New Transmission Through Dense Forest to Shore Up Vermont’s Grid
Vermont Electric Power Company (VELCO) was coming off a transmission line improvement project that had not gone well at all. Regulators had felt backed into a corner in approving the project, and legislators and members of the public were extremely angry.
Unfortunately for VELCO and its largest owner, Central Vermont Public Service Company (CVPS), transmission upgrades were desperately needed in another part of the state as quickly as possible. Demand in the southern part of the state along CVPS’s 49-mile, 46kV transmission line (the “Southern Loop”) had grown to the point that CVPS was unable to perform even routine maintenance without running the risk of causing wide-spread outages across the entire region. Worse, problems with the Southern Loop were directly related to a larger, state-wide reliability challenge facing both CVPS and VELCO: the need to reinforce the state’s main transmission “backbone” by constructing a new, 51-mile, 345kV line through a heavily forested area (the “Coolidge Connector”).
Using the STAR Group Utility Search Conference®, STAR Group convened stakeholders representing diverse interests throughout the region. At the conclusion of the 2-day event, participants (which, as always, included engineers and other utility representatives) proposed a series of innovative recommendations. CVPS was asked to move forward “immediately” with the installation of 2 new synchronous condensers that would regulate voltage along the 49-mile transmission line, thereby deferring the need to rebuild that line. Stakeholders also recommended that CVPS and VELCO construct the Coolidge Connector, which would be the largest transmission line infrastructure project in Vermont’s history. In addition, the two utilities pledged to work with stakeholders to implement new demand side management and renewable energy projects.
The Vermont Public Service Board, citing the extensive public outreach efforts used by VELCO and CVPS through the STAR Group Utility Search Conference®, approved the entire complement of transmission upgrades, including the Coolidge Connector. Equally important, the companies have obtained regulatory approval for and are in the process of implementing several of the non-transmission recommendations developed by process participants, including solar, biomass, combined heat & power and demand-side reduction projects across the state.
The results achieved by VELCO, CVPS and their stakeholders demonstrate clearly that the STAR Group Utility Search Conference® will produce positive outcomes that all will support, even in hostile environments where the utility does not enjoy a high level of trust with regulators or the public.