Southern Loop decision expected soon

02/06/09 7:04AM By Susan Keese

(Host) The Vermont Public Service Board is expected to issue a decision soon on a major power line expansion in Southern Vermont.

The Southern Loop/Coolidge Connector would run 51 miles, parallel to an existing transmission line between Vernon and Cavendish. The $300 million project is supported by Central Vermont Public Service and by VELCO, the company that owns and maintains Vermont's electric transmission lines.

VELCO says the transmission system is dangerously close to capacity in that region. The company says any mishap could lead to cascading blackouts in Vermont and other nearby states.

But seven Windham County lawmakers have asked the Department of Public Service to delay the project for two years. They say the technology it's based on is about to change.

Sarah Edwards is a Progressive representative from Brattleboro. She says new ``smart grid'' options will soon reduce the need for poles and wires by managing power distribution more precisely.

(Edwards) ``The idea is not to use more power but to use the electricity we have more efficiently. That's an overall goal for the country. And the question is, does this project get us there?''

(Host) Edwards also questions how the lines will adapt to more widely scattered power sources, as renewable projects like wind and hyrdo come on line.

But David O'Brien, who heads the Vermont Department of Public Service, says it's not an either/or situation.

(O'Brien) "Even as we evolve into renewable energy, distributed energy, we're still going to need a grid that can manage the level of demand and maintain reliability for customers. Enhancements to our electric grid over time utilizing things that are commonly referred to as smart grid or smart meters, those things are all possible in addition to this basic backbone that we need to have.''

(Host) O'Brien says his department worked extensively to find renewable power alternatives to the new lines. But he says nothing has come on line quickly enough to solve the immediate reliability problem.

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