by Guy Page, Vermont Energy Partnership The asking price for the 13 TransCanada hydro dams on the Connecticut and Deerfield Rivers has passed $1 billion, Vermont Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson said Tuesday, July 12. The dams, totaling about 560 megawatts of power, were bought by TransCanada in 2005 for about $500 million. The State of Vermont considered making an offer in 2005, but eventually declined. TransCanada, a leading natural gas transmission company, said this spring it will sell its only hydro generation assets and a Maine wind turbine project to raise cash to buy 15,000 miles of natural gas transmission from a Texas firm.
Hydro facility on the Connecticut River in Bellows Falls. VBM file photo
The high price tag means Vermont alone will not make an offer, Johnson told the Partnership during a brief conversation in Montpelier today. However, Vermont is still a potential partner in a proposed deal, he said. Neither a specific price nor the identity of partner or partners were discussed. Johnson did say the offer deadline has been extended past the original date of late July.
Johnson is leading an administration working group studying the proposed purchase. Early estimates put the sale price at $500-800 million, which raised concerns about Vermont’s ability to fund a purchase of that size. Municipal officials from Connecticut River Valley towns also have expressed strong concern about the possibility of losing millions of dollars of property tax income if the dams and surrounding property pass from private to public ownership. Since the closure of Vermont Yankee, both Vermont and New England have become more reliant on natural gas fueled electricity, according to grid operators ISO-New England. Vermont’s share of the 560 MW hydro deal could restore a significant amount of carbon-free generation to Vermont’s power portfolio.
In another major energy story with a Vermont – Canada connection, the US, Canada and Mexico announced June 29 a North American accord to “achieve 50% clean power across North America by 2050, through a combination of renewable energy, nuclear power, power plants using carbon capture & storage, and cutting energy waste through efficiency,” according to a White House statement.
New England Clean Power Link
A statement on the accord by President Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto mentions the New England Clean Power Link as a new transmission source for Canadian hydropower to be consumed in the U.S. The Clean Link plan features two advanced technology cables running from Quebec beneath Lake Champlain, and then crossing Vermont underground from west to east. Scheduled to be built by 2019, it will carry about 1000 MW of electricity, mostly to southern New England. However, the developer has said Vermont is welcome to purchase some of the power.
No specific information has been cited about how nuclear power fits into the 50% clean power plan. However, nuclear power supporters find its inclusion significant, as federal energy policy initiatives have at times downplayed the carbon-reduction value of U.S. nuclear power.
In Vermont Yankee news, construction has begun on the Vermont Public Service Boardapproved plan to install a new backup generator and a second storage pad for dry casks holding spent fuel. The PSB approved the plan last month, and a key appeal date passed earlier this month without a challenge. Workers began immediately on the generator installation, with pad construction to follow later this year.
Guy Page is the communications director for the Vermont Energy Partnership. www.vtep.org.