Power line deal could bring $20M to Northeast Kingdom

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The developers of a power cable carrying wind energy from Quebec to Massachusetts will pay $20 million to several Northeast Kingdom communities over the next 40 years, if the cable wins a power supply contract Massachusetts is slated to award early next year.

The payout would be in $500,000 increments, with the monies available to municipalities as well as private companies.

The funds will come from National Grid, the project's backer, and be administered by the Northeastern Vermont Development Association.

The funding could provide the region a needed shot in the arm, said Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, at a St. Johnsbury press event where the funding was announced.

"The challenges of the Northeast Kingdom are well known to those of us who live here," Kitchel said.

The region is not economically depressed, Kitchel said, but it does need resources and opportunities.

The power line's funding could offer that, she said.

The relatively low-cost energy supplied by the Granite State Power Link, as the project is dubbed, could help keep rates down and benefit all Vermonters in the process, Kitchel said.

The funds will be aimed at the fewer than a dozen Vermont towns the Granite State Power Link passes through, said Grant Spates, a Northeastern Vermont Development Association board member.

If no takers among those towns are found for some or all of the annual $500,000, the funds will be offered next to Essex County, then to the entire Northeast Kingdom, Spates said.

The power line is among half a dozen big projects competing for a massive Massachusetts contract that will bring 10 terawatt-hours annually into the state.

Another National Grid project in Vermont that was competing for the same contract was canceled recently, after utilities in northern Vermont raised concerns about the grid's ability to accommodate the huge influx of electricity it promised.

That project, the Vermont Green Line, was put on hold this summer, and the Public Utility Commission closed the application Dec. 15.

The Granite State Power Link will be built using overhead lines in existing rights of way, said Joe Rossignoli, National Grid's director of U.S. business development.

The project's reliance on existing infrastructure makes it cheaper than other projects competing for the Massachusetts contract, Rossignoli said.

The Granite State Power Link will cost $1.1 billion and offer a capacity of 1,200 megawatts. For comparison, a competing project called the Northeast Clean Power Link, which Gov. Phil Scott has heavily promoted in hopes of securing clean-water funding that project offers, would cost $1.6 billion for a 1,000-megawatt capacity.

The Granite State Power Link would run for 53 miles through the northeast corner of the state, next to an existing Vermont Electric Power Co. transmission line.

National Grid is the project's primary backer, but a 10 percent stake in the project is owned by Citizens Energy Corp., a nonprofit energy company founded by Kennedy family scion Joe Kennedy.

As a 10 percent owner, Citizens Energy will realize 10 percent of the profits, said Ryan Chaytors, Citizens Energy's business development director.

Of those profits, half will pay to assist low-income households with energy costs, Chaytors said.

The company has committed $20 million over the next 20 years to low-income families in Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, Chaytors said.

Those funds are directed at residents of the counties the project will pass through, he said. In Vermont that includes Essex and Caledonia counties.

A map of the project shows it traversing Norton, Lewis, Bloomfield, Brunswick, Ferdinand, Granby, Victory, Lunenburg, Concord and Waterford.

The funds promised to the Northeast Kingdom will materialize only if Massachusetts chooses the project from among around 50 bidders, Rossignoli said.

Of those bidders, around half a dozen are large transmission projects like this one.

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