And Carol Francesconi, vice chairwoman of the Cheshire Select Board, said the board had only just learned about the project Tuesday, and said it was too early for big concerns about the new line – except for one.
“They’re assuming an awful lot about the people who might have to give up their land,” she said.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding