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Proposed Hydropower Line Would Run from Quebec to Ludlow, Vt.

Friday, November 01, 2013
Montpelier — A New York company announced Thursday it hopes to build a 150-mile power line from the Canadian border under Lake Champlain and then across Vermont to the town of Ludlow where it would plug into the New England electric grid.

The $1.2 billion New England Clean Power Link line could carry up to 1,000 megawatts of Canadian hydro-electricity, enough to supply about 1 million homes, said Donald Jessome, president of TDI New England.

TDI New England is a subsidiary of the New York based investment giant Blackstone Group, which would provide funding for the project. Jessome said he expected it would take five years to complete the regulatory process and construction. The company hopes to begin transmitting power in 2019.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said he knew of the proposal and had met with its backers, but he seemed to question whether it would be needed.

“I think it’s important to recognize that power transmission is going through an interesting time right now,” Shumlin said. “Clearly, there’s a huge demand for clean, green renewables, which hydro is, to our south. At the same time, there are technologies being developed that might make us question how much transmission we’re going to need in the future.”

Promoters of the Clean Power Link project say it would help provide clean energy to New England and help Canadian power producers find a market for an abundance of hydropower produced in Quebec and other parts of Canada.

“They along with our team see the need for connecting renewable energy to markets that are both growing and have a very, very strong need for new renewable resources coming into the marketplace,” Jessome said, referring to the investors. “We very much like the buried model because it preserves the natural beauty of the communities we’re going through.”

The Vermont proposal is similar to a proposal in New York state for a 330-mile power line from Canada to New York City that would also run under Lake Champlain and the Hudson River. Jessome said the New York project is being done by a different company, but the same people who are now working on the Vermont proposal.

TDI New England’s proposed line will end in Ludlow, where a station will be built to convert the electricity from direct current to alternating current voltage. The Ludlow converter will then connect to the Coolidge substation in Cavendish, which is owned by the Vermont Electric Power Co.

Once the New England Clean Power Link is connected, it can use Vermont’s existing transmission system and the broader New England market. But distributing an additional 1,000 megawatts of hydropower on the existing system might require upgrading some transmission lines, including one that runs from Cavendish to Ascutney and then into New Hampshire.

Jessome, the TDI New England president, said Thursday that preliminary studies indicate that the existing transmission lines do not need to be upgraded. However, ISO New England is responsible for determing the impact of linking TDI’s converter station to the New England market, which could result in the need to upgrade the lines.

“The studies will determine if there’s any upgrades needed,” Jessome said. “At this point, we don’t think they’ll need any upgrades.”

Vermont Electric has already been planning upgrades to the transmission line that runs from Cavendish to Ascutney. Before the utility even learned about TDI’s proposals, officials from the electric company met with the Weathersfield Selectboard several weeks ago to explain a possible design and upgrade to the line, said Kerrick Johnson, vice president of external affairs for the electric company.

ISO New England identified “system reliability issues,” Johnson said. The transmission line is old and officials were worried it might no longer be able to handle the electrical load passing through the line. So they are considering adding a parallel line to the existing line or rebuilding it, which could require replacing the current 50 feet poles with 80 to 95 feet poles.

Johnson said both those plans have been put on hold, however, as officals weigh whether an upgrade is necessary.

But now with the TDI line possibly coming to Ludlow, Johnson said that ISO New England will have to evaluate that project’s affect on the existing line, as well as the line’s existing needs.

“A lot of work has already been done for the Ascutney-Coolidge section. That’s not done, that’s on hold,” Johnson said. “Now you have this 1,000 megawatt of power, it will likely have an impact, but what that impact will be, I do not know.”

Getting Canadian power to U.S. markets has been a key point of recent meetings between the Eastern Canadian premiers and the New England governors.

“Hydro Quebec has a lot of surplus power and it’s all basically designed to be sold in the U.S market,” said David Runnalls, an energy expert with the Centre for International Governance Innovation, a Canadian think tank. “They can still generate hydropower pretty cheaply and they sell power into the U.S. market and they make a lot of money out of it.”

But there are other Canadian power producers that could also seek to sell electricity in the United States, including projects in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Runnalls said. Jessome said it would be possible to move power from eastern Canada to the United States via the lines he is proposing.

TDI’s new line has also been viewed as an “alternative” to the Northern Pass project, the $1.4 billion project to bring hydropower from Canada over above-ground power lines through New Hampshire. Jonathan Peress, director of the nonprofit Conservation Law Foundation’s clean energy and climate change program, called TDI’s underground line “a game changer.”

“It demonstrates that there are more innovative and modern technologies that can be used to import Canadian hydro,” Peress said.

The proposed 180-mile Northern Pass power line project would carry up to 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydropower to southern New England, but has been met by fierce opposition.

Jessome said they would take the time necessary in Vermont to work with people who might have concerns about a major power project passing through their communities.

“We pride ourselves working with the communities, listening to all of the different stakeholders who are going to have a say in a major project like this,” Jessome said.

Valley News staff writer Sarah Brubeck contributed to this report.

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