Burlington Plans Major Electric Power Upgrade - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Burlington Plans Major Electric Power Upgrade

Burlington, Vermont -- September 7, 2006 

The city owned Burlington Electric Department is planning a major power line upgrade. The project also involves Green Mountain Power corporation and VELCO, the statewide electric transmission company. Officials met this morning to discuss how to make the case to the public.

When parts of an electric grid are vulnerable to failure, electricity becomes unreliable. And officials in Burlington say the power here is too unreliable for comfort.

Tom Buckley, Customer and Energy Services manager at the Burlington Electric Dept., said, "It's a little like having a '57 Ford fire truck. You can keep it operating but, you know, this is like buying a new fire truck in many ways, and we'll be much more confident should a fire come up."

The upgrade project calls for the construction of two new power lines between VELCO's Essex substation that would run along the existing right of way to another substation at Centennial Field in Burlington. Each line would carry 115 Kilovolts -- replacing one existing 115KV line. Additionally, Burlington electric would upgrade an existing line between Centennial field and the McNeil power plant. Some of the lines will be buried, for instance, along Riverside Avenue which has been undergoing reconstruction.

The project also allows the Burlington Electric Department to get rid of some wires on the waterfront. A substation will be moved out of this location -- although the building that houses a gas-powered generator remains. And so do most but not all of the existing power lines.

Ever since Waterfront Park was built, many residents have wanted the power lines there buried. But that won't happen any time soon. The reason is the much higher cost of underground lines will not be covered by the regional power system known as the ISO.

The project will come in three phases. Phase one so far is estimated at $22 million, a little less than half of that cost to be absorbed by ratepayers all over New England. But first, officials say the public will have a chance to comment.

Dottie Schnure, spokeswoman for Green Mountain Power Corp, said, "We think it's really important before we file with the Public Service Board that we meet with members of the community that the project runs through, and to meet with neighbors in the area."

A first meeting with town officials has been set for Sept. 21.  

Officials hope to have the power line upgrade approved and under construction by next year, and finished by 2010. 

Burlington has a lot to lose if there's ever an overload on the regional power grid. Officials say in the event of a rolling crash of the system, a contingency plan calls for the entire city of Burlington to be dumped off the grid. That's because Burlington uses a large chunk of power. Burlington Electric says the contingency plan has been activated -- but not executed -- almost a dozen times during peak demand. All the more reason to encourage reliability throughout the electric grid.

Andy Potter - Channel 3 News

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