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October 31. 2013 10:14PM

Utility says it would bury power lines for project in Vermont

A proposal to bring high-voltage Canadian hydroelectric power through Vermont on 150 miles of buried transmission lines is welcome news to those who oppose the Northern Pass plan to import large-scale hydroelectric power through New Hampshire — largely on overhead power lines.

TDI New England President and CEO Donald Jessome said his proposed New England Clean Power Link would carry 1,000 megawatts of hydroelectric power on two, 6-inch cables that would run from the U.S.-Canadian border to a converter station in Ludlow, Vt., where it would connect into both the Vermont Electric Power Co. grid and the New England power grid.

About 100 miles of transmission line would be buried beneath Lake Champlain; the remaining cable would run under existing right-of-ways. The estimated $1.2 billion project would be privately financed through Blackstone Group, Jessome said in a telephone interview Thursday.

The project is similar to another being developed by TDI New England called the Hudson Champlain Power Express. That project involves running 333 miles of buried transmission lines from Canada to New York City, including beneath the New York waters of Lake Champlain.

Public Service of New Hampshire and its parent company, Northeast Utilities, propose bringing 1,200 megawatts of hydroelectric power from Quebec to the New England market, passing through nearly 200 miles of New Hampshire. The project has yet to receive state or federal permits and has drawn considerable opposition for its heavy reliance on building overhead transmission towers across much of the state's most scenic and mountainous terrain.

PSNH has maintained that running underground transmission lines would make Northern Pass economically unfeasible.

But critics said TDI New England's proposal not only disproves that claim, but could place Northern Pass out of the bidding since New England Clean Power Link would provide comparable energy to the New England market — without the community and political opposition Northern Pass has engendered.

"I would say Northern Pass is obsolete and I would add that it is politically untenable," Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests spokesman Jack Savage said. PSNH's only hope to hold onto a transmission project now would be to go underground using transportation corridors, he said.

"Northern Pass missed their window of opportunity ... because they have been fixated on existing right-of-ways...They have as much chance of building an overhead (transmission project) as the St. Louis Cardinals do of winning a game 7," he added.

PSNH/Northeast Utilities spokesman Michael Skelton said TDI New England's proposal and Northern Pass are fundamentally different.

"Northern Pass stands alone as the only project in New England that requires no customer subsidy and will bring clean, low-cost hydro power along with direct and substantial economic benefits to New Hampshire," he said.

"Northern Pass is a project; this is a concept. Northern Pass has a proposed route, and a firm agreement with an energy supplier (Hydro Quebec) agreeing to pay the costs," he added.

Conservation Law Foundation staff attorney Christophe Courchesne said TDI New England's proposal "dispels many of the misleading arguments Northern Pass has made for avoiding taking the project underground that would make it much more acceptable to communities."

"It tells the region as a whole that Northern Pass is not the only option for bringing hydroelectric power south," he added.

Gov. Hassan, who has criticized Northern Pass for discounting innovative technologies in favor of old transmission methods that could harm the state, believes the state must address long-term energy needs in ways that protect the state and region's scenic beauty and tourism-driven economy, her spokesman said.

"This new project shows that innovative transmission approaches are possible to bring hydropower to New England without trading away what makes New Hampshire and New England special. Governor Hassan will continue working to reduce energy costs for our people and to encourage the development of new energy sources while protecting our state's interests, and she looks forward to learning more about the project as it moves through the review process," Marc Goldberg added.

TDI New England President Jessome said his company has made an interconnection request with ISO New England. The company intends to bring Canadian hydropower to New England, but has no commitments at this point as to where it will come from, he said.

kmarchocki@unionleader.com


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