A power line developer has offered Vermont millions of dollars to lower electricity bills and to clean up Lake Champlain. State officials like the potential windfall, but they say it won’t get in the way of a vigorous review of the project.
The Legislature just passed a bill targeting $10 million to help improve water quality in Lake Champlain and other waterways around the state. If Vermont approves a power line planned to run under the lake, the state could see another $42 million targeted for lake clean up over the next few decades.
“The funding would definitely help advance our overall goal of investing in clean water projects around the lake, and the lake watershed,” says David Mears, the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation.
Mears says the money would be welcomed, but won’t bias the state’s review of the underwater power line.
“Not at all,” he says. “There’s a completely separate kind of analysis that we’ll be doing that is application of our regulations as they apply to various potential kinds of environmental impacts, whether it’s water quality impacts, or there’s an encroachment permit for anyone that impinges on submerged lands in the state has to get. There’s a whole set of regulatory authorizations that they have to get that are not affected by these payments.”
But the big state permit the developer needs is a certificate of public good from the Public Service Board.
Josh Bagnato is project manager for TDI-New England, the private company proposing the power line. Bagnato says the lake clean-up money is just part of what the company hopes is a convincing case that the project will provide economic benefits.
“Two thirds of the project is planned for Lake Champlain, and Lake Champlain is held by the state as a public good for the citizens of the state of Vermont,” Bagnato says. “Although we don’t see many impacts of installing the cable in the lake, we do think that the state of Vermont, if they host the project, that’s a privilege to us for putting the cable in the lake, so there should be some benefits back to the lake."
The 154-mile-long power line is designed to bring electricity from Hydro-Quebec to southern New England. And the money for the lake is not the only enticement TDI has laid out to win approval. The company has also promised $3.4 million annually to lower electricity costs in Vermont, $1 million a year for renewable energy programs, and a separate $1 million-per-year investment in a trust fund targeted for other Lake Champlain improvements.
The grand total TDI promises in public benefits over 40 years is almost $300 million.
Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia – whose department represents ratepayers – says it’s too early to say whether this money is enough for the department to support the project.
“But the department will be looking very carefully to make sure there is no impact to ratepayers, or a beneficial impact to ratepayers in Vermont, in addition to the other benefits that – you know, lake fund and other contributions that the company intends to make,” Rechhia says.
Recchia points out that the TDI proposal is one of at least a half-dozen power line projects proposed to ship Canadian power south. He says it’s likely only one or two will get built.