Julie Moore: Clean power for clean water

by ANR Secretary Julie Moore There’s been a lot of conversation lately around how to fund long-term clean water efforts in Vermont. Having personally worked on waterway clean-up in Vermont for 15 years, I am deeply aware of the long-term nature of the challenges we’re facing. We are a small state with a big task ahead of us and while this work is not insurmountable, finding solutions that have broad-based support won’t always be easy. There is one piece of this puzzle that just makes sense: TDI’s New England Clean Power Link project.

If the Clean Power Link project is selected by Massachusetts, it would bring 1,000 MW of clean, renewable hydroelectric power from Northern Quebec to Massachusetts. The line would pass through Vermont via an entirely-underground 154-mile transmission line. Among other benefits, this project would provide $6 million annually to fund water quality improvement projects in Vermont for the next 40 years.

[Massachusetts will release a final short list of projects on or around January 25, with whom the state will engage in final negotiations and settle on a final bidder(s) sometime this spring/early summer. It’s possible they will announce only one finalist in January, but indications are that there will be several projects that move into the final round of negotiations. Here is a link to the Mass RPF timeline: macleanenergy.com/83d/83d-timeline/. Despite one New York bidder dropping out (Vermont Green Line Devco had proposed to build the estimated $600 million, 60-mile, underground and underwater electric transmission cable to deliver 400 MW from New York wind farms, under Lake Champlain to Vermont and Massachusetts) there are still an number of project competing for the contract. Here is the complete list of projects that initially submitted proposals: macleanenergy.com/83d/83d-bids/. At a minimum, Eversource’s Northern Pass, National Grid’s Granite State Power Link and the TDI project are all still in the running, as well as a number of large solar projects. The Massachusetts RFP is seeking 1200MW of new renewable sources. TDI’s transmission capacity is 1000MW, Granite State Powerlink is 1200MW and Northern Pass is 1090MW. If TDI or Northern Pass are selected the remaining 100-200MW could likely be made up from some of the smaller generations bids that are part of the RFP.]

In total, the Clean Power Link would invest $240 million in Vermont’s Clean Water Fund to help restore Vermont’s waterways. The commitment includes $6 million annually to investment in agricultural stewardship and stormwater management practices to better handle runoff from our homes, businesses, roads and parking lots when it rains. There will also be an additional $1.5 million each year going into a newly formed trust fund called the Lake Champlain Enhancement and Restoration Fund. This trust fund will provide habitat restoration and recreational opportunities in the Lake Champlain watershed.

The money from the Clean Power Link project would make visible water quality improvements to the Lake Champlain watershed over the next 40 years. Better still, the project would have almost no impact on the visual or cultural character of Vermont’s landscapes and communities. When we picture transmission lines, naturally we picture large towers and cleared strips negatively impacting Vermont’s natural beauty and downtown centers, but that’s not what’s planned and permitted here. The Clean Power Link project will be buried entirely underground and underwater. The transmission line will run for a total of 154 miles stretching from Quebec to Ludlow, Vermont, where a large converter station will be built. 97 miles of line will be buried beneath Lake Champlain and 57 miles will be buried underground. The entire length of the transmission line will utilize existing public rights of way. This project has passed a series of strenuous environmental reviews and has been fully permitted and approved at the local, state, and federal levels.

Beyond providing $240 million in clean water funding, this project will supply $110 million for renewable energy projects. This money will go directly to Vermont’s Clean Energy Development Fund over the 40-year life of the project, advancing renewable generation statewide. There are also notable benefits throughout New England. Greater use of clean power translates to clearer skies and cleaner air, helping to advance regional climate goals and decrease global greenhouse gas emissions.

The Clean Power Link project is very close to becoming a reality. Construction on the project could begin as soon as next year, with the goal of transmitting power by 2019. This project would provide economic and environmental benefits to Vermont and the region. This project represents a critical funding mechanism to help Vermont secure consistent, lasting revenue to restore water quality and it is an ambitious step forward to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Clean Power Link project embodies the kind of creative approach that we need to continue to pursue as we work toward identifying long-term solutions to fund clean water initiatives in our state.

Julie Moore is the Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources, the state agency with primary responsibility for protecting and sustaining Vermont’s environment, natural resources, wildlife and forests, and for maintaining Vermont’s beloved state parks. Moore was named to that position by Governor Phil Scott in January 2017. (Link to full bio here)