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Decision due soon on what town will host power line converter

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Posted on April 11, 2016 |
By John Flowers



MIDDLEBURY — Developers of the proposed Vermont Green Line energy project said they will decide within “a couple of weeks” on their choice of either New Haven or Middlebury as the host for a new high-voltage converter station that could net the selected community millions of dollars in property tax revenues and other financial contributions over the next few decades.

The Vermont Green Line is a joint, $200 million project of Anbaric Transmission and National Grid to bring hydro and wind power from upstate New York via cable under Lake Champlain and into the New England power grid in New Haven. The electricity would travel by underground high voltage direct current cable to a new converter station that would transform it into alternating current power and plug it into the VELCO substation. The power would be destined for ratepayers in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

The plan includes 60 miles of buried and submerged (into Lake Champlain) transmission line. The cable line would originate in Beekmantown, N.Y., and flow under Lake Champlain to Kingsland Bay in Ferrisburgh, where it would proceed under roads to Route 7. There, the buried cable would flow south, with current plans calling for it to culminate at a 400MW converter station at one of two possible locations in the town of New Haven: one just west of the VELCO substation, the other off of Town Hill Road.

Anbaric and New Haven officials have been meeting since last August to hammer out a deal for siting the converter station. Concessions announced last December called for New Haven to receive roughly $1 million annually and a number of other enticements, including a $3 million fire station.

Anbaric officials have voiced concerns about the pace of talks with New Haven, and thus accepted an overture from the town of Middlebury last month to look at siting the converter station in the community’s industrial park off Exchange Street. Middlebury was initially perceived by Anbaric as a contingency plan, but it is now emerging as a viable option, according to Joe Rossignoli, director of U.S. business development for National Grid.

“The economics are making the Middlebury case more and more compelling,” Rossignoli said.

Among other things, Anbaric will have to weigh the extra expense of extending the Vermont Green Line an extra five miles to Middlebury, versus the financial package being sought by New Haven.

A draft memorandum of understanding between the Vermont Green Line developers and Middlebury is now in the works. While Rossignoli said he could not divulge specifics, he confirmed such an agreement would net Middlebury an annual payment (beyond property taxes); a regular contribution to local nonprofits; and financial participation in an as-yet unspecified Middlebury “infrastructure project.”

Still, New Haven has not dropped out of contention, officials said.

Steve Dupoise is a New Haven selectman and one of the town’s two lead negotiators with Anbaric.

Dupoise attended a New Haven-Anbaric negotiating session on April 5. He believes the many months of talks will soon pay dividends.

“I’m getting significantly close to presenting the (New Haven) board with an agreement that we would then present to the town,” Dupoise said.

That presentation to the board could occur as soon as this week. If a majority of the board endorses the proposed agreement, it would then be presented to New Haven voters. This would require a special town meeting, thus triggering a 30-day warning period.

Dupoise is not surprised that Anbaric is talking to Middlebury about potentially hosting the project.

“I think they are just trying to keep all of their options open in case this falls apart at the eleventh hour,” Dupoise said.

Rossignoli confirmed that talks will proceed with New Haven. But he stressed developers want to initiate permitting applications for the project this spring. This will include seeking a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board through the state’s Section 248 process. This is a process that does not include local permitting review.

“The New Haven discussions have gone slower than we thought,” Rossignoli said. “The climate around the project is certainly more positive in Middlebury than it has been in New Haven. Middlebury is very enthusiastic about the project. In just a couple of weeks, Middlebury has become a serious contender.”

Middlebury Director of Business & Innovation Jamie Gaucher is pleased to see his town remain in the running. The Middlebury selectboard last month unanimously agreed to explore a potential agreement with Anbaric.

 “Middlebury remains very excited about the opportunity to continue its conversation about the Vermont Green Line, and we look forward to further developments,” Gaucher said.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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