Posted at the suggestion of Brattleboro's Ralph Meima ...plenty of fodder here for conversation.
Let's "open thread" it for now.
New Power Lines Unnecessary, Says Electric Industry Expert
Contact: Tom Clynes: 802-257-3018, firstname.lastname@example.org
June 12, 2008
Brattleboro -- Veteran electric industry expert Kurt Yeager filed testimony this week with the Vermont Public Board in which he stated that the proposed VELCO Southern Loop Coolidge Connector power line upgrade “would be a step backward,” and would “have the result of encouraging growth in consumption, decreased energy independence and higher rates for Vermonters.”
“I see no compelling logic that points to a doubling of the capacity of the Coolidge Connector line as a reasonable and cost-effective solution to [Vermont’s] electric reliability concerns,” said Yeager, who directs the non-profit Galvin Electricity Initiative and is president emeritus of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). “In the year 2008, additional power lines should be the option of last resort. With so many superior-technology options available, this project would represent a significant step backward.”
The Coolidge Connector refers to the expansion of a 51-mile power line stretching from Vernon to Cavendish. The Coolidge Connector is the most controversial component of the Southern Loop Project, since it would involve building an additional 345-kilovolt power line alongside the existing line, nearly doubling the cleared right-of-way running through Vernon, Guilford, Brattleboro, Dummerston, Newfane, Brookline, Townshend, Grafton, Windham, Andover, Chester, Ludlow, and Cavendish. Costs of the project are estimated between $200 million and $300 million.
Vermont Electric Power Co. (VELCO) and Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS) are seeking approval from the Public Service Board, claiming that the expanded line is needed to address growing power demand and reliability throughout the region. But Yeager termed the reliability rationale “disingenuous.”
“It is somewhat disingenuous that Velco’s proposal has been presented as an ‘upgrade,’” said Yeager. “Rather than ‘upgrading’ the grid, Velco’s approach seeks to simply duplicate and double the capacity of an outmoded electromechanically controlled network – thereby locking in more inadequate, 1950s-era technology.”
Meanwhile, said Yeager, reliability goals could be met more cost-effectively and less disruptively through smart-grid and non-transmission alternatives that were not considered by Velco. These include installing digital sensors to increase capacity and optimize the load on the grid, replacing inefficient conductors to ease thermal and voltage constraints, and integrating distributed energy resources.
Tom Clynes, planning commission member with the Town of Brookline, which would be affected by the proposed power lines, said: “When the electric industry’s own top researchers are telling us that these new power lines are unnecessary and archaic, why are we even considering letting VELCO spend hundreds of millions of electric ratepayers’ dollars on this?”
According to Yeager, “Velco is one of several transmission providers in northern New England seeking to build new power lines, in most cases cloaking their proposals in questionable ‘urgent need’ and ‘reliability’ language,” even though the region has comparatively little projected growth in demand.
Clynes, a journalist who covers energy policy, said, “The companies’ motivation may have less to do with reliability and meeting demand than with their investors’ desire to capitalize on new transmission capacity incentives offered to transmission providers under the Bush/Cheney Energy Policy Act of 2005.”
“The more lines they are allowed to build,” said Clynes, “the more electrons they can pump through them – and the more profits they can recover from ratepayers, under the new rules. That may be good for their European investors, but it’s counter to the interests of Vermonters, who have expressed a desire for more efficiency and conservation – especially now, in the face of climate change.”
Yeager added: “Taking into account the new FERC New England capacity payment rules, which allow transmission providers to recover a higher than historically normal rate of return, indicators are that the project would likely have the result of encouraging growth in consumption, decreased energy independence and higher rates for Vermonters in the medium and long-term.”
“Vermont currently has the cleanest electrical grid in the country,” Yeager said, “with a tradition of innovation and leadership in the public utilities arena. Vermonters themselves have clearly expressed a preference for efficiency, conservation, non-transmission alternatives, and the latest technology. Now, the rest of the country is looking to Vermont for energy policy leadership.”
Yeager said his testimony reflects 35 years of experience in analyzing and developing technology for the nation’s electric power system, as president and chief executive officer of the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), and as director of the non-profit Galvin Electricity Initiative, which is focused on transforming the reliability and value of U.S. electricity service. Yeager, based in Aptos, California, is also the chair of the World Energy Council Study on Energy and Climate Change, and a Trustee of the Committee for Economic Development.
Other less-controversial Southern Loop project components include expanded substations in Cavendish and West Dummerston, the new Vernon substation, and a set of synchronous condensers in the Stratton area.