POWER...
Story here in Southwestern Connecticut - reverse chronological order.

Picture worth a thousand words department...
Top left, true "gridlock."  Click here for background on the 345kV project.  check here for yet another Stamford fire problem. 

Table of contents for this sub-page:
NEW ADMINISTRATION, OLD ISSUE?  HOW ABOUT POWER OUTAGES IN CT?



Top energy regulator says steps underway to protect power grid; FERC chair did not deny reports of vulnerability
DAY
By MATTHEW DALY Associated Press
Article published Apr 11, 2014

Washington - The top federal energy regulator said Thursday that her agency is taking steps to improve hand ling of classified national security information, following a report that officials improperly allowed widespread access to a document that outlined specific physical threats to the nation's electric grid.

Cheryl LaFleur, acting chairwoman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, told the Senate Energy Committee Thursday that employees are "wiping and scrubbing all databases" and taking other steps to protect sensitive information.

The commission also has directed a nonprofit entity that oversees electric reliability to develop physical security standards for the grid by early June.

In issuing the order, the agency recognized that most utilities already have taken steps to identify critical structures and protect them from attack, LaFleur said.

"A mandatory standard will reinforce these efforts and ensure that all owners and operators of the bulk power system take such important steps where appropriate," she said.

LaFleur's testimony came a day after a government investigator said commission employees improperly allowed widespread access to a sensitive document that outlined specific locations where the nation's electric grid is vulnerable to physical threats.

A document created by the commission in response to an April 2013 attack on a California substation should have been kept secret as a national security matter, Energy Department Inspector General Gregory Friedman said Wednesday.

Instead the information was provided in whole or in part to federal and industry officials in unsecured settings.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that a federal analysis indicated that a coordinated terrorist strike on just nine key electric transmission substations could cause cascading power outages across the country in each of the nation's three synchronized power networks.

LaFleur denounced the newspaper report as "highly irresponsible" but did not refute its contents.

"While there may be value in a general discussion of the steps we take to keep the (power) grid safe, the publication of sensitive material about the grid crosses the line from transparency to irresponsibility and gives those who would do us harm a roadmap to achieve malicious designs," LaFleur said.

Wrongful use of sensitive information by an energy commission employee or former employee could result in penalties, including firing, LaFleur said, but she "had no reason to believe" the leak was a criminal matter.

LaFleur acknowledged that the agency needs to improve training for handling of classified information but said as a longtime commissioner that the agency has a strong culture of ensuring that sensitive information remains confidential. Information about potential mergers or important licensing decisions, for instance, is not leaked before its official release, she said.

"We deal with confidential information all the time," she said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the senior Republican on the energy panel, called the inspector general's report "extremely troubling" but praised LaFleur's response.






Residential electricity use in U.S. falling to 2001 levels; 
More efficient appliances, new bulbs help bring down nation's utility bills
DAY
By JONATHAN FAHEY AP Energy Writer
Article published Jan 5, 2014

New York - The average amount of electricity consumed in U.S. homes has fallen to levels last seen more than a decade ago, back when the smartest device in people's pockets was a Palm pilot and anyone talking about a tablet was probably an archaeologist or a preacher.

Because of more energy-efficient housing, appliances and gadgets, power usage is on track to decline in 2013 for the third year in a row, to its lowest point since 2001, even though our lives are more electrified.

Here's a look at what has changed since the last time consumption was so low.

Better homes

In the early 2000s, as energy prices rose, more states adopted or toughened building codes to force builders to better seal homes so heat or air-conditioned air doesn't seep out so fast. That means newer homes waste less energy.

Also, insulated windows and other building technologies have dropped in price, making retrofits of existing homes more affordable. In the wake of the financial crisis, billions of dollars in Recovery Act funding was directed toward home-efficiency programs.

Better gadgets

Big appliances such as refrigerators and air conditioners have gotten more efficient thanks to federal energy standards that get stricter ever few years as technology evolves.

A typical room air conditioner - one of the biggest power hogs in the home - uses 20 percent less electricity per hour of full operation than it did in 2001, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.

Central air conditioners, refrigerators, dishwashers, water heaters, washing machines and dryers also have gotten more efficient.

Other devices are using less juice, too. Some 40-inch LED televisions bought today use 80 percent less power than the cathode ray tube televisions of the past. Some use just $8 worth of electricity over a year when used five hours a day - less than a 60-watt incandescent bulb would use.

Those incandescent light bulbs are being replaced with compact fluorescent bulbs and LEDs that use 70 to 80 percent less power. According to the Energy Department, widespread use of LED bulbs could save output equivalent to that of 44 large power plants by 2027.

The move to mobile also is helping. Desktop computers with big CRT monitors are being replaced with laptops, tablet computers and smart phones, and these mobile devices are specifically designed to sip power to prolong battery life.

It costs $1.36 to power an iPad for a year, compared with $28.21 for a desktop computer, according to the Electric Power Research Institute.

On the other hand ...

We are using more devices, and that is offsetting what would otherwise be a more dramatic reduction in power consumption.

DVRs spin at all hours of the day, often under more than one television in a home. Game consoles are getting more sophisticated to process better graphics and connect with other players, and therefore use more power.

More homes have central air conditioners instead of window units. They are more efficient, but people use them more often.

Still, Jennifer Amman, the buildings program director at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, says she is encouraged.

"It's great to see this movement, to see the shift in the national numbers," she says.

"I expect we'll see greater improvement over time. There is so much more that can be done."

The Energy Department predicts average residential electricity use per customer will fall again in 2014, by 1 percent.



Why are we not surprised?  Government accountable to whom?
Infighting Plagues Governmental Accountability Office

Hartford Courant
Jon Lender,
Government Watch
5:23 PM EST, November 17, 2012

There are probably novels of international intrigue with plots less convoluted than the past year's events inside the newly created state Office of Governmental Accountability, or OGA.

The OGA is a super-agency created in 2011 by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the Democrat-controlled state legislature, over Republicans' objections, in a consolidation bill that merged nine formerly independent watchdog agencies — including those in charge of elections enforcement, public officials' ethics enforcement, and freedom of information.  Several of the watchdogs resented becoming divisions in a superagency headed by a Malloy appointee, and predicted there would be problems.  Now, some of those problems and resentments are surfacing in public.

On Monday, the Government Accountability Commission, made up of representatives from all the watchdog divisions in the new superagency, is scheduled to vote on whether to approve a 10-page, detailed evaluation it has written on the job performance of the OGA's executive administrator, David Guay, Malloy's $118,000-a-year appointee.

That's right: A commission composed of people from divisions of the OGA, below Guay on the organizational chart, is formally evaluating him as the head of the agency. What's more, their evaluation finds his performance lacking in certain areas — and, conceivably, if Guay does not address the criticisms to their satisfaction — the underlings could try to fire him.

"While the [Government Accountability Commission] has the authority to terminate [Guay], Commissioners would prefer to work with him to identify areas that need improvement and resolve them," says a draft of the evaluation that's to be voted on Monday.

The Courant obtained the draft Friday via a public records request. Here's an excerpt, which gives an area where the panel says Guay needs to improve:

"Regular communications by [Guay] with the division heads have not been established. It is unusual for him to visit any of the division offices or to meet with the division heads one-on-one. This failure on the part of [Guay] to engage in two-way communication regularly is a primary concern. … It would be beneficial if communication from [Guay] were more pro-active rather than reactive."

The evaluation says he did a lot of things right, too — but here's where the story gets even more complicated: Guay says the watchdog divisions' commission, although it was established by the 2011 legislation that created the OGA, has no legal authority over him.  That puts him and the commission on collision course.

Guay says the watchdog panel doesn't have the power to evaluate him. He says it didn't have the power to compile the long list of "expectations" for his performance that it wrote last February, including deadlines by which he was supposed to accomplish certain tasks.

And so he wrote a letter Friday to the chairwoman of the commission — Carol Carson, whose full-time job is as executive director of the Office of State Ethics, one of the OGA's divisions — and politely declined its invitation to attend the Monday meeting, at which his evaluation is to be considered.

"Thank you for the invitation to the November 19, 2012, meeting of the Governmental Accountability Commission (GAC) and by this communication, I am informing you that I will not be in attendance," Guay wrote.

He said it appeared that "the GAC continues to attempt to set and measure its own expectations of the Executive Administrator; however as I've previously stated, the authority to supervise or direct the activities of the Executive Administrator was not granted to the GAC by the General Assembly."

Sounding perhaps a little optimistic under the circumstances, Guay concluded: "I look forward to the continued collaborative work of each of our divisions within the Office of Governmental Accountability."

Monday's upcoming meeting is the second that Carson's panel asked him to attend to discuss the pending evaluation. Guay also declined to attend a session on Oct. 25 — and the panel did not take kindly to it.

"It is of grave concern to the GAC that the [executive administrator] is unwilling to meet to discuss the status of the consolidation or to collaborate on ways to make it a success as he enters his second year of employment at the Office of Governmental Accountability (OGA)," the draft of the evaluation says.

Who's In Charge?

The battle over who's in charge at the new Office of Government Accountability has been building for about a year — and its origins rest in the way the 2011 legislation was written by majority Democrats, in response to critics who said the independence of the watchdog agencies would be compromised by the merger.

Republicans voiced much of that criticism. One of them, state Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, suggested that the proposed organizational structure was fundamentally flawed, with "these individuals coexisting on the commission that has oversight over the multiple sub-agencies. … I can't seem to grasp what happens when you have a major conflict."

Democrats in the administration and legislature were careful to structure the new agency so its executive administrator — Guay, as it turned out — could not tell the head of each watchdog division what to do.  In other words, Democrats said, the administrator was the head of the agency, but those in the divisions were not his "subordinates." He's the boss — but he's not their boss.

The consolidation was done for reasons of office efficiency and budget savings, the Democrats said, and it would not affect the watchdog divisions' regulatory and enforcement operations.  But by creating that unique structure — or, as critics characterized it, but trying to have it both ways — they left room for differing interpretations of, and disputes about, who has the right to do what.  In particular, the creation of the watchdog divisions' commission — the so-called GAC — led to the current battle.

The GAC was created to demonstrate that the watchdogs were not being robbed of their voices in the new superagency.  The law gave the GAC two specific duties.

The first was to "meet for the purpose of making recommendations to the Governor for candidates for the executive administrator of the Office of Governmental Accountability" — which it did in 2011, resulting the hiring of Guay, who had been director of the State Board of Accountancy for 22 years.

The second was to meet "for the purpose of terminating the employment of the executive administrator," in case that ever became necessary.

Guay bases his position on the fact that the law mentions nothing about the GAC setting "expectations" for his performance or evaluating him.  But Carson argues that there's no way the GAC could ever decide to terminate the executive administrator's employment if it does not first establish standards and expectations, and then measure whether he met them.  When Guay declined to attend the Oct. 25 meeting of Carson's panel, at which members discussed the evaluation that now has been drafted, he called Malloy's chief legal counsel, Andrew McDonald to inform him that he wasn't going to the session, McDonald said Friday. McDonald said he told Guay it was "his call."

McDonald said "Mr. Guay's interpretation seems to be a very plausible reading of the statute in its simplest terms. The statute … constrains the commission's activities to two very discrete purposes" — holding meetings to either recommend job candidates for administrator, or to fire that administrator.

McDonald said he's not intervening in the dispute, but added that if Carson and her GAC want to "undertake activities that are not included in the statute," they might get "an opinion from the attorney general that allows them to."

Carson said although the law doesn't mention evaluating the administrator, a Democratic state senator said during the 2011 legislative debate that the GAC would "have the power to evaluate and terminate the Executive Administrator." That shows what the "legislative intent" was, Carson said.

McDonald said a state statute says that if a law is understandable on its face, it should be obeyed without delving into "legislative intent."

Carson said the law is unclear, and the legislative intent establishes that her panel can evaluate him.  What will her panel do if Guay does not heed the evaluation and address its recommendations? Would it try to "terminate his employment"?

"It could give him another set of expectations and set up another meeting to give him a chance to meet … those that haven't been met," Carson said.

If he didn't comply, it theoretically could try to terminate him, she said. All of that would have to be discussed in depth, she said.

When Carson reported on the controversy to members of the Citizen's Ethics Advisory Board last Thursday, one of the board members said it sounded like the new governmental accountability office was "dysfunctional."

Guay had his own way of describing what it's been like to run what he calls a "unique" state agency, which is a newly created collection of units that enjoy unusual independence. "It's like flying the airplane while you're building it," he said.




AG Jepsen

Power Customers Need A Real Watchdog
Public Utility Regulatory Authority: Where was the agency when CL&P's preparedness plans were clearly inadequate?
Hartford Courant Editorial
Dec. 11, 2011

Connecticut Light & Power's hapless response to two storms that left many hundreds of thousands without power didn't just besmirch the power company's reputation. It also exposed the comatose response of the state Public Utility Regulatory Authority.

The legislature and governor must force the agency to do more to safeguard customers who underwrite CL&P's existence and may have to foot bills of up to a quarter-billion dollars from this year's storms.

PURA (formerly the Department of Public Utility Control) acts like a utility court, deciding through legal proceedings what Connecticut's electric rates will be, what utility expenses ratepayers should pay for and what they should not. It is supposed to dig into the details of how utilities operate, including storm preparedness.

Clearly, CL&P's unreadiness for two powerful storms this year reflects poorly not only on the company, but on the agency that is supposed to oversee its plans.

The recently released Witt report made this clear. It showed that the preparedness plans CL&P submitted to PURA last June defined a worst-case emergency as a power outage of 100,000 customers or more, occurring once every five years. That assessment — obviously woefully inadequate — would involve 8 percent of CL&P customers or more. The October snowstorm alone cut power to 70 percent of CL&P customers, and three storms this year have each left more than 100,000 people without electricity.

In contrast, United Illuminating's preparedness plan provides for a far more realistic worst-case scenario of 71 percent of its customers losing power.

Where's Utility Authority?

So why didn't PURA reject CL&P's assessment and ask that the plan be revised? Probably because regulatory agencies are not accustomed to leaping into action, and also apparently because CL&P's plan is still not considered final. But isn't six months long enough for the agency to respond?

PURA has shown a disturbing pattern of not wanting to trouble utilities. It abandoned its responsibilities to Connecticut ratepayers when it inexplicably refused even a cursory examination of the implications of Northeast Utilities' proposed merger with NStar, a Massachusetts utility. NU is CL&P's holding company, and it is obvious that such a merger could have an impact on rates.  Given this type of inaction, it is no surprise that Connecticut is in the top five most expensive states for electricity in the United States.

Connecticut needs reliable power and a reliable regulator. It seems to have neither at the moment. The state legislature and the governor must act to ensure Connecticut residents have both.

Someone To Watch Over Poles

On another front, two voices for consumers are calling for an independent administrator to oversee utilities' maintenance of aging poles. The legislature ought to pave the way with changes in laws if needed.

Attorney General George Jepsen and Consumer Counsel Elin Swanson Katz say that the devastation wrought by storms this year argues for just such a monitor. Poles weakened "from neglect and mismanagement" probably contributed, they said.  An administrator could do what CL&P has apparently failed to do — make the utility keep up with maintenance. CL&P acknowledges that more than 45 percent of its utility poles are beyond their life expectancy.

Not surprisingly, utilities want the state to stay away from their poles. But those poles convey heat, light and communication. They are too critical to the functioning of society to be neglected. They need their own protector.

Thursday's outages and closed roads — including Routes 4 in Farmington, 63 in Morris and 305 in Bloomfield — showed (as if any more proof were needed) that utility preparedness is a public safety issue that isn't going away.




State's electric rates fall to 4th-most expensive in U.S.
Waterbury Republian-American
BY BRAD KANE HARTFORD BUSINESS JOURNAL
Saturday, November 26, 2011 3:10 AM EST

Connecticut's notorious title as the state with the second highest electric rates in the country appears to be slipping away.

Electricity prices in the Nutmeg State fell to 16.15 cents per kilowatt hour in August, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This puts Connecticut's electricity prices behind three other states: Hawaii, New York and Alaska.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports average state electricity prices on a three-month delay.

Connecticut has been behind Hawaii for the last several years, as the island state prices often are nearly double the second-highest priced state.Hawaii's price per kilowatt hour was 33.91 cents in August.

New York typically has lower prices than Connecticut, except in the summer months, when added demand spikes prices. New York's electricity prices have been higher than Connecticut since June, and its price per kilowatt hour in August was 17.16 cents.

The newest development was Alaska. Despite its remote location, prices in Alaska tend to be lower than Connecticut. Not so in August, when the Alaskan price per kilowatt hour rose to 16.30 cents.

Connecticut electricity prices have dropped steadily for the past two years, down from around 18 cents per kilowatt hour to around 16 cents per kilowatt hour. The drop is due to better transmission, fewer government fees and a decrease in the commodity price of natural gas, which powers an increasing number of the state's power plants, and a number of other factors.

While the general trend in the nation has been lower electricity prices, some states have not had the same rate of decrease as Connecticut, such as New York or Alaska. Connecticut could drop lower in the national rankings as well, as states such as California and New Jersey are not experiencing drastic price drops.

High electricity prices don't always correlate to high electricity costs, as the overall cost depends on the amount of electricity used by the end consumer.Connecticut launched several energy efficiency initiatives to combat its high prices, trying to decrease the amount of electricity used in the state. 



Mediation set for Conn. explosion lawsuits
CT POST
Published 11:51 a.m., Saturday, July 2, 2011

MIDDLETOWN (AP) -- Lawyers and a Connecticut judge will be meeting later this month to try to settle at least 20 lawsuits filed by victims of a Middletown power plant explosion that killed six workers and injured nearly 50 others.

The first mediation session is set to begin July 18 at Middletown Superior Court. Victims are suing the plant's operator, Kleen Energy Systems, and several contractors that were working on plant, which was under construction when it exploded on Feb. 7, 2010.

Investigators say something ignited 400,000 cubic feet of gas and air that had accumulated during a gas blow, in which high-pressure natural gas is pushed through pipes to clear debris.

The state legislature this month approved a law banning the use of flammable gas to clean piping at power plants.



Odor From Kleen Energy Plant Linked To Turbine Tests
Another test conducted Wednesday afternoon
The Hartford Courant
By JOSH KOVNER, jkovner@courant.com
3:44 PM EDT, May 18, 2011


MIDDLETOWN –

Acrid diesel fumes wafting over neighborhoods surrounding the rebuilt Kleen Energy plant in south Middletown earlier this week have been linked to tests of one of the turbines, which is not yet performing at optimum levels, fire officials and plant representatives said Wednesday.

Another test of the turbine was conducted Wednesday afternoon from 1:45 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.

Dwayne Gardner, a spokesman with state Department of Environmental protection, said six employees of the plant's general contractor, carrying air monitors, fanned out in the surrounding neighborhood during the Wednesday test.

Gardner said no fumes or diesel smoke were detected outside of the plant's boundaries, and that the DEP received no new complaints from area residents Wednesday afternoon. Gardner said the employees called in from the neighborhood every 15 minutes with monitoring results, and company representatives reported to the DEP.

Daniel Carey, spokesman for O&G Industries, the general contractor and a minority owner of the $1 billion plant, acknowledged that residents were not notified of an earlier test on Monday, which produced acrid fumes that stalled over parts of south Middletown, Portland and Durham in moisture-laden air and fog.

Residents on Monday night and Tuesday reported the odors to the South Fire District, Middletown Health Department and the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The sprawling plant, built on a former feldspar mine overlooking the Connecticut River, was partially destroyed in a deadly natural-gas explosion on Feb. 7, 2010 that killed six workers, injured several dozen others, and resulted in more than $16 million in federal fines for safety violations against O&G, of Torrington, and other contractors at the site. The blast led to a statewide ban on "gas blows,'' in which natural gas was forced through pipelines at a tremendous pressure to clear the lines of debris.

The plant's majority owner is Energy Investors Funds, or EIF, through a Connecticut corporation called Kleen Energy Holdings, LLC.

The newly completed plant is in its testing phase, which will continue for about another 30 days.

The turbines run on natural gas, but must also be able to burn oil as a contingency plan. Carey said that fuel oil will be used again during the testing phase and residents still may smell fumes on occasion.

"We didn't anticipate (that the Monday test) would create the odor issues that it did,'' Carey said after plant representatives met with South Fire District, city health, and state DEP officials Wednesday morning.

He said residents were notified by phone of the test on Wednesday afternoon.

DEP spokesman Dennis Schain has said inspectors were reviewing the testing operations for any air-quality violations. No violations had been filed against the plant as of Wednesday afternoon. South Fire District Chief Edward Badamo has said the fumes don't represent a safety issue.

Badamo said the turbines have to be "tuned in'' and will run more efficiently when they are performing at full capacity.

Carey said the turbine on Monday was running slower and louder than it would normally. He said under normal circumstances, the smoke would be pushed through the stack with much greater energy and reach higher into the atmosphere to dissipate.






IROQUOI  PIPELINE EXTENTION - WETLANDS ENDANGERED?

There is the FERC hearing coming on natural gas extension...not in Weston, but an interesting issue for CT and New England and New York, too..





UNDERGROUND TANKS - OUT OF SIGHT OUT OF MIND UNTIL...BOOM!
Stamford 500 gallon underground propane tank causes explosive fire that totally destroys the house...at left.


Major explosion rocks North Stamford
Investigators suspect underground propane tank
Stamford ADVOCATE
Staff Reports
Updated 9:37 pm, Tuesday, September 17, 2013


STAMFORD -- A major explosion in North Stamford obliterated a house Tuesday and shook residents within a two-mile area.

The owner of the 6,000-square-foot home at 305 Webbs Hill Road was outside near a pool house on the property when the blast blew the house off its foundation at 1:54 p.m. sending burning debris hundreds of feet away and leaving a scorched crater in its footprint.

"It was like a scene out of hell," Stamford Police Chief Jon Fontneau said. "The house was leveled."

Guiseppe "Joe" Cardillo, 54, was the only one home at the time of the blast, and he was remarkably unscathed. Stamford public safety officials said he initially declined medical attention and was taken to Stamford Hospital for observation to determine if he suffered any unseen internal injuries.

Police and fire officials believe the explosion may have been caused by a buildup of fumes in the home's basement from an underground 500-gallon propane tank buried in the backyard.

Fontneau said the force of the blast was so strong that two neighboring houses were damaged by the shock wave and a window frame was found high up in a pine tree.

Mayor Michael Pavia said nearby houses were checked by city building inspectors and found to be structurally sound.

Reports initially came in from the scene that another house had collapsed.

Firefighters used tanker trucks to shuttle water from nearby Holt's Ice Pond behind the Lakeside Diner on Long Ridge Road to the scene to douse the burning rubble of the house. The remaining propane in the underground tank continued to produce a tower of flames well into the night Tuesday as fire officials conducted a controlled burn to empty the tank.

Peter Gow lives next door and was at home at the time of the explosion. He helped steer first responders to the scene through 911 dispatchers.

"It was basically like a bomb went off with a giant fireball in the middle," Gow said. There was nothing left. Just debris that was blown in all directions."

Gow said he ran up to the house to see if anyone needed help, but "there was nothing to get out of. It was a giant fireball."

The explosion triggered a massive response, with the city calling for all of its volunteer firefighters to stand by at firehouses, and tanker trucks were brought in from New Canaan, along with Pound Ridge and Bankville, N.Y. One firefighter suffered a minor back injury, according to Ted Jankowski, the city's director of public safety, health and welfare.

"I thought a plane hit my house," said Charlene Heffernan who lives next door on Webbs Hill Road. "I have never heard anything so loud. My house shook from the top down."

Elaine Sansone lives across the street and said the blast knocked the curtains and pictures off the wall in one room of her house.

"I felt and heard the explosion. My house shook. It literally shook," Sansone said.

A photo of the house taken by the city tax assessor's office shows the house prior to the explosion as a modern, two-story home built in 1984. The six-bedroom house last sold for $1.1 million back in 2006 and featured cathedral ceilings and two fireplaces.

Police initially treated the explosion as a possible crime scene, and investigators were brought in from the state Fire Marshal's Office to determine the cause. Fontneau later said that arson was ruled out, but investigators were still seeking the source of ignition.

"It was so loud," said Laxmi Parm-Eswar, who lives next door. "I was terrified. I thought something happened to my house."




Aging gas pipe at risk of explosion nationwide

YAHOO
By GARANCE BURKE and JASON DEAREN, Associated Press Writers
13 September 2010

SAN BRUNO, Calif. – An ominous theme has emerged from the wreckage of a deadly pipeline explosion in California: There are thousands of pipes just like it nationwide.

Utilities have been under pressure for years to better inspect and replace aging gas pipes — many of them laid years before the suburbs expanded over them and now at risk of leaking or erupting.  But the effort has fallen short. Critics say the regulatory system is ripe for problems because the government largely leaves it up to the companies to do inspections, and utilities are reluctant to spend the money necessary to properly fix and replace decrepit pipelines.

"If this was the FAA and air travel we were talking about, I wouldn't get on a plane," said Rick Kessler, a former congressional staffer specializing in pipeline safety issues who now works for the Pipeline Safety Trust, an advocacy group based in Bellingham, Wash.

Investigators are still trying to figure out how the pipeline in San Bruno ruptured and ignited a gigantic fireball that torched one home after another in the neighborhood, killing at least four people. Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the pipeline's owner, said Monday it has set aside up to $100 million to help residents recover.  Experts say the California disaster epitomizes the risks that communities face with old gas lines. The pipe was more than 50 years old — right around the life expectancy for steel pipes. It was part of a transmission line that in one section had an "unacceptably high" risk of failure. And it was in a densely populated area.

The blast was the latest warning sign in a series of deadly infrastructure failures in recent years, including a bridge collapse in Minneapolis and a steam pipe explosion that tore open a Manhattan street in 2007. The steam pipe that ruptured was more than 80 years old.  The section of pipeline that ruptured was built in 1956, back when the neighborhood contained only a handful of homes. It is a scenario that National Transportation Safety Board vice chairman Christopher Hart has seen play out throughout the nation, as suburbs have expanded.

"That's an issue we're going to have to look on a bigger scale — situations in which pipes of some age were put in before the dense population arrived and now the dense population is right over the pipe," he said.

Thousands of pipelines nationwide fit the same bill, and they frequently experience mishaps. Federal officials have recorded 2,840 significant gas pipeline accidents since 1990, more than a third causing deaths and significant injuries.

"In reality, there is a major pipeline incident every other day in this country," said Carl Weimer, Pipeline Safety Trust's executive director. "Luckily, most of them don't happen in populated areas, but you still see too many failures to think something like this wasn't going to happen sooner or later."

Congress passed a law in 2002 that required utilities for the first time to inspect pipelines that run through heavily populated areas. In the first five years, more than 3,000 problems were identified — a figure Weimer said underscores the precarious pipeline system.  Even when inspections are done and problems found, Kessler said, there is no requirement for companies to say if or what kind of repairs were made. And Weimer added industry lobbyists have since pushed to relax that provision of the law so inspections could occur once a decade or once every 15 years.

Other critics complain that the pipeline plans are drafted in secret with little opportunity for the public to speak out about the process.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is the federal regulatory arm that enforces rules for the safe operation of the nation's pipeline system, and has direct authority over interstate pipelines. Most state public utility agencies have adopted the federal rules and carry out inspections and enforcement of pipelines running inside state boundaries.  Asked if it plans to step up oversight in response to the San Bruno accident, the PHMSA issued a statement saying it has investigators at the scene providing technical assistance to the California Public Utilities Commission and to the NTSB as they investigate the pipeline failure.

"We will evaluate what further action is necessary once we have complete information," the agency said.

The system often relies on the pipeline operators like PG&E to survey their own gas lines and decide which are high risk.  The American Gas Association disputes the notion that it cuts any corners and says the industry is subjected to stringent state and federal regulations.

"Safety is unequivocally the No. 1 priority for the natural gas transmission and distribution industry and always will be," spokesman Chris Hogan said. "The industry spends billions each year to ensure the safety and reliability of the natural gas infrastructure."

The challenge of ensuring pipeline safety is compounded by the sheer enormity of the nation's natural gas network. The federal pipeline agency says the U.S. has more than 2 million miles of pipelines — enough to circle the earth about 100 times.  The agency has only about 100 federal inspectors nationwide to ensure compliance, meaning there is no guarantee violators will be caught. "When you look at two-and-a-half million miles of pipeline with 100 inspectors, it's not reassuring," Weimer said. "To a grand degree the industry inspects and polices themselves."

Potential safety threats have grown as the pipeline network has expanded and age takes its toll on existing infrastructure. More than 60 percent of the nation's gas transmission lines are 40 years old or older.  Most of them are made of steel, with older varieties prone to corrosion. The more problematic pipes are made of cast-iron. A few places in Pennsylvania still had wooden gas pipes as of last year, according to officials there.

Pipelines in heavily populated locations like San Bruno fall into a category the industry refers to as "high consequence areas."

Those areas contain about 7 percent of the 300,000 miles of gas transmission lines in the country, or roughly 21,000 miles of pipeline. The category has nothing to do with the safety of pipelines, and was created to put the greatest emphasis on the most populous regions.  Industry watchdogs have criticized utilities for not being willing to spend the money necessary to avoid explosions like the one in California. The cost to replace lengthy stretches of pipelines can exceed $30 million.

"They (PG&E) will prioritize and put off work to maintain their level of earnings," said Bill Marcus, a California attorney whose firm consults nationally with consumer protection agencies and nonprofits on gas rate cases. "To some extent that's not bad, but it is concerning when those decisions endanger public health or the environment."

PG&E said it has spent more than $100 million to improve its gas system in recent years, and routinely surveys its 5,724 miles of transmission and 42,142 miles of distribution lines for leaks. The utility speeded up surveys of its distribution lines in 2008 and expects to have completed checks in December, it said.  PG&E President Chris Johns said the pipe that ruptured was inspected twice in the past year — once for corrosion and once for leaks — and the checks turned up no problems.

A section of pipe connected to the line that exploded was built in 1948, and flagged as a problem by PG&E in a memo. PG&E submitted paperwork to regulators that said the section was within "the top 100 highest risk line sections" in the utility's service territory, the document shows.

The fact that it's in an urbanized area that didn't exist when the pipe was built is emblematic of a bigger problem nationwide, experts say.

"People have been waiting for a while for this type of disaster to happen because of expanded construction near pipeline right of ways without adequate prevention," said Paul Blackburn, a public interest lawyer in Vermillion, S.D.


Calif. neighbors survey ruins of blasted hillside
YAHOO
By TREVOR HUNNICUTT and GARANCE BURKE, Associated Press Writers
13 September 2010

SAN BRUNO, Calif. – Patrick Yu has had nightmares and headaches since a fireball from a natural gas explosion caused his ceiling to crash down next to him while he slept.   He was one of many residents who returned to the ruined hillsides of their suburban San Francisco neighborhood Sunday after Thursday's pipeline blast and fire destroyed nearly 50 homes and damaged dozens of others.  The explosion prompted California regulators to order the utility, Pacific Gas and Electric, to survey all its natural gas lines in the state in hopes of heading off another disaster.

Returning residents were wearing wristbands that show police they live in the area.  Yu said he crouched in the doorway after the blast, thinking he was in the middle of an earthquake. When the shaking subsided, he found that the heat had warped the door so much he had to pull with all his strength to get out of the bedroom.

The 62-year-old learned Sunday that his house had been red-tagged, meaning it has extensive damage and will require closer inspection before authorities can declare it safe.

"I have lots of memories in that house," Yu said. "Lots of stuff you can't replace."

A few blocks away, houses have collapsed into black and white debris on ground, with a smell like charcoal in the air. All that remains standing is a row of brick chimneys, while across the street, some homes are undamaged.  Pat and Roger Haro fared better. They and their dog, Rosie, have been living in a hotel room since Thursday after fleeing their home with the clothes they were wearing, dog food, water and an iPad.  When they returned, their home was marked with a green tag — indicating less damage than others with yellow or red tags — and their electricity was still off.

"Once I saw the house was still there, then I felt a whole lot better," Pat Haro said. "I think we'll be a tighter community."

Investigators were still trying to confirm how many people died.

The remains of at least four people have been found, and authorities have said four are missing and at least 60 injured, some critically. Two people reported missing after the blast were located Sunday, city spokeswoman Robyn Thaw said.  San Mateo County Coroner Robert Foucrault said they're still trying to confirm whether some of the remains are human and identify victims.  At a service Sunday morning at St. Robert's Catholic Church, the Rev. Vincent Ring conducted a prayer for the victims.

"We turn to God and we ask for mercy upon all our brothers who are hurting so badly, whose lives have changed so drastically and whose help is so badly needed from us," Ring said.

Meanwhile, local and federal officials are probing the cause of the explosion that blew a segment of pipe 28 feet long onto the street some 100 feet away, creating a crater 167 feet long and 26 feet wide.  A risky segment of the gas line was due to be replaced, the utility responsible said, because it ran through a heavily urbanized area and the likelihood of failure was "unacceptably high." That 30-inch diameter pipe a few miles north was installed in 1948 and slated to be swapped for new, smaller pipe.

PG&E submitted paperwork to regulators for ongoing gas rate proceedings that said a section of the same gas line about two and a half miles away was within "the top 100 highest risk line sections" in the utility's service territory, the documents show.  The company also considered the portion that ruptured to be a "high consequence area" requiring more stringent inspections called integrity assessments, federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration spokeswoman Julia Valentine said.

Nationwide, only about 7 percent of gas lines have that classification, she said.

PG&E spokesman Andrew Souvall said the company had planned to replace the piece of the gas line mentioned in the documents with 24-inch pipe as a part of its broader proposal to upgrade infrastructure that the commission began considering last year.

Souvall said Sunday that no one complained to the utility's call centers of smelling gas in the San Bruno neighborhood in the week leading up to the blast.  He said the ruptured section, which was installed in 1956, was last checked for leaks in March. The company said later Sunday that no leaks were found.  The segment farther north was checked for leaks on Friday and none was found, Souvall added.

"We take action on a daily basis to repair our equipment as needed," he said. "PG&E takes a proactive approach toward the maintenance of our gas lines and we're constantly monitoring our system."

In ordering the company to conduct the leak survey on its natural gas lines, the state's Public Utilities Commission said Sunday that PG&E must give priority to higher pressure pipelines, as well as to lines in areas of high population density.

The order comes after Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado asked the commission to order the utility company to conduct an integrity assessment of its natural gas pipeline system. Maldonado is serving as acting governor while Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger travels in Asia.  The commission also plans to appoint an independent expert panel to help with their investigation.

Crews on Sunday packed into a crate the 28-foot section of ruptured natural gas pipeline blown out of the ground and hurled 100 feet in the explosion, said Christopher Hart, vice chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.  Investigators were to ship the pipeline to the NTSB's metallurgy lab in Washington, D.C., for intensive examination, he said.  Also being shipped were two 10-foot sections of pipe removed from the crater Sunday from either side of where the ruptured section had been.

Investigators believed they had collected all the sections needed to reconstruct the metal pipeline but asked that anyone who found metal fragments in the blast area contact the NTSB. The agency also wanted to know of any instances of dead vegetation before the explosion, which could indicate a gas leak.


Calif. gas line rupture sparks safety questions
Washington Times
By Jason Dearen and Julianna Barbassa,
Associated Press
Updated: 11:04 a.m. on Saturday, September 11, 2010

SAN BRUNO, Calif. (AP) — Federal authorities are probing a natural gas pipeline and how it was maintained as they investigate the thunderous line explosion and raging inferno that devastated this suburban San Francisco neighborhood. City leaders called for a town hall meeting Saturday to start San Bruno's healing process.

Officials were trying to determine what led up to the blast that killed at least four people, injured dozens of others and raised questions about the safety of similar lines that crisscross towns across America.

"It looks like a moonscape in some areas," Fire Chief Dennis Haag said Friday.

At least 50 people were hurt, with seven suffering critical injuries in the explosion Thursday evening that left a giant crater and laid waste to dozens of 1960s-era homes in the hills overlooking San Francisco Bay. Authorities had no reports of anyone still missing or unaccounted for.

The utility that operates the 30-inch diameter line said it was trying to find out what caused the steel gas pipe to rupture and ignite. Federal pipeline safety inspectors were on the scene Friday afternoon.

"It was just an amazing scene of destruction," National Transportation Safety Board vice chairman Christopher Hart said.

He said federal investigators will analyze the pipeline's condition, along with its maintenance history, pressure levels and the safeguards put in place to prevent pressure from building up. Hart said the NTSB will also look at the training and experience of the people who operated the pipeline and screen them for alcohol and drugs.

At an evacuation center, residents anxiously awaited word on the fate of their homes.

Others, like Freddy Tobar and his wife Nora, thought about the house they lost. He saw flames shooting up outside his window and then through his home. He grabbed his Chihuahua and ran outside, getting second degree burns on his arms and the side of his face.

The couple saw the house burning to the ground on the news, and returned Friday to find it destroyed.

"We have to start from zero again. When you start remembering it gets too sad," Nora Tobar said.

"But the most important thing is that we're alive," she said.

Jacquelin Greig, 44, her daughter Janessa, 13, and Jessica Morales, 20, were identified by the San Mateo County Coroner's Office as having died in the fire. The fourth person killed hasn't been identified.

Greig lived in a house just yards from the source of the blast. In her job with the California Public Utilities Commission, she worked to protect consumers from soaring monthly gas bills or dangerous pipeline expansions, co-workers said.

"This is so difficult for us because we're such a small group," said her co-worker Pearlie Sabino. "She does a lot of cases related to natural gas, that's the irony of it."

State Assemblyman Jerry Hill, who represents San Bruno and surrounding cities, said he has heard multiple reports from constituents who had alerted PG&E of gas odors in the neighborhood before the disaster.

The residents "deserve to know if PG&E used the correct procedures in the days and weeks leading up to this disaster," Hill said. The utility said it was checking its records for the complaints, but added that none of its crews were at work on the line Thursday.

Compared to the tens of thousands of miles of gas pipelines across the country, accidents are relatively rare.

In 2009, there were 163 significant accidents involving natural gas pipelines, killing 10 people and injuring 59.

Transmission lines like the one that burst in San Bruno deliver natural gas from its source to distribution lines, which then carry it into neighborhoods before branching off into homes.

Over the past two decades, federal officials tallied 2,840 significant gas pipeline accidents nationwide — including 992 in which someone was killed or required hospitalization, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Those accidents killed 323 people and injured 1,372.

Experts say the nation's 296,000 miles of onshore natural-gas lines routinely suffer breakdowns and failures.

More than 60 percent of the lines are 40 years old or older and almost half were installed in the 1950s and 1960s, according to a recent analysis by the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Bellingham, Wash.

Most of the older pipelines lack anticorrosion coatings that are prevalent in the industry today, said Carl Weimer, executive director of the trust, which was set up following a 1999 explosion that killed three people in Bellingham.

"The industry always says that if you take care of pipelines, they'll last forever," Weimer said. "But what we see over and over again is companies are not doing that and corrosion and other factors are causing failures."

Once a high-pressure pipeline fails, he said, anything can trigger a deadly blast. A cigarette or rocks smashing as high-pressure gas shoots by. Even someone answering a cell phone can cause a spark, because it is battery-powered, Weimer said.

This is not the first time a deadly explosion occurred on a PG&E gas line. The utility has had 19 significant pipeline incidents since 2002, but there was only one fatality, according to records provided by the trust.

In 2008, the state regulators inspected a leaky PG&E pipeline in the Sacramento suburb of Rancho Cordova that had been repaired, and found that the company wasn't properly training its workers to recognize potentially dangerous leaks.

PG&E agreed to update its safety training, and a deadline was set for Dec. 31, 2008.

On Christmas Eve, the pipeline exploded, killing a 72-year-old man and injuring five others.

NTSB's final report on the blast concluded that PG&E used a wrong pipe to repair the gas line two years before and that residents had reported a gas smell before the explosion.

In response to the findings, the company said it had taken "extraordinary measures" to ensure a blast like that wouldn't happen again.





Federal Investigators Recommend Ban On Natural Gas For Pipe Purges
Hartford Courant
By DAVE ALTIMARI
9:58 AM EDT, June 28, 2010

The federal agency investigating the Kleen Energy plant explosion is recommending that power plant owners be banned from using natural gas during pipe purging to avoid another disaster like the one that cost six people their lives in February...full story here.



No override at Veto Session 2010
Rell vetoes energy bill, citing content and process
CT MIRROR
Mark Pazniokas and Jacqueline Rabe
May 25, 2010

Gov. M. Jodi Rell today vetoed sweeping energy legislation passed on the final day of the 2010 session after a late-night debate, attacking the path the bill followed to passage as vehemently as she did the measure's content.

Rell, whose administration was not consulted on the bill as it was drafted, called the process "disrespectful to those who honestly desired to read and deliberate the bill's provisions and unfair to the people of Connecticut whose electric bills and taxes would surely be affected."

The bill's Democratic sponsors, Sen. John Fonfara of Hartford and Rep. Vicki O. Nardello of Prospect, presented the bill to colleagues in the session's final week, setting off a massive lobbying effort. Utilities tried to kill it, while environmentalists and consumer programs pushed for passage.

The bill would have subsidized solar power, encouraged energy efficiency and exerted influence over a deregulated electric industry that has given Connecticut the nation's second-highest electric rates.

The most heavily lobbied bill of year was passed 20 to 14 in the Senate and 81 to 40 in the House. An override is not likely, as passage fell four votes short in the Senate and 20 in the House of the necessary two-thirds.

But the numbers aren't deterring Fonfara, who said he plans to heavily lobby lawmakers to switch their votes.

"We have not talked to them yet, but we certainly will at this point. We'll see where that takes us. ... There is still the opportunity to overcome a veto," he said.

Rell said she could not overcome her dismay with what she called the lack of transparency.

"I believe in the legislative process. As disjointed as the legislative process can sometimes appear, public comment and open analysis and debate are critical to producing well-crafted, workable laws,"Rell said. "The proponents of this bill would have been well served by following that process."

Rell's comments angered Fonfara, calling them "totally untrue and inaccurate. It's misleading for the governor to say that. Every portion of this bill has had a public hearing."

Nardello said the governor's Office of Policy and Management responded to the handful of bills that were eventually rolled into this omnibus energy bill.

“If she didn’t really like the bill she should have just said so," she said. "This bill was brought forth like any other bill."

Rell also took issue with the House taking up the bill at 3 a.m. on the last day, giving final passage at 6 a.m. House leaders said they had no choice, noting that Republicans had filibustered an education-reform bill for 7 hours, pushing the energy bill debate into the early morning hours.

"Tired legislators debating a bill as complex and important as this under cloak of night is untenable and unacceptable," Rell said.

Rell dismissed claims from the bill's supporters that it would lower rates. She said it was rhetoric and "eerily reminiscent" of claims by supporters of deregulation in 1998.

Charles Rothenberger, an attorney with Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said Rell's claims that the process was not transparent are unfounded.

"It did have the full benefit of legislative public hearings," he said. "Unfortunately, opponents of the bill were able to get ahead on that message. ... We pay the highest rates in the continental U.S. and this [veto] ensures we will continue down that path."

The veto quickly became an issue in the gubernatorial campaign. The endorsed Democratic candidate, Dan Malloy, quickly criticized the actions of Rell, who is not seeking re-election.

"This is a mistake, plain and simple. At a time when Connecticut is already facing the highest electricity costs in the country, when families and small businesses across the state are already strained by unprecedented economic problems, this veto makes no sense," Malloy said.

"This was more than an energy bill, it was a jobs bill," said Ned Lamont, the Democratic challenger. "The governor's decision to veto it was shortsighted, and it comes shortly after her gimmick-laden budget raided the Connecticut energy conservation fund."

Christopher Phelps, program director for Environment Connecticut, a clean energy advocacy group, called the governor’s veto “extremely disappointing, for the ratepayers and businesses, for those who want to create clean energy and green jobs. The bill was specifically crafted to set a positive balance” between controlling rates, promoting renewable energy sources and protecting the environment, he added.

Rell said that the bill was well-intentioned, but it attempted to do too much with too little oversight and public input.

"We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past. I cannot approve the sweeping changes in this bill without fully knowing the effect they will have on the energy market, our state's economy and ratepayer bills," Rell said. "Further, by creating a new state agency, the Connecticut Energy and Technology Authority, this bill increases the size and scope of state government at a time when we are striving to cut expenses and streamline government."

The bill also would have reorganized and renamed the Public Utilities Control Authority as the Connecticut Energy and Technology Authority, which would have the added responsibility of promoting new technologies and renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind and hydro-power.

The bill also would have adopted Energy Star standards for all televisions sold in the state, forcing energy-gobbling models from the market. And it called for low-interest financing for homeowners to invest in energy-efficient boilers and other improvements.

Nardello said if lawmakers decide not to override the governor's veto this year, there's alway next year.

"We've already done all the work," she said.



Cause of Middletown blast unknown
By Lee Howard
Publication: The Day
Published 02/08/2010 12:00 AM
Updated 02/08/2010 08:19 AM

Middletown - A routine cleaning procedure preceded a huge explosion and fire Sunday morning that destroyed a natural gas plant under construction here, leaving five people dead and 12 injured.

One of those killed was 58-year Raymond Dobratz of Old Saybrook, who was working as a pipefitter supervisor. He was flown by Life Star helicopter to Hartford Hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Mayor Sebastian N. Giuliano said during a news conference at nearby Woodrow Wilson Middle School late Sunday afternoon that as many as 200 people had been working at different points during the day at the 620-megawatt plant. The plant, which is owned by Kleen Energy Systems, was constructed to be one of the cleanest natural gas-fired power facilities in the world.

It was unclear how many people were at the plant at the time of the explosion. Officials said Sunday night that no one was known to be missing but that firefighters would continue to comb through the destroyed building overnight in case there are any other victims.

"Something ignited the gas," said Giuliano, who felt the ground shake in downtown Middletown during the blast, which he likened to a sonic boom.

Residents as far away as Mystic reported that they felt or heard the blast.

The explosion occurred as power-plant personnel tried to clean two of the site's gas lines, said state Sen. Thomas Gaffey, D-Meriden. He said standard procedure is to reduce the number of people on site at the time of the gas-line purge, a protocol that may have reduced the casualty numbers.

Gaffey said workers on site most likely would have included pipefitters, plumbers and electricians. During the week, as many as 300 or 400 workers are on site, said Gaffey, who estimated the multimillion-dollar plant, which was scheduled for completion in the next few months, was about 95 percent finished.

The exterior of the power plant was largely destroyed, with the blast exposing the innards of the facility. No estimate was given for the damage.

"What used to be siding was hanging off like strips of ribbon," Giuliano said.

Nearby homes, he added, exhibited earthquake-like damage, such as crumbling walls, broken windows and cracks in the roofs. No one, however, had to be evacuated.

Marc Fongemie, deputy chief of operations for one of the Middletown fire departments, said the search-and-rescue operation was being extended to a range that included the farthest spot where debris was located. Police blocked off roads so no one could get to the blast site.

This isn't the first time a natural-gas explosion has occurred during a purging operation.

Just last year in Garner, N.C., three people were killed, four others were critically burned and 71 went to the hospital when a blast at a Slim Jim meat processing plant owned by ConAgra Foods occurred during a similar procedure. Another problem during a gas-purging operation occurred in 2008 at a Hilton Hotel in San Diego, injuring 14.

Both of these purging procedures were linked to venting gas indoors "without proper monitoring or safeguards," leading the U.S. Chemical Safety Board to issue a safety bulletin, according to an article in Occupational Health & Safety magazine.

Officials said it was unclear what led to Sunday's blast. A formal investigation will begin today, Deputy Fire Marshal Al Santostefano told The Associated Press.

The contractor on the project was listed as O&G Industries, a Torrington company that has been involved in many local projects, including building several schools in Waterford.

Other subcontractors were also at the Middletown plant, according to officials, creating initial confusion about how many people were on the site at the time of the blast.

Guiliano stressed that the 11:19 a.m. explosion was the result of an industrial accident, not terrorism. Officials said the names of those killed would be released after their next of kin were notified.

The Red Cross has set up a hotline for families to get information about victims at (860) 347-2577. Other agencies involved in the operation included the Department of Homeland Security, Connecticut State Police and the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration, as well as many fire departments and emergency medical responders around Connecticut.

Giuliano said he knows some victims were taken to Middlesex Hospital. Two victims were transported to Hartford Hospital.

Injuries were described as ranging from minor to potentially life-threatening.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who went to the scene, activated the Emergency Operations Center in Hartford.

"I thank the many first responders who are braving the very cold and windy conditions," Rell said.

Rell announced a temporary no-fly zone over the site of the plant explosion "because of the instability of the heavily damaged building." The flight restrictions are in effect until 5:21 p.m. today.

The Kleen Energy Systems plant, located at 1349 River Road, is on a prime piece of land on a hilltop overlooking the Connecticut River. The fire could be seen for miles around, officials said.

Numerous residents in southeastern Connecticut reported hearing the explosion and feeling their houses shake.

"I thought a tree fell on the garage," said Kathy Pagani of Ledyard. "I can't believe it was so far away for me to have felt it and heard it here in Ledyard."

Bob Walter of Colchester was in his basement doing some work at the time and thought it was a short tremor.

"We've had them out here before," he said. "But I was shocked when I heard that it was the accident in Middletown and thought to myself that was one heck of an explosion."

Kleen Energy Systems is controlled by Energy Investors Funds Group, according to a report on Bloomberg.com. The plant had a 15-year contract to provide enough electricity to Northeast Utilities to fuel about half a million homes, according to a summary of its project found online.

Algonquin Gas Transmission Co. is the gas supplier to the plant, according to Bloomberg.





Kevin Moloney for The New York Times
The sun rises over Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. Environmentalists are seeking to block transmission lines from this and other public lands.

Environmentalists Sue Over Energy Transmission Across Federal Lands
NYTIMES
By Kate Galbraith
July 8, 2009, 2:22 pm

A coalition of environmental groups is suing federal agencies in an effort to change the location of corridors to transmit energy across Western lands.

The environmental groups — including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Wilderness Society, as well as several Western environmental groups — say that the corridors, which were designated in January by the Bush Administration, are convenient for moving electricity generated by coal plants and other fossil fuels, but do little to facilitate the production of renewable energy on public lands.

“These are a product of a fossil fuel past,” said Carl Zichella, the director of Western renewables projects for the Sierra Club, in an interview.

The complaint was filed on Tuesday in a federal district court in San Francisco. It names as defendants several federal agencies, including the Department of the Interior, as well as its subsidiary, the Bureau of Land Management; the Department of Energy; and the Department of Agriculture and its subsidiary, the Forest Service.

Those agencies, the suit charged, created a sprawling, hop-scotch network of 6,000 miles of rights-of-way known as the ‘West-Wide Energy Corridors,’ without considering the environmental impacts of that designation, without analyzing any alternatives to their preferred pathways, without considering numerous federal policies that support renewable energy development, without ensuring the corridors’ consistency with federal and local land use plans, and without consulting other federal agencies or western states and local governments.

Mr. Zichella acknowledged that the Obama administration has been far friendlier toward the environmental groups’ priorities than the Bush administration. Ken Salazar, the Secretary of the Interior, is pushing aggressively to develop solar power on public lands.

The lawsuit, Mr. Zichella said, was to “help prioritize one thing to help them meet that goal.”

The environmental groups say that the corridors designated by the Bush administration go through a number of Western treasures, such as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, the Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area in California and the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico.

Mr. Zichella said that the Sierra Club was not against transmission as a general rule, but wanted to ensure that the lines served renewable energy, more than fossil fuels.

Also, “We want to build them in the right places to do the least environmental harm,” he said.


Energy Bill Advances in Senate
NYTIMES
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 11:10 a.m. ET
June 17, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Legislation that would require greater use of renewable energy and make it easier to build power lines is advancing in the Senate.

The Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 11-8 on Wednesday to advance the bill although Democrats and Republicans -- for different reasons -- said they had concerns about the bill and hoped to make changes on the Senate floor.

The bill requires utilities to produce 15 percent of their power from wind, solar and other renewable energy. It also gives the federal government authority to locate high-voltage power lines if states fail to act. And it would open the eastern Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling, in some areas within 10 miles of Florida's coast.

The Senate likely will take up the bill in fall.


Wind Energy Bumps Into Power Grid’s Limits
NYTIMES
By MATTHEW L. WALD
Published: August 26, 2008

When the builders of the Maple Ridge Wind farm spent $320 million to put nearly 200 wind turbines in upstate New York, the idea was to get paid for producing electricity. But at times, regional electric lines have been so congested that Maple Ridge has been forced to shut down even with a brisk wind blowing.

That is a symptom of a broad national problem. Expansive dreams about renewable energy, like Al Gore’s hope of replacing all fossil fuels in a decade, are bumping up against the reality of a power grid that cannot handle the new demands.

The dirty secret of clean energy is that while generating it is getting easier, moving it to market is not.

The grid today, according to experts, is a system conceived 100 years ago to let utilities prop each other up, reducing blackouts and sharing power in small regions. It resembles a network of streets, avenues and country roads.

“We need an interstate transmission superhighway system,” said Suedeen G. Kelly, a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

While the United States today gets barely 1 percent of its electricity from wind turbines, many experts are starting to think that figure could hit 20 percent.

Achieving that would require moving large amounts of power over long distances, from the windy, lightly populated plains in the middle of the country to the coasts where many people live. Builders are also contemplating immense solar-power stations in the nation’s deserts that would pose the same transmission problems.

The grid’s limitations are putting a damper on such projects already. Gabriel Alonso, chief development officer of Horizon Wind Energy, the company that operates Maple Ridge, said that in parts of Wyoming, a turbine could make 50 percent more electricity than the identical model built in New York or Texas.

“The windiest sites have not been built, because there is no way to move that electricity from there to the load centers,” he said.

The basic problem is that many transmission lines, and the connections between them, are simply too small for the amount of power companies would like to squeeze through them. The difficulty is most acute for long-distance transmission, but shows up at times even over distances of a few hundred miles.

Transmission lines carrying power away from the Maple Ridge farm, near Lowville, N.Y., have sometimes become so congested that the company’s only choice is to shut down — or pay fees for the privilege of continuing to pump power into the lines.

Politicians in Washington have long known about the grid’s limitations but have made scant headway in solving them. They are reluctant to trample the prerogatives of state governments, which have traditionally exercised authority over the grid and have little incentive to push improvements that would benefit neighboring states.

In Texas, T. Boone Pickens, the oilman building the world’s largest wind farm, plans to tackle the grid problem by using a right of way he is developing for water pipelines for a 250-mile transmission line from the Panhandle to the Dallas market. He has testified in Congress that Texas policy is especially favorable for such a project and that other wind developers cannot be expected to match his efforts.

“If you want to do it on a national scale, where the transmission line distances will be much longer, and utility regulations are different, Congress must act,” he said on Capitol Hill.

Enthusiasm for wind energy is running at fever pitch these days, with bold plans on the drawing boards, like Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s notion of dotting New York City with turbines. Companies are even reviving ideas of storing wind-generated energy using compressed air or spinning flywheels.

Yet experts say that without a solution to the grid problem, effective use of wind power on a wide scale is likely to remain a dream.

The power grid is balkanized, with about 200,000 miles of power lines divided among 500 owners. Big transmission upgrades often involve multiple companies, many state governments and numerous permits. Every addition to the grid provokes fights with property owners.

These barriers mean that electrical generation is growing four times faster than transmission, according to federal figures.

In a 2005 energy law, Congress gave the Energy Department the authority to step in to approve transmission if states refused to act. The department designated two areas, one in the Middle Atlantic States and one in the Southwest, as national priorities where it might do so; 14 United States senators then signed a letter saying the department was being too aggressive.

Energy Department leaders say that, however understandable the local concerns, they are getting in the way. “Modernizing the electric infrastructure is an urgent national problem, and one we all share,” said Kevin M. Kolevar, assistant secretary for electricity delivery and energy reliability, in a speech last year.

Unlike answers to many of the nation’s energy problems, improvements to the grid would require no new technology. An Energy Department plan to source 20 percent of the nation’s electricity from wind calls for a high-voltage backbone spanning the country that would be similar to 2,100 miles of lines already operated by a company called American Electric Power.

The cost would be high, $60 billion or more, but in theory could be spread across many years and tens of millions of electrical customers. However, in most states, rules used by public service commissions to evaluate transmission investments discourage multistate projects of this sort. In some states with low electric rates, elected officials fear that new lines will simply export their cheap power and drive rates up.

Without a clear way of recovering the costs and earning a profit, and with little leadership on the issue from the federal government, no company or organization has offered to fight the political battles necessary to get such a transmission backbone built.

Texas and California have recently made some progress in building transmission lines for wind power, but nationally, the problem seems likely to get worse. Today, New York State has about 1,500 megawatts of wind capacity. A megawatt is an instantaneous measure of power. A large Wal-Mart draws about one megawatt. The state is planning for an additional 8,000 megawatts of capacity.

But those turbines will need to go in remote, windy areas that are far off the beaten path, electrically speaking, and it is not clear enough transmission capacity will be developed. Save for two underwater connections to Long Island, New York State has not built a major new power line in 20 years.

A handful of states like California that have set aggressive goals for renewable energy are being forced to deal with the issue, since the goals cannot be met without additional power lines.

But Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico and a former energy secretary under President Bill Clinton, contends that these piecemeal efforts are not enough to tap the nation’s potential for renewable energy.

Wind advocates say that just two of the windiest states, North Dakota and South Dakota, could in principle generate half the nation’s electricity from turbines. But the way the national grid is configured, half the country would have to move to the Dakotas in order to use the power.

“We still have a third-world grid,” Mr. Richardson said, repeating a comment he has made several times. “With the federal government not investing, not setting good regulatory mechanisms, and basically taking a back seat on everything except drilling and fossil fuels, the grid has not been modernized, especially for wind energy.”



Building power from the ground up
Greenwich TIME
By Richard Lee,
Assistant Business Editor
Article Launched: 07/10/2008 01:00:00 AM EDT

When the lights go out in New York City, the power at some office buildings will stay on because of technology supplied by a Norwalk-based provider of gas turbines.

OfficePower Inc. in Norwalk plans to install microturbines supplied by Capstone Turbine Corp. of Chatsworth, Calif., in office buildings at 200 Park Ave., 220 E. 42nd St. and 230 Park Ave.  The two companies have entered into a three-year national account agreement.  The installations will follow generators already in place at 1350 Avenue of the Americas and 110 E. 59th St., providing the buildings with electricity to augment power supplied by Consolidated Edison and act as a backup if blackouts occur.

Another installation is scheduled at 666 5th Ave., by later this summer.

"We install, own and operate on a long-term basis these small power plants. They tend to be 1 to 2 megawatts, and all of the heat and electricity is consumed by the building," said Joel Wilson, chief executive officer of OfficePower.

The power and heat is sold to the building owner.  Clients include commercial property owners SL Green Realty Corp., Tishman Speyer Properties and Jack Resnick & Sons Inc.

"We're in the process of discussing contracts with 10 other building owners. Right now, we're focusing on multi-tenant office buildings in the U.S. Most of our clients are in New York City," Wilson said, adding that his company has development a good relationship with ConEd through their interconnection agreements. "We have more demand than we can keep up with."

Having a turbine has become a necessity for many buildings and their tenants, particularly with the hottest days of summer still to come and as the cost of electricity continues to climb.

"Building owners know there are transmission problems on the horizon," Wilson said.

Reckson Associates decided in 2006 to install a turbine at its building at 1350 Avenue of the Americas, supplied by OfficePower, as a way to attract high-end tenants who insist that they have a dependable power supply, said Matt Duthie, then senior vice president of Reckson, which has since been acquired by SL Green.

"OfficePower's ability to guarantee power in most situations has helped attract high-end hedge fund clients to a building that has been known over the past decade as 'the men's apparel building'," he said, adding that the natural gas-powered turbines offer environmental benefits.

The turbines typically run at 75 to 85 percent efficiency.  OfficePower is the first to introduce Capstone's C-1000 turbines to New York City, Wilson said.

"OfficePower has a proven track record of successfully designing, installing and operating high efficiency distributed generated solutions in Class A office buildings," said Darren Jamison, president and chief executive officer of Capstone Turbine, in a statement. "OfficePower developed and implemented an integrated approach to combined heat and power installations that make distributed generation viable for the company and its customers. OfficePower's innovative and cost-effective green solution is proving to be successful, as demonstrated both by the 1350 Avenue of the America's installation and the other buildings that have become OfficePower's customers."

The introduction of the turbines is reducing the pressure on ConEd to deliver electricity to Manhattan, said ConEd spokesman Christ Olert.

"There is a move to take more control of energy costs, and this is a very good way to do it," he said. "Electrical use in New York City has grown 20 percent in the last 10 years."

Every installed C1000 Capstone microturbine is equivalent to removing up to 700 average U.S. passenger vehicles from the road, based on Environmental Protection Agency emissions and efficiency data for the average passenger vehicle, according to Jamison.

Wilson credited New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for supporting deployment of distributed generation technology.

"We are extremely pleased with our initial C60 Capstone turbine installation at 1350 Avenue of the Americas," Wilson said. "This 720kW installation has experienced 99.4 percent availability over the last 18 months and was a key factor in OfficePower moving forward with Capstone on this national account agreement."



Alternative Sources May Not Be Ready To Meet The Demand:  Connecticut's Clean Energy Policy Creating Demand

By MARK PETERS | Courant Staff Writer
April 7, 2008

Electricity in Connecticut comes mostly from hulking power plants scattered around the state, but under official policy, that's supposed to change.

Although monthly customer bills don't show it, 5 percent of electricity delivered by Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating this year must be generated from renewable sources such as wind, water or the sun. The requirement is set to go up every year until 2020, when it reaches 20 percent.

The aggressive policy in Connecticut, combined with similar requirements in neighboring states, is sparking an unprecedented demand for renewable power in the region. The idea is to prod alternative sources of electricity to spring up as all consumers pay more for the extra benefits of clean generation.

But even with a rush of proposals and widespread political support, there is a growing debate over whether the fledgling and disparate alternative energy industry can meet the rising requirements. Even at this year's level, some say it's a struggle.

The state rules call for penalties paid through consumers' electric rates if the goals aren't met. Millions of dollars already are due.

Ultimately, Connecticut consumers could end up paying more for electricity "without necessarily promoting new renewable generation to displace conventional generation," according to a recent report prepared by The Brattle Group, a Cambridge, Mass., consulting firm for UI and CL&P.

Northeast Utilities, CL&P's parent company, estimates that New England needs to be able to generate — or import from New York and eastern Canada — billions of kilowatt-hours of additional renewable electricity to meet the regional requirements. Getting there would require 2,200 wind turbines or 8.2 million solar panels by 2020, NU estimates.

The penalties could total $200 million a year within three years, according to the Brattle Group report.

Any penalty payments would go to the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, which is charged with developing alternative sources of power. But the state agency still hasn't broken ground on its first large-scale renewable project after more than three years of work. The fund is under investigation by the state attorney general for possible misuse of money, and the General Assembly has taken money out of its treasury for purposes unrelated to energy.

Renewable energy advocates are challenging Brattle's findings, saying a flood of clean energy projects are in the pipeline. The demand created by the ambitious state requirements make the projects — unheard of just a few years ago — viable alternatives in an industry long dominated by oil, coal and nuclear plants, they say.

Public and political support is strong not only because of growing concern over global warming and U.S. dependence on foreign oil, but also because the new energy sources promise to create "green collar" jobs in New England.

Still, it is unclear how many of the wind turbines, biomass boilers and fuel-cell farms will actually get built. Some projects are facing the same local resistance as traditional power plants — from people who don't want to live near them. Financing remains a challenge, especially at a time of tighter credit, because of the need for upfront costs and the risk that public policy will change.

"There is tons of stuff in concept," said Carrie Cullen Hitt, vice president of renewable products for Constellation NewEnergy. "The question is: Do they make it over the finish line?"

Clean Debate

So far, Connecticut has relied heavily on clean generators — some built a decade or more ago — that run on wood, methane from landfills and the rush of rivers to keep up.

CL&P and UI say they're struggling to find cleanly generated electricity in the right quantity and price to fulfill the mandates. Reports filed last month for 2006 show that both UI and CL&P failed to meet the 2 percent requirement. The 2007 report won't be available until early next year.

The Brattle Group study warned that Connecticut's requirements will increase just as similar rules take effect in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. And although projects are being proposed at record levels, renewable generation proposals often die, the report said.

"I think people are starting to wonder where all these new resources are going to come from — and at what price," said Dennis Hrabchak, vice president of corporate affairs for UI, which delivers power in the New Haven and Bridgeport areas.

The clean energy fund has challenged Brattle's findings, along with renewable-energy developers and environmental groups.

An analysis for the fund estimates a modest shortage in renewable power, or maybe none at all, requiring limited penalty payments over the next several years.

"The assumptions ... regarding renewable supply in Connecticut are not current, accurate or well researched," the fund wrote in a filing with state energy officials.

Under the region's electricity market system, credit certificates are issued to renewable projects to sell as they generate electricity. Because the credits have value, they provide added compensation to clean generators.

Without them, most renewable projects couldn't compete in an electricity market dominated by decades-old power plants.

CL&P and UI buy renewable energy credits through their energy brokers; they do not deliver different types of electricity to customers, since there is only one distribution system.

Utility officials, regulators and energy developers agree that failing to meet the requirements in these early years does not necessarily mean there wasn't enough green power. The penalties could be the same price or cheaper than the credits.

Already, some Connecticut residents register to buy cleanly generated electricity, voluntarily, for a slightly higher price. But those kilowatt hours don't count toward the standards.

Developers say the market is responding to the demand being created by the state policies. ISO New England, which operates the region's grid, lists more than three dozen proposed renewable projects. Those who follow the market estimate many more are in development.

Many Solutions

The requirement that rises to 20 percent applies to so-called Class I renewable power — wind, clean biomass, solar, tidal, fuel cell and some hydro power. Connecticut itself has limited natural resources to harness for those types of sources.

Research shows the state has little potential for wind power. Three proposed plants that would run on wood are likely to be the most Connecticut could supply. Solar is growing in popularity, but requires a complex process of bringing together thousands of micro-projects at homes and businesses.

The rest of New England has more potential. Cape Wind, a controversial project for an offshore wind farm in Nantucket Sound, is the best known wind project in the region, but there are others.

Essex-based Noble Environmental Power is part of the booming interest in wind. Only 4 years old, the clean energy developer already has massive turbines spinning in upstate New York.

It's planning 1,000 megawatts — enough electricity to power upward of a million typical homes — in northern New England.

"We are attracted to this part of the country, and developing projects in the region, because there are strong incentives here," said Anna Giovinetto, vice president of public affairs for Noble.

One way Connecticut officials say they can keep up with the requirements is by helping to get wind projects built in Maine, New Hampshire and other New England states.

The clean energy fund is looking at ways for the utilities to reach long-term contracts with out-of-state wind projects. That would help developers attract loans and other financing to build, said Paul Michaud, director of regulatory policy for the clean energy fund.

As it warns public officials about a shortage of renewable energy, NU is also pitching itself as part of the solution — by building high-voltage transmission lines to deliver the alternative energy to Connecticut.

NU has seen growth in the development of transmission lines, a lucrative business for the utility at a time when demand for electricity is flat. NU'S top executives have been talking with investors and regulators about an extensive plan to build lines to bring power from northern New England and eastern Canada — where wind and hydroelectric generation is being developed.

The need for the new transmission lines becomes even more critical, according to NU calculations, as regional caps on the amount of global warming gases power plants can emit go into effect in the coming years.




Currents run deep
Whidbey News-Times
By Paul Boring
Sep 26 2007

Tidal energy in Puget Sound could become a reality if studies already underway prove its economic viability and consequent negligible environmental impacts.

The Snohomish County Public Utility District received permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this spring to study seven sites in Puget Sound for tidal energy, including Deception Pass and Admiralty Inlet.  Representatives from the PUD, as well as a researcher from the University of Washington and an oceanographic consultant, visited Admiralty Inlet last Wednesday afternoon to retrieve two electronic devices that have been mounted on the bottom of Puget Sound for approximately 30 days.

The acoustic Doppler current profilers are a type of sonar that produce a record of water current velocities over a range of depths. Two have been placed in Admiralty Inlet below the surface 278 feet and 213 feet, respectively, and one at Deception Pass 131 feet underwater. The latter was retrieved later in the afternoon when currents were optimal.

Neil Neroutsos, Snohomish PUD spokesperson, said Wednesday near the Keystone Ferry dock that research work at the UW is helping ascertain the viability of the revolutionary technology. ADCP is one key component in the renewable energy research that is also providing researchers with a better understanding of Puget Sound.

“They’re doing a lot of study of the ecosystems here in Puget Sound,” Neroutsos said. “So, the studies we’re doing here today, acoustic Doppler current profiling, is useful for that beyond the tidal energy applications.”

Jeff Cox with the oceanographic consulting firm Evans-Hamilton said there are various types of turbines, each driven at different current speeds. He had been told by experts that the turbines generally begin rotating in currents of about one knot. Four knots should generate a peak output.  Cox said the ADCP is being used to collect measurements for the studies. His company first traveled a specific track line to determine where best to place the meters.

“That allows us to go across the inlet or along the inlet and get an understanding of the variation of the current,” Cox said. “So, we can first get an idea how this current varies across this channel and select sites to go back and put current meters on the bottom for 30 days that will sit there and give us a much better idea of how the current varies over time and especially the lunar cycle of a month.”

On Wednesday it was time to retrieve the meters and find out what they had to say. Mounted in cages on the seabed, the devices are released by firing signals down into the water. When they hit their mark, the buoy floats to the surface with a recovery rope used to safely pull the meter onboard.

“We can service it and redeploy it, or bring it home, whichever we need,” Cox said.

Operating in choppy waters made recovering the devices difficult. After several failed attempts, the vessel sent out the signal from one mile away, successfully triggering the release.

“I’m always happy when they come home,” Cox said after he watched the meter pulled safely onto the boat deck.

The data will now be passed on to the university, where Brian Polagye, a pre-doctoral research associate in the UW’s mechanical engineering department, is one of the specialists eagerly awaiting its arrival.

“What we’ve been doing is analyzing the first round of results from the acoustic Doppler profiling, specifically the results when we did over-the-side measurements,” Polagye said. “Admiralty Inlet’s a big place. We want to know where the currents are the highest, where it makes most sense to put tidal energy in the water.”

Starting out, the only information available on currents in the area came from historical data compiled by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration decades ago using much cruder methods. Polagye said the currents have thus far proven to be stronger than anticipated, especially near Admiralty Head. And the NOAA data has not been the most reliable.

“We actually found stronger currents where NOAA predicted weaker ones,” he said. “The stationary units have indicated a higher power density at the site.”

As exciting as the preliminary numbers are, the researcher was loath to draw any conclusions, as the measurements represent a single point in time and could be an anomaly.  Cox said Tuesday that the meters revealed a maximum current speed of 7.9 knots at Deception Pass with an average speed of 3.5 knots. At Admiralty Inlet the maximum speed was less, 5.8 knots with an average speed of 2 knots.

The seven sites combined could provide as much as 100 average-megawatts of energy, or enough power for about 60,000 homes. The projected megawatt production was a conservative estimate based on the NOAA data. New studies will undoubtedly modify the numbers.

“It’s looking very good,” Polagye said. “We will be able to make predictions as to the annual power density at the site.”

The research associate said Deception Pass has the distinction of offering the strongest currents. However, a site’s viability is based on the overall amount of energy potential, in addition to current strength.

“Deception Pass has by far the strongest currents in Puget Sound,” Polagye said. “But it is much smaller.”

The FERC permits do not authorize construction, nor has the PUD made any commitment to construct tidal facilities. Rather, the permits allow the utility to apply for construction permits in the future. The PUD will only consider moving forward on a tidal project once studies have confirmed both the technical and economic viability, and the utility district is convinced that the project can be executed in an environmentally responsible manner.

The series of studies is being funded in part by a $220,000 grant from the Bonneville Power Association.  All of the data will be crucial if the PUD moves into the pilot phase, which would happen at the end of the three-year studies.  Snohomish County is one of the fastest growing counties in the region, Neroutsos said.

“We’re adding about 10,000 new customer connections each year, every year,” he said. “That’s about the size of a town a little smaller than Edmonds every year. We want to meet as much of that growth as possible through renewable energy like we’re looking at today.”

The PUD is exploring other forms of energy besides tidal power. It is considering acquiring additional bio-mass and has already purchased a portion of a wind energy project in Eastern Washington that will start in 2008.

“We’re continuing to promote small-scale solar installations as well,” Neroutsos said.




Court says Burton can challenge Millstone 
DAY
By Patricia Daddona   
Published on 5/21/2009

The state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that an anti-nuclear activist fighting to shut down Millstone Power Station has the right to challenge a state-run permit-renewal process.  In a two-year-old case brought by Nancy Burton of Redding Ridge and Mystic against the state Department of Environmental Protection's commissioner, Gina McCarthy, and Millstone owner Dominion, a trial court originally found that Burton lacked standing to sue. Burton is the leader of the Connecticut Coalition Against Millstone.

But on Wednesday, the high court released a legal opinion finding the trial court erred and Burton has a right to challenge the adequacy of a state water-discharge permit proceeding, now under way, to protect the public, the environment and marine life.

”We conclude that the plaintiff's complaint adequately sets forth facts to support an inference that unreasonable pollution, impairment or destruction of a natural resource will probably result from Millstone's operation,” the ruling stated. “The plaintiff … has standing to raise her claim ....”

In her lawsuit, Burton has also alleged the DEP hearing officer is biased and that the DEP has prejudged the case.  It is now up to the trial court to determine if the permit-renewal process is insufficient. If so, the court has the power to halt the proceedings “and craft orders to ensure that those rights are adequately protected,” the Supreme Court stated.

”This is GREAT NEWS for the community surrounded by Millstone,” Burton said in an e-mail. “It is GREAT NEWS for the fish. And it is GREAT NEWS for all who believe that conscientious citizen participation can make a difference.”

Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, whose office represented the DEP, said his staff would review claims Burton makes in Superior Court “if and when the plaintiff makes them.”

Amey Marrella, deputy commissioner of the DEP, defended Dominion's and the agency's efforts to revise the Millstone permit.  Millstone discharges heated and contaminated water into Long Island Sound, Niantic Bay and Jordan Cove. The reactors also trap and kill marine life at intakes when they suck millions of gallons of water into the plants for cooling purposes.

Burton alleges harm that she says has been exacerbated by the DEP's emergency authorization of the permit now under review. Since 1997, Millstone's two reactors have been operating without a revised permit.

Marrella said Dominion, which has since reapplied for the permit, is already taking steps to better protect aquatic life and embark on a study of alternative cooling methods.  Jim Norvelle, spokesman for Dominion, said the company is confident the Superior Court would find no merit to Burton's claims.  


DEP Gets More Time For Millstone Decision;  State gets 3 weeks to assess court ruling's impact on power plant permit 
DAY
By Patricia Daddona    
Published on 8/21/2007 

 
The state Department of Environmental Protection will take three more weeks to review a landmark court case that could lead the agency to revise its proposed renewal of a water discharge permit for the Millstone nuclear complex in Waterford.

A report was due Monday after two months of review, but a hearing officer has extended the deadline to Sept. 10 so the state agency can “assess complex issues involved and make a final determination on how to best proceed,” spokesman Dennis Schain said.

The DEP is in the middle of a pending application for permit renewal, but is now trying to figure out if it should revise its proposed permit for the power plant, based on new information yielded in the court ruling, Riverkeeper v. Environmental Protection Agency.

The federal ruling could alter the way 539 power plants, including nuclear reactors, avoid killing fish while cooling their energy producing systems.

In the court case, decided in January, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the EPA to clarify or change its laws involving whether power plants must stop fish kills by using “the best technology available.” The step, depending on how it is implemented, could require an expensive technological overhaul at many plants, including Millstone.

At Millstone, the reactors take in water from Long Island Sound to cool steam used to generate electricity. The water flows through a grate, which traps fish and other sea creatures alive and returns them to the Sound by way of a vertical conveyor belt. The proposed permit, which DEP had tentatively approved, incorporates some new rules to reduce the death of winter flounder larvae, but it is unclear whether the DEP's new stricter requirements would be enough to comply with the new federal ruling.

Dominion, the owner of Millstone, which has two operating reactors and one that is shut down, has been operating with emergency authorization of its permit after it expired in 1997.

A public hearing is expected to follow DEP's decision on whether to revise its proposed permit.





Lawmakers move to scrap competition for electric customers 
DAY
By Ted Mann 
Published on 4/30/2009
 
Hartford - A key principle in the decade of reform and deregulation in Connecticut's energy markets goes as follows: If residential electric customers can choose among competitive retailers in buying their power, they'll benefit from the bidding war and ultimately pay lower rates.  But opponents of deregulation say the promise hasn't panned out.

Fewer than 10 percent of residential customers have left traditional “standard service” offered by utilities for electric contracts purchased in the competitive market.

And in the meantime, the utilities who provide that standard service have built in a “risk premium,” critics say - raising their rates in order to protect themselves against the chance that some of their customers will flee the existing system for the competitive markets.

On Wednesday, the state House of Representatives moved to close off the competitive option for residential electric customers and those using 100 kilowatts or less per month, effectively rolling back that segment of Connecticut's deregulation experiment.

The move, supporters say, will lower costs by as much as 5 percent on those who still pay utilities for standard service. And it will mean that those who stayed with utility electricity sellers do not “subsidize” competition for a relative handful of power customers.

Since retail competition was initiated, only about 8 percent of residential customers have left traditional utilities to negotiate their own contracts, said Rep. Vickie Nardello, D-Prospect, co-chair of the Energy and Technology Committee, with the vast majority remaining in standard service - but also paying the costs built into those standard service rates to cover the potential departure of customers into the competitive market.

”This isn't real competition,” Nardello said. “Why should an entire group of people pay more for a few people that have choice?”

The bill would end retail choice in electricity service for those customers with a maximum demand of 100 kilowatts or less, including all residential customers who are not yet participating in the competitive market.

It also includes language aimed at allowing major electricity users to sidestep energy re-sellers and negotiate multiyear contracts directly with utilities for power, adding a new level of competition for energy retailers and, supporters say, lowering power costs.

Supporters of the move have assembled a broad coalition, including House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D-Meriden, who helped resurrect the measure after it was killed in committee, and usually divergent groups including the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, the Connecticut Industrial Energy Consumers, the Manufacturing Alliance of Connecticut, the AARP and labor groups.

The state's electricity system is “at the edge of a precipice,” said Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, another supporter of the bill. “Deregulation has been a massive failure. Retail competition has been a farce. Our present system is a costly, baffling bust.”

The bill passed by a vote of 104-38, but it faces a more difficult test in the Senate, where Nardello's co-chair, Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, is expected to try to block the bill from coming to a vote. Fonfara has already blocked the measure once this session, refusing to sign off on a motion to vote it out of the committee. It was resurrected Wednesday as an amendment with the blessing of Donovan, the speaker of the House.

”This effectively will be a rate hike on thousands of residential customers and small businesses, many of whom are struggling to stay in business,” Fonfara said Wednesday evening. “This is not some philosophical exercise. This is reality for people. It could mean some of those businesses closing their doors.”

Opponents call the measure wrong-headed and likely to increase costs on customers, and point to years of high electricity prices under the utilities' monopoly as proof that the reforms of the current proposal won't work.

”If they pass this bill, it will make prices go up,” said Chris Kallaher, the director of governmental and regulatory affairs for Direct Energy, which buys and sells electricity in deregulated markets around the country, including Connecticut's. “There is absolutely no question about it. They want to hand the system over to the same people that gave Connecticut ratepayers billions of dollars of stranded costs, and the highest prices in history adjusted for inflation.”

In a statement, the energy retailer ConEdison Solutions estimated that more than 135,000 customers in the state receive power through some form of competitive supplier and enjoy lower costs than those remaining on standard service.

Not all agree.

Purchasing power on the competitive market makes more sense for large consumers of power, like manufacturers and major commercial users, but little sense for individual customers unused to negotiating long-term power contracts, said state Consumer Counsel Mary Healey, whose nonpartisan office represents the interests of ratepayers. Healey endorsed the legislation.

”They're sophisticated” in their decisions on power contracts, Healey said of large-scale customers. “They have energy managers and they know how to buy and sell in the power market. But Mom and Dad don't.” 



New power company enters market 
By Cara Baruzzi, New Haven Register Business Editor 
Posted on Thu, Dec 6, 2007 

Connecticut has another new power player, with a New Milford company entering the deregulated electricity market as a competitive supplier.

Public Power & Utility Inc., recently licensed by the state Department of Public Utility Control, is marketing to residential and commercial customers statewide who are served by either Connecticut Light & Power Co. or United Illuminating Co.

Owner David Pearsall said the company has 19 employees at its New Milford headquarters, and plans to open offices in New Haven, Waterbury and Danbury next month.

“Our goal is to do what deregulation was created for, and that’s to lower our customers’ electric bills,” said Pearsall. “We’re grateful to be able to provide this service to customers throughout the state.”

A longtime electrician, Pearsall said he decided two years ago that he wanted to start a power company and has since been working with various advisors and industry experts to bring it to fruition.  Public Power & Utility is selling power for a generation charge of about 10.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Pearsall expects to lower the rate in February to 9.9 cents per kilowatt-hour.  By comparison, UI officials last week asked state regulators to approve a generation charge of 12.4 cents per kilowatt-hour for the first half of 2008.

Customers who choose Public Power & Utility are not locked into a contract and may enroll in or cancel the service at any time, Pearsall said.

The company’s charges apply only to the generation portion of customers’ bills. The business only supplies power; it does not distribute it. Generation charges comprise the majority of customers’ bills, but are separate from distribution charges.

Customers who choose Public Power & Utility as their supplier will still have their electricity distributed by either UI or CL&P and, therefore, will be subject to their respective distribution rate charges. Customers will continue to receive their billing statements from CL&P or UI, but Public Power & Utility will be listed as the supplier.

Almost 10 years ago, state lawmakers deregulated Connecticut’s electricity market, forcing UI and CL&P to sell off their generation operations and focus solely on distribution.  Public Power & Utility is the latest in a string of competitive suppliers to enter the state under deregulation.

Others licensed to solicit residential customers in Connecticut are Pennsylvania-based Community Energy, Houston-based Direct Energy, Stamford-based MXEnergy and Virginia-based Sterling Planet, according to DPUC records.

DPUC spokeswoman Berly Lyons said Public Power & Utility were licensed by regulators in October.

Customers can sign up for the company’s service online at www.pp-u.com or by calling (888) 354-4415.

 

New Players Enter Power Market; Competition Ought To Mean Price Cuts, But All Competitors Rely On One Supplier
By MARK PETERS | Courant Staff Writer
November 13, 2007

Connecticut households now have two new choices of companies that supply electricity, expanding a competitive market that has struggled to develop in the 10 years since the state deregulated the power generation industry.

Direct Energy announced Monday it will begin selling electricity to an estimated 1.4 million residential customers of Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating.

Its entry into the market comes two weeks after ConEdison Solutions, another national supplier, started mass marketing to the same customers.

"Once customers understand and have the benefit of realizing they have choice, they will act on that," said Mike Beck, vice president and general manager for Direct Energy.

Landmark legislation passed in 1998 deregulated electric generation in Connecticut and allowed customers to choose among power suppliers. The delivery of electricity for most households in the state a service provided by CL&P remained a regulated monopoly without choice.

Direct Energy and ConEdison Solutions supply the actual electricity paid for through the generation service charge on a consumer electric bill. That item makes up more than 60 percent of a monthly bill.

Changing to a different supplier doesn't affect the remainder of the bill, which consists of CL&P's delivery rate and federal and state charges. Customers who sign up with Direct Energy or ConEdison Solutions by phone or through the Internet will continue to receive a single monthly electric bill sent out by CL&P.

Both companies offer prices slightly below what customers pay for generation through the "standard service" price CL&P is required to offer by law.

Direct Energy says its offer will save a CL&P residential customer using 700 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month $4.24 off the total bill.

The ConEdison offer would save the same customer $2.77 a month. ConEdison has a lower offer in UI territory, which is the New Haven and Bridgeport areas, compared to Direct Energy.

Both suppliers see their arrival in the Connecticut market as a leap forward for competitive choice. The only option for CL&P's residential customers besides the "standard service" offer for generation has been Levco Energy based in Norwalk.

Filings with the state Department of Public Utility Control show that Levco has 59,000 residential customers in Connecticut. A Levco official said the company doesn't have a current offer, but plans to begin signing up new customers again next month when it releases new prices.

Connecticut could be a fertile market for residential choice because of the high price of electricity and recent state regulatory changes that make it easier to market to customers. One of the major changes requires the utilities to spell out the competitive prices for generation service when a customer calls to start a new account. The law also requires information on suppliers to be included in bills sent to homeowners.

But what, exactly, more choices in electricity suppliers will bring to consumers is subject to debate. Since Direct Energy and ConEdison Solutions buy their electricity from the same power plant owners as the CL&P, consumers aren't likely to see competition put a noticeable dent in prices, said Jerrold Oppenheim, a lawyer and energy consultant with Gloucester, Mass.-based Democracy and Regulation.

"They are dipping their ladle in same market as everyone else," he said.

But officials for Direct Energy said consumers have to look past the rate. The company plans to sell services to reduce overall energy consumption by homeowners to produce additional monthly savings. An example: The first 5,000 customers who sign up in Connecticut with the company will receive four free compact fluorescent bulbs.


A Power Struggle Over The Future Of Deregulation 
DAY
By Ted Mann    
Published on 6/3/2007


The Speaker of the State House of Representatives stood in a hotel ballroom in New London last December, and confidently announced that his chamber could pass a bill to address this state's rising energy costs before January was out.

“The main thing is, we can do more instead of being a bunch of victims,” Speaker James A. Amann, D-Milford said at the time, one of many predictions that the House could pass an energy bill within 30 days of convening this year's legislative session. “The question is, 'How can we be proactive and turn this situation into a positive?' We need to be leaders and save some money for the taxpayers.”

Actually getting a bill passed didn't prove to be so easy.

The co-chairmen of the legislature's Energy & Technology Committee, Rep. Steve Fontana, D-North Haven, and Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, along with allies on either side, remained mired in a stalemate for months on two divergent reform proposals.

Those in the Fonfara camp sought to recapture the stability of the old, regulated rate system, with new limits on the profits that generators could take home. Fontana's plan would leave deregulation largely in place, while expanding consumers' ability to manage their electricity usage minute-by-minute.

On Friday, the impasse was broken, though the hard feelings remain. Amann and his counterpart in the Senate, President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams, D-Brooklyn, stepped in and did what the co-chairs could not do — broker a deal. Passed by the legislature, it now heads to the governor's office.

The deal largely favored the Senate version and led to warnings that Connecticut's approach to the energy market continues to favor powerful energy interests rather than the consumer.

Both the AARP, representing retired people, and the pro-consumer organization, the Connecticut Citizen Action Group (CCAG), oppose the bill, contending it will enrich energy consultants, technology companies, and investment firms that market energy, while doing little for ratepayers.

Fonfara, however, said the new law will finally provide consumers the tools they need to make the deregulated market really work.

The philosophical dispute between the House and Senate proposals is a familiar one to analysts who have followed the fitful efforts of states to manage their power markets — first in the wave of deregulation or restructuring laws passed in the late 1990s, and then in subsequent efforts to adapt to the changes, and higher electric rates, resulting from those first-wave laws.

For some, the buyers' remorse of deregulation — the preferred term is “restructuring” of electricity markets — was immediate, said Kate Marks, the energy program manager at the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver.

“Once some states deregulated, they decided to actually turn back clocks and re-regulate, and that was before they even allowed utilities to sell off generating assets,” Marks said.

But among others, the impulse has been to forge ahead with the promise that underlies deregulatory supply and demand laws, including the one passed in Connecticut in 1998. It is the hope that the ability of consumers large and small to pick and choose where they buy electricity, as they would any other commodity, will lead both to more efficient procurement of power and more stable and affordable prices.

“There's the one side who's saying lets move forward, we've already decided to restructure so let's try to make best of it,” Marks said. “And then there's the other side that says absolutely not, this is not going to work.”

Many in the House saw some partial re-establishment of regulation as the only effective method of controlling and flattening the inexorable rise of electricity rates. The House proposal had focused on establishing what it's backers call cost-of-service generation, permitting the state's two utilities — Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating — to reenter the generation market, but only under a pricing scheme that would limit them to reasonable profits tied to the cost of generating power.

To bust their monopolies, and generate competition, the two utility giants were required under the 1998 restructuring law to sell off all their power plants. Now their sole job is to acquire and distribute electricity.

The goal of letting them back in the generation business was to ensure greater stability in electricity pricing by allowing these utilities to compete with the current field of power plant operators to generate power at the lowest cost, all under the watchful eye of the Department of Public Utility Control.

Sticking with deregulation

But Fonfara, Williams and the Senate — along with key allies in the House — instead embraced the deregulatory framework that the state first introduced in 1998, encouraging state power consumers, from big business to individual households, to more aggressively manage their own electricity usage in order to lower their bills.

The Senate plan that formed the basis of the compromise bill directs the state's existing investments in conservation initiatives toward a new niche industry — so-called “energy efficiency partner” companies that would help private companies, individuals or municipalities reduce their energy demand during the peak hours when electricity is both most expensive and most polluting to produce.

Electric companies, in turn, would be required to install new “smart” meters capable of measuring real-time shifts in the cost of energy, offering time-of-use rates to all customers who want them, which will allow charging lower rates at night and at other hours when the cost of generation is lowest.

“Right now in Connecticut, suppliers have the upper hand,” Fonfara said in a recent interview, on a day when rising temperatures pushed air conditioning usage, and energy costs, to an early summer peak. “Demand is just continuing to grow ... and it's growing at the most expensive time.”

Because electricity cannot be stored on a large scale, the system has to be designed to meet peak demands. Large power plants cannot be brought up and down as demand grows and shrinks. So much of the energy generated is never used; it is just out there to meet the peak load demands.

By encouraging consumers to use more energy during non-peak periods, peak demands will lower and so to, theoretically, would overall costs.


Focused on peak demand

Since an effort to pass an energy reform bill along the lines of the current House proposal collapsed last year, Fonfara has become an ardent believer in directing efficiency investments to the peak hours — particularly the hot early afternoons of summer — where demand is high and rising.

That solution he says would be a better use of the roughly $90 million in ratepayer money currently invested in conservation, and ultimately more likely to bring the costs of electricity down for both generating companies and consumers.

“Spending $60 million to $90 million on conservation initiatives that didn't target the most expensive time (of day), that's like going into the hospital with a heart problem and they're checking your whole body rather than focusing on your heart,” Fonfara says.

“That's what we're doing with our conservation programs.”

Among the new technologies the senator envisions are wirelessly controlled meters that allow customers to remotely control their power usage, and ice-storage systems, which freeze water at night when power is cheapest, then use fans to circulate the ice-cooled air during daytime, significantly lowering power usage compared to standard air conditioning.

The widespread distribution of advanced meters, as well as a ratepayer-funded public relations effort to encourage consumers to manage their electricity usage, would give
consumers “choices not just on who delivers them the power, but when we use that power,” Fonfara said.

But backers of the House bill, including some advocacy groups like the CCAG and state Consumer Counsel Mary J. Healey, fear it is a naïve solution.

The companies who would step in to manage power demand, sell new power meters, and install other technologies, would profit from ratepayer investments, they say, and electricity companies could see their costs go down as peak demand decreases. But those advocates don't agree that such decreasing demand will translate into a system-wide drop in prices for consumers.

And, they say, the costs of implementing some of the high-tech changes would be paid for by those who cannot use them because their incomes or living situations don't allow them to be as flexible in their decisions about when to use electricity.

Critic say the Senate version approved by the legislature would deploy a complicated system of retail choices, when constituents really wanted something far simpler — one low, state-regulated price for power.

But Fonfara rejects that argument, and offers the analogy of the cell phone, another service that is cheaper to use at hours when demand on the system is lowest.

“If a teenager can figure out when to use the cell phone, why can't an adult who's paying the bill figure out when they don't want to put on the dishwasher or when they're going to delay their ironing 'til the weekend?”




Weston awarded 'green' funds for renovations
By JEANNE HOFF, Hour Staff Writer
December 12, 2006


WESTON — The town of Weston was awarded more than $200,000 by Connecticut Light & Power for the construction of several energy-efficient buildings.

CL&P partnered with the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund, or CEEF, to establish incentives, such as grants and product rebates, to encourage residents and businesses to use energy more efficiently.

Weston was awarded approximately $211,179 and is one of two municipalities in southwestern Fairfield County that received an energy conservation incentive for school building projects.

Mitch Gross, CL&P spokesman, said Brien McMahon High School in Norwalk received a $215,000 check in October.

Before Weston officials embarked upon an $80 million school construction and renovation project of the high school and intermediate school, building officials contacted CL&P to help them design energy conscious facilities, said First Selectman Woody Bliss.

"We knew about the grants that were out there, but we didn't know how much they were," said Bliss. "So we worked with them to make sure we were in compliance."

Weston officials engaged in energy-efficient measures such as the use of high efficiency rooftop air conditioning equipment, carbon dioxide controls, air-cooled chillers and various lighting controls.

CL&P and the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund anticipates the town will save approximately $135,000 annually and $2.4 million over the expected lifetime of the improvements.

Bliss said the improvements are expected to last between 25 and 50 years.

"These recent renovation and expansion projects give Weston students access to world-class learning facilities that operate efficiently and cost effectively," said Bliss. "By saving money on our annual energy costs Weston can devote its financial resources to other programs and initiatives."

The $211,179 will go toward the school building project if needed, Bliss said, or the money will be placed in the town's general fund.

Weston's participation in the energy conservation program "was a very smart move," Gross said. "It shows that they understand the value of doing work of this nature and they are well aware of what it takes to help save energy cost and to become more energy efficient."

John Ferrantino, CL&P director of customer solutions, said, "This is another example of how our municipal customers can benefit from the CEEF programs."





African Huts Far From the Grid Glow With Renewable Power
NYTIMES
By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL
December 24, 2010

KIPTUSURI, Kenya — For Sara Ruto, the desperate yearning for electricity began last year with the purchase of her first cellphone, a lifeline for receiving small money transfers, contacting relatives in the city or checking chicken prices at the nearest market.

Charging the phone was no simple matter in this farming village far from Kenya’s electric grid.

Every week, Ms. Ruto walked two miles to hire a motorcycle taxi for the three-hour ride to Mogotio, the nearest town with electricity. There, she dropped off her cellphone at a store that recharges phones for 30 cents. Yet the service was in such demand that she had to leave it behind for three full days before returning.

That wearying routine ended in February when the family sold some animals to buy a small Chinese-made solar power system for about $80. Now balanced precariously atop their tin roof, a lone solar panel provides enough electricity to charge the phone and run four bright overhead lights with switches.

“My main motivation was the phone, but this has changed so many other things,” Ms. Ruto said on a recent evening as she relaxed on a bench in the mud-walled shack she shares with her husband and six children.

As small-scale renewable energy becomes cheaper, more reliable and more efficient, it is providing the first drops of modern power to people who live far from slow-growing electricity grids and fuel pipelines in developing countries. Although dwarfed by the big renewable energy projects that many industrialized countries are embracing to rein in greenhouse gas emissions, these tiny systems are playing an epic, transformative role.

Since Ms. Ruto hooked up the system, her teenagers’ grades have improved because they have light for studying. The toddlers no longer risk burns from the smoky kerosene lamp. And each month, she saves $15 in kerosene and battery costs — and the $20 she used to spend on travel.

In fact, neighbors now pay her 20 cents to charge their phones, although that business may soon evaporate: 63 families in Kiptusuri have recently installed their own solar power systems.

“You leapfrog over the need for fixed lines,” said Adam Kendall, head of the sub-Saharan Africa power practice for McKinsey & Company, the global consulting firm. “Renewable energy becomes more and more important in less and less developed markets.”

The United Nations estimates that 1.5 billion people across the globe still live without electricity, including 85 percent of Kenyans, and that three billion still cook and heat with primitive fuels like wood or charcoal.

There is no reliable data on the spread of off-grid renewable energy on a small scale, in part because the projects are often installed by individuals or tiny nongovernmental organizations.

But Dana Younger, senior renewable energy adviser at the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank Group’s private lending arm, said there was no question that the trend was accelerating. “It’s a phenomenon that’s sweeping the world; a huge number of these systems are being installed,” Mr. Younger said.

With the advent of cheap solar panels and high-efficiency LED lights, which can light a room with just 4 watts of power instead of 60, these small solar systems now deliver useful electricity at a price that even the poor can afford, he noted. “You’re seeing herders in Inner Mongolia with solar cells on top of their yurts,” Mr. Younger said.

In Africa, nascent markets for the systems have sprung up in Ethiopia, Uganda, Malawi and Ghana as well as in Kenya, said Francis Hillman, an energy entrepreneur who recently shifted his Eritrea-based business, Phaesun Asmara, from large solar projects financed by nongovernmental organizations to a greater emphasis on tiny rooftop systems.

In addition to these small solar projects, renewable energy technologies designed for the poor include simple subterranean biogas chambers that make fuel and electricity from the manure of a few cows, and “mini” hydroelectric dams that can harness the power of a local river for an entire village.

Yet while these off-grid systems have proved their worth, the lack of an effective distribution network or a reliable way of financing the start-up costs has prevented them from becoming more widespread.

“The big problem for us now is there is no business model yet,” said John Maina, executive coordinator of Sustainable Community Development Services, or Scode, a nongovernmental organization based in Nakuru, Kenya, that is devoted to bringing power to rural areas.

Just a few years ago, Mr. Maina said, “solar lights” were merely basic lanterns, dim and unreliable.

“Finally, these products exist, people are asking for them and are willing to pay,” he said. “But we can’t get supply.” He said small African organizations like his do not have the purchasing power or connections to place bulk orders themselves from distant manufacturers, forcing them to scramble for items each time a shipment happens to come into the country.

Part of the problem is that the new systems buck the traditional mold, in which power is generated by a very small number of huge government-owned companies that gradually extend the grid into rural areas. Investors are reluctant to pour money into products that serve a dispersed market of poor rural consumers because they see the risk as too high.

“There are many small islands of success, but they need to go to scale,” said Minoru Takada, chief of the United Nations Development Program’s sustainable energy program. “Off-grid is the answer for the poor. But people who control funding need to see this as a viable option.”

Even United Nations programs and United States government funds that promote climate-friendly energy in developing countries hew to large projects like giant wind farms or industrial-scale solar plants that feed into the grid. A $300 million solar project is much easier to finance and monitor than 10 million home-scale solar systems in mud huts spread across a continent.

As a result, money does not flow to the poorest areas. Of the $162 billion invested in renewable energy last year, according to the United Nations, experts estimate that $44 billion was spent in China, India and Brazil collectively, and $7.5 billion in the many poorer countries.

Only 6 to 7 percent of solar panels are manufactured to produce electricity that does not feed into the grid; that includes systems like Ms. Ruto’s and solar panels that light American parking lots and football stadiums.

Still, some new models are emerging. Husk Power Systems, a young company supported by a mix of private investment and nonprofit funds, has built 60 village power plants in rural India that make electricity from rice husks for 250 hamlets since 2007.

In Nepal and Indonesia, the United Nations Development Program has helped finance the construction of very small hydroelectric plants that have brought electricity to remote mountain communities. Morocco provides subsidized solar home systems at a cost of $100 each to remote rural areas where expanding the national grid is not cost-effective.

What has most surprised some experts in the field is the recent emergence of a true market in Africa for home-scale renewable energy and for appliances that consume less energy. As the cost of reliable equipment decreases, families have proved ever more willing to buy it by selling a goat or borrowing money from a relative overseas, for example.

The explosion of cellphone use in rural Africa has been an enormous motivating factor. Because rural regions of many African countries lack banks, the cellphone has been embraced as a tool for commercial transactions as well as personal communications, adding an incentive to electrify for the sake of recharging.

M-Pesa, Kenya’s largest mobile phone money transfer service, handles an annual cash flow equivalent to more than 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, most in tiny transactions that rarely exceed $20.

The cheap renewable energy systems also allow the rural poor to save money on candles, charcoal, batteries, wood and kerosene. “So there is an ability to pay and a willingness to pay,” said Mr. Younger of the International Finance Corporation.

In another Kenyan village, Lochorai, Alice Wangui, 45, and Agnes Mwaforo, 35, formerly subsistence farmers, now operate a booming business selling and installing energy-efficient wood-burning cooking stoves made of clay and metal for a cost of $5. Wearing matching bright orange tops and skirts, they walk down rutted dirt paths with cellphones ever at their ears, edging past goats and dogs to visit customers and to calm those on the waiting list.

Hunched over her new stove as she stirred a stew of potatoes and beans, Naomi Muriuki, 58, volunteered that the appliance had more than halved her use of firewood. Wood has become harder to find and expensive to buy as the government tries to limit deforestation, she added.

In Tumsifu, a slightly more prosperous village of dairy farmers, Virginia Wairimu, 35, is benefiting from an underground tank in which the manure from her three cows is converted to biogas, which is then pumped through a rubber tube to a gas burner.

“I can just get up and make breakfast," Ms. Wairimu said. The system was financed with a $400 loan from a demonstration project that has since expired.

In Kiptusuri, the Firefly LED system purchased by Ms. Ruto is this year’s must-have item. The smallest one, which costs $12, consists of a solar panel that can be placed in a window or on a roof and is connected to a desk lamp and a phone charger. Slightly larger units can run radios and black-and-white television sets.

Of course, such systems cannot compare with a grid connection in the industrialized world. A week of rain can mean no lights. And items like refrigerators need more, and more consistent, power than a panel provides.

Still, in Kenya, even grid-based electricity is intermittent and expensive: families must pay more than $350 just to have their homes hooked up.

“With this system, you get a real light for what you spend on kerosene in a few months,” said Mr. Maina, of Sustainable Community Development Services. “When you can light your home and charge your phone, that is very valuable.”


Going Off The Grid; More and more people are doing an end-run around the power companies 
DAY
By Joseph B. Frazier , Associated Press Writer    
Published on 5/20/2007

           

Lake Billy Chinook, Ore. -- Before power lines, homesteaders had no choice. They lit their lanterns, stoked their fires and packed away winter ice against sizzling summers.

Owners of about 250 homes in the Three Rivers community near this central Oregon lake are far from homesteading or camping out. But they are among a growing number of Americans who shun power lines, choosing to live “off the grid,” without commercial power.

Everyone in Three Rivers gets most of their power from dark solar panels on their rooftops or on nearby freestanding structures positioned to more efficiently capture the sun. Some supplement it with energy generated by windmills.

Solar power easily handles their computers, lights, large-screen televisions, microwave ovens, refrigerator-freezers and more.

“Ninety percent of the people here, if (outside) power were offered to them, they'd turn it down,” said Gary Sweet, a semi-retired insurance agent who moved to the high desert community in Central Oregon a couple of years ago.

Off-the-grid living is edging into the American mainstream. It isn't there yet, but about 180,000 homes, mostly in the West, operate on it.

National demand is soaring and the off-the-grid movement is yet to be felt in a significant way by the power industry, said Jim Owen of the Edison Energy Institute in Washington, D.C. In the short term at least, he said, “I can't imagine any appreciable impact on the system.”


Nonetheless, the number of people going off the grid increases by about a third each year, said Richard Perez, who publishes Home Power magazine, dedicated to the topic, and Lori Ryker, who has written two books on the subject.

Much of the growth is in California. Off-the-grid living is also growing in Texas, New Jersey and Wisconsin.

“It pretty much tracks where the best rebates are” for the cost of the equipment, said Connie Said of Home Power. She said 80 percent of the magazine's subscriptions are in California.

It's occurring mostly in the West because of people moving into remote areas that are beyond the reach of commercial power, because of ample sun and environmental conscientiousness, and possibly because of Westerners' traditional independent streak.

Residents in the decidedly upscale, gated, Three Rivers community could easily afford the $300,000 the power company said it would cost to extend its lines three miles or so to their property 10 years ago.

But they've decided to stay off the grid.

“With power lines come streetlights, and there go your stars at night,” said Gary Sweet. “And there are no power outages here.”

Off-the-grid residents have a guaranteed power supply at a time when the emphasis on “clean” energy is on the rise. Solar energy uses no resources to speak of, emits no pollution and is immune to energy price hikes.


Still, living off the grid isn't cheap.

High demand for solar panels and improved technology has kept the price up, and homeowners in Three Rivers say an advanced solar energy system can cost $25,000 for the panels, batteries, inverter and other equipment. Some companies offer cheaper systems, and the federal government and most states offer tax credits.

Savings over commercial power costs depend on the investment and durability of the system and local energy prices.

Don Bliss, of Three Rivers, has a windmill to supplement his solar panels when the sun isn't shining but said it couldn't do the job alone.

Residents with wells need generators for the pumps that fill their cisterns, and propane powers high-demand appliances such as stoves.

Beyond that, the sun does the job.

Silent and simple, with no moving parts, solar panels convert sunlight to DC energy, send it through inverters that change it to AC and store it in batteries that can supply the 110-volt needs of a home for three or four days. The panels last about 25 years, the banks of batteries about 10. If the batteries run low during cloudy periods, generators recharge them.

“We went from Feb. 11 to Sept. 15 (in 2006) and the generator never ran. All solar,” said Sweet.

With six- and seven-figure homes, residents of Three Rivers share nothing with the homesteaders of the past.

Richard Perez might have come closer.

He headed for the remote solitude of southernmost Oregon's Siskiyou Mountains in 1970 and was told it would cost $270,000 — then — to extend commercial power to his site.

“We built with a hand saw and it was seven years before we had electricity, 10 before we had appreciable solar power in here,” said Perez.

“We started with a generator and gradually added solar. We rarely use the generator except during extended cloudy periods,” said Perez. “I'd rather eat a bug than burn gas.”

“When we need to use electricity we don't hesitate,” said Perez, adding that visitors often don't know he is “off the grid” unless he tells them.

From 80 to 85 percent of off-the-grid homes rely on solar power because it is the most dependably available and reliable in most areas, said Perez. And with no moving parts, it is easier to maintain.

Many rural and urban homeowners are using partial alternative systems — adding solar panels as a supplement while staying on the commercial power grid. If they produce more power than they use they can sell it back to the power companies, which usually are required to buy it.

But a growing number of Americans are “going whole-hog,” said Montana resident Ryker, whose books include “Off the Grid.”

“It's still fairly expensive for the average person,” Ryker said, and advised against impulsive moves. “You have to look at the long term, what you're going to put into it, how long you're going to be in the house.”

“Where you are in the country makes a difference,” she said. “Energy is cheaper in Texas than in Montana. It makes more sense to invest up here than down there.”

Homeowners aren't alone in going off-grid.

The Los Angeles Community College District hopes to start moving its nine campuses, plus two in development, onto solar power and off the grid beginning next year.

Larry Eisenberg, executive director for facilities planning, said with credits and other incentives through private contractors, systems will cost between $900,000 and $1.8 million each and that energy savings should recover capital costs in about two years.

“Our goal is to save $9 million a year,” he said.

“We want to show people this can work,” he said. “We've been chatting with a lot of people. If we can do it, anyone else can do it too.”

 

Solar Power's New Dawn
By MARK PETERS, Courant Staff Writer
September 6, 2006
 
CHESHIRE -- Large arrays of solar panels are popping up on the roofs of big retail stores and warehouses in Connecticut with help from lucrative government subsidies and a push by corporations to "go green."

On Tuesday, high above the rumble of delivery trucks, Whole Foods Market showed off a new tract of glimmering solar panels that will help power the organic food purveyor's distribution center in Cheshire, providing as much as 10 percent of the electric power it uses per year.
 
BJ's Wholesale Club recently finished a similar project for a store in Ansonia and is developing a solar power system for a location in Willimantic.

In Killingly, Staples is starting construction on what is expected to be New England's largest solar power installation. When finished, the project will produce 433 kilowatts, or enough electricity to power 15 percent of the office-supply chain's 500,000-square-foot distribution center.

"I want to do every Staples in the United States," said Claire Broido Johnson, a partner in SunEdison, which is developing the Whole Foods and Staples projects.

Large-scale retailers are finding value in the broad expanses of their rooftops. Installing a renewable power supply can cushion them against the volatility of electric prices and reduce bills. At the same, the solar projects provide good public relations by showing customers the companies care about renewable energy.

The number of projects "is growing by leaps and bounds," said Jeffrey Wolfe, CEO of Global Resource Options, an energy company that worked on the Whole Foods project.

But the main reason such solar projects are becoming more popular is generous federal and state subsidies, according to those involved in the projects.

For example, state officials said the Whole Foods project cost $945,000. The Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, which is sustained by a monthly charge on electric bills, provided $516,000 of that amount, and the project is eligible for federal tax credits equal to 30 percent of its cost.

The Staples project has a similar funding arrangement, with the Clean Energy Fund paying more than half of the $3.3 million installation, according to Charlie Moret, a spokesman for the fund.

SunEdison of Maryland is responsible for the Staples and Whole Foods projects. The company bought and installed the equipment at Whole Foods, then brokered a long-term contract to sell the electricity from the solar panels to the grocer. The price for that electricity is lower than what Whole Foods would pay for power from the regional grid, said Jennifer McDonnell, a specialist for the national retailer.

Electricity is produced when the solar panels absorb sunlight, creating a flow of electrons that can be converted into electric power. The level of solar power varies with the time of day and season.

The combination of state money, federal tax credits and a long-term electric contract allows the projects to make economic sense, said Christopher Whitman, managing director of ALLCO Finance Group, an investor in SunEdison. He said the typical return for investors in solar projects is less than 10 percent, with strong interest coming from institutional investors. He described the Whole Foods solar project as beneficial for everyone: The state reduces polluting emissions as well as the demand for electricity. The companies get a stable and potentially cheaper source of energy and investors make a profit.

Whitman projected that solar power could become commercially viable in five to 10 years. Right now, the demand for solar panels is high because foreign countries such as Germany have lucrative government programs designed to encourage a switch to renewable energy sources. Also, the cost of silicon, a main component in solar panels, is expected to come down as production increases in the coming years, Whitman said.

Even at a high cost, Lise Dondy, chief operating officer of the Clean Energy Fund, said it is important for Connecticut to encourage solar energy. They build awareness and confidence in the technology, and begin to reduce the state's reliance on fossil fuel burning plants.

Dondy added that most industries get subsidies. Because of the cost of solar power, government help is crucial in pushing private companies toward renewable energy sources, she said.



Fresh Power Issue Arises;   Stamford Blackout Focuses Attention On Local Systems
August 5, 2006
By MARK PETERS, Courant Staff Writer

A main worry of utility regulators in New England and Connecticut has been the continued growth in southwestern Connecticut without a concurrent increase in new power plants and high-voltage lines to satisfy the region's hunger for electricity.


But Thursday's dramatic blackout in Stamford, which shut down office buildings and emptied downtown streets, did not have anything to do with a lack of power. It boiled down to an issue that has gotten less attention - equipment to distribute electricity locally.

As temperatures reached the high 90s and the demand for electricity hit record levels Wednesday and Thursday, the underground distribution system in downtown Stamford, which delivers power from substations to individual businesses and homes, went out of service.

Two of the nine underground cables feeding downtown Stamford failed after overheating on Wednesday. On Thursday, an additional cable failed, causing Connecticut Light & Power Co. to shut off power to 5,000 customers.

"I don't think the local systems have gotten the amount of attention [they should] - particularly in Stamford," Mayor Dannel Malloy said.

Malloy saw the downtown blackout as a larger example of other problems the city has experienced in recent years with its underground electricity system. He blamed the problem on an aging network of lines that needs updating, something he and CL&P had begun discussing before this week's power failure.

"They've got to come up with a plan to quickly modernize the system," Malloy said.

CL&P officials, who were unable to provide the age of the system that malfunctioned, said they continually work throughout the state to update local systems that distribute electricity. The Stamford blackout will obviously require an increase in the utility company's work there, said Chris Swan, a spokesman for CL&P.

"This is going to get us very focused down there," he said.

CL&P distribution updates include numerous projects, from adding transformers to upgrading lines. The utility plans to do $200 million worth of work for each of the next five years, Swan said.

Until this week, the main focus of the state's energy policy-makers has been getting more power to southwestern Connecticut. CL&P is also spending more than $1 billion on new high-voltage lines to serve the region. At the same time, a new ratepayer-funded program has been instituted to prompt the construction of new power plants.

Local power distribution has been of less concern because the state has not had major problems in that area, said Beryl Lyons, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Utility Control.

Consumer Counsel Mary Healey, who represents ratepayers in utility cases, agreed. But she said Friday that her office is reviewing the Stamford blackout, and what CL&P plans to do to ensure that a widespread power failure does not occur again.

"We're very interested in what the company's action plan might be," she said.

Reliable power is an important issue for Stamford as the city continues to attract financial services firms, hedge funds and reinsurance companies, city officials said.

Jack Condlin, president of the Stamford Chamber of Commerce, said that if a company was considering a move to the city right now, the events of the past few days might cause some trepidation.

"It does bring to light that our grid system is very vulnerable here. That is something that needs to be addressed," he said.
 

Region shatters all-time power usage record
by MEGHAN BARR, Hour Staff Writer
July 19, 2006

REGION — New England toppled its all-time record for electricity use Tuesday as temperatures soared into the 90s, prompting residents to turned up the air-conditioning to escape the heat. Preliminary data compiled by ISO New England, the operator of the region's bulk power system, revealed that electricity use reached more than 27,000 Megawatts, surpassing a record of 26,885 MW set last summer.

"Temperatures in the mid-90s and high humidity combined to drive electricity use to record levels," said Stephen G. Whitley, senior vice president and chief operating officer of ISO New England. "Despite the new record, power supplies were adequate to meet consumers' electricity needs throughout the day, and the regional power system operated reliably."

The power grid operator was not forced to implement emergency operating procedures designed to stave off a blackout when electricity demand begins to outstrip supply, said ISO New England spokesperson Erin O'Brien.

"There was not a formal request asking electricity customers to conserve," O'Brien said.
ISO New England's records show that nine out of the 10 highest demands days ever occurred in 2005 and 2006, and peak demand grew from 24,000 to 27,000 Megawatts between 2004 and 2006.

"Maintaining a reliable power system in the face of growing electricity demand requires comprehensive regional solutions that include investment in new, diverse sources of electricity, improvements to the transmission system and additional demand response and energy efficiency throughout the region," Whitley said.


UConn hosts forum on Sound gas float

By HAROLD F. COBIN, Hour Correspondent
June 9, 2006

STAMFORD — Based on the issue of whether or not to locate a liquefied natural gas platform in the middle of Long Island Sound, representatives of parties both for and against the project Thursday night debated whether the demand for natural gas in the Connecticut/New York metropolitan area will soon exceed supply or remain sufficient through implementation of energy conservation programs.

Sponsored by SoundWaters, a Stamford organization that provides educational programs about the Sound, the debate featured Ezra D. Hausman of Synapse Energy Economics of Cambridge, Mass., challenging Joel M. Rinebold, a consultant for Broadwater, a collaboration between the Shell Oil Company and TransCanada to build and install the liquefied natural gas platform.

Rinebold argued the demand for natural gas in this area to generate electricity is growing sharply, while Hausman said new supplies of gas from Canada, combined with improvements in energy efficiency, will mitigate the need for the Broadwater project.

Saying the demand for natural gas in the area has grown 25 percent over the last 10 years, Rinebold said if new supplies are not brought in soon, "we're going to be sitting in the dark."

Hausman said transporting gas through a pipeline is cheaper than shipping it in liquefied form. As well, he said, the availability of liquefied gas is extremely tight.

There is "enormous potential" in conservation, said Hausman, and energy efficiency pays off year after year.

The liquefied natural gas, or LNG, would be transported from overseas in ships, and piped into the platform where it would be warmed back into a gas.

Broadwater says the platform, called a floating storage and regasification unit, would be approximately 1,200 feet long and 180 feet wide. It says the deck would rise between 75 and 100 feet above the water line.

It would require Broadwater to install 22 miles of pipeline from the platform to existing gas transmission pipeline that runs beneath the Sound.

The proposed site is about 9 miles off the closest New York shoreline and about 11 miles from the closest shoreline in Connecticut.

The forum was held at the University of Connecticut's downtown campus.

Broadwater wants to have the platform installed and operating by 2010.



345kV

Thank you, Woodlands Coalition

Three phases of the project:
PHASE ONE STORIES BELOW IN REVERSE CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER
Power line meeting set
April 12, 2005
By ROBERT KOCH Hour Staff Writer

NORWALK -- Connecticut Light & Power Co. will unroll at City Hall tonight construction plans for its Norwalk-Bethel high-voltage transmission lines. "We're going to discuss our construction schedule for the overhead as well as underground line, and we'll have maps to show folks," said Frank J. Poirot, spokesman for CL&P parent company Northeast Utilities.

The project, set to begin next month, will bury an existing 115-kilovolt line and build an aboveground 345-kilovolt line into Norwalk. Bethel, Redding, Weston and Wilton also lie in the path of the project, part of the utility company's plan to upgrade the power grid in southwestern Connecticut. Poirot said the information meeting, scheduled for 7 tonight in the Community Room of City Hall, 125 East Ave., is intended to inform motorists and businesses along the path of the project about how they will be affected.

On hand to answer questions will be Poirot, Project Manager Laurie Aylsworth and engineer support crews. Next month, contractors will begin digging in streets along the route in preparation to bury the 115-kilovolt line. In Norwalk, the work will run down Glover Avenue to Main Avenue and onward to the New Canaan Avenue substation, Poirot said.

"The overriding intent for us is to minimize the amount of inconvenience that road construction will have," Poirot said. Poirot said work in commercial areas generally will be done at night, while construction in residential areas will occur during the day. Work will be done in steps, beginning with the installation of splicing vaults and digging of trenches.

CL&P plans to have the 115-kilovolt line buried by year's end. The entire project is slated for completion in late 2006. Residents of Norwalk's Silvermine neighborhood fought the Bethel-Norwalk upgrade for years. Last year, the city lost its court battle to overturn approval of the project by the Connecticut Siting Council, the nine-member board charged with reviewing and approving or rejecting proposed utility constructions.

Last Thursday, the Connecticut Siting Council approved an application by CL&P and The United Illuminating Co. to build a 345-kilovolt transmission line from Middletown to Norwalk. That line will run underground from Milford to Norwalk.



Power line plan cleared?  Legislators, Blumenthal upset after draft decision
March 30, 2005
ROB VARNON rvarnon@ctpost.com

Over the objections of 10 legislators and several Middlesex and New Haven county communities, the Connecticut Siting Council on Tuesday issued a draft opinion indicating it would approve United Illuminating Co. and Connecticut Light & Power. Co.'s 69-mile transmission line project.
"I think it went pretty well, said Marcia Wellman, a spokesperson for UI, but she cautioned that this is "a draft opinion and we don't know what it means."

She said the council is still deliberating some key issues that could affect the way the project is built.

Last week during deliberations, the council indicated that it supported a $993 million proposal to run 24 miles of the line underground through Fairfield County and 45 miles of the line overhead through communities in Middlesex and New Haven counties, including Milford. But the council is holding oral arguments on several elements of the plan on Thursday, and S. Derek Phelps, the council's executive director, said in a previous interview that until the vote is taken on April 7, nothing is final. Phelps was unavailable for comment on Tuesday   following the meeting.

The council acted on Tuesday despite calls from Sen. Len Fasano, R-East Haven, and nine other legislators that they want the council to delay its decision.

The legislators said, in a prepared statement, that they are concerned that the council has yet to determine how to mitigate the effects of electric and magnetic fields that will be emitted by the line.

The utilities want to replace the existing 115-kilovolt lines with 345-kV ones that will generate higher levels of EMF (electric and magnetic fields). During deliberations on the subject, the council began to write new EMF management practices, but it was discovered that the council consulted CL&P on the design of those practices. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal demanded that the practices be scrapped and the council complied. But Pamela Katz, the council's chairwoman, said last week that the council has enough evidence on the subject of EMF to create a mitigation plan for the Middletown-to-Norwalk project.

Communities in New Haven and Middlesex counties have been fighting to get the   lines buried since the plan was proposed in 2003, claiming that residents must be protected from the slim chance that EMF might create health problems. National and international studies conducted in the late 1990s found no connection between EMF and health problems, but they also said that there remains a possibility that the fields could cause problems.

Blumenthal expressed concern about the council's draft opinion on Tuesday, issuing a brief statement.

"This draft opinion clearly reflects the need for more work," he said, indicating that it's not clear how the council plans to deal with EMF and the lines' impact to the environment. He added that he looks forward to arguing the issue before the council on Thursday.


Major Power Line's Cost Jumps Nearly 80%
By STACY WONG, Hartford Courant
Dec. 29, 2004

A proposed 69-mile power line between Middletown and Norwalk could end up costing more than $1 billion - nearly 80 percent more than the initial estimate - developers said Tuesday in a filing to state authorities.

Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating said the estimate has jumped because of generally rising costs in the year since the line was designed, higher-than-expected costs to bury 24 miles of it and possible added expenses to reduce exposure to magnetic fields.

The original estimate was $600 million for the line, the largest electric transmission project in Connecticut in 30 years. That estimate was developed more than a year ago, however, and the project has been delayed before the Connecticut Siting Council.

The new estimate is $840 million to $990 million, plus $70 million to $80 million if authorities order the developers to reduce exposure to the magnetic fields.

That could bring the total to $1.07 billion.

"Even at this late point in the review process this is only an estimate and things can change, depending on what the siting council's decision is," CL&P spokesman Frank Poirot said.

Poirot said it was too early to know how much of the project's cost will be borne by Connecticut ratepayers and how much will be shared with ratepayers in other states.  Federal officials have ruled that the six New England states will share the cost of any new electric transmission line that bolsters the reliability of the region's power grid.

But if the line costs more because of local or state considerations - such as installing it underground rather than overhead - ratepayers in that state alone would pay those additional costs.

The higher overall cost of the Middletown-to-Norwalk line drew a mix of dismay and support from Connecticut state officials, business representatives and a citizens' group that has advocated placing more of the line underground.

"Ouch," state Consumer Counsel Mary Healey said upon hearing the new estimate. She said her office will review the numbers in greater depth.  However, the higher cost estimate, coming on the heels of higher electricity and natural gas costs for Connecticut consumers in 2005, caused her to question the benefits of restructuring the state's electricity markets.

"This is just piling on cost after cost on the ratepayer," she said. "At some point, we have to stop and question this restructured world and the benefit we are getting from it."

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said in a prepared statement that the numbers deserve critical scrutiny, "not unquestioning acceptance."

"We will continue to strongly support placing as much of the cable underground as possible, as is required by current state law and sound public policy," he said. "How the cost could rise so dramatically is cause for challenging the credibility of these estimates."

The line would complete a two-phase plan to ship more electricity into power-poor southwestern Connecticut, one of the weakest sections of New England's power grid. Regulators approved the first phase, a 20-mile line from Bethel to Norwalk, in 2003.

Robert Earley, who follows energy issues for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said the higher cost is the result of the state's own law requiring that new transmission lines be built underground wherever possible.

"That costs something. State consumers are going to pay more. That's part of what we're seeing," Earley said.

Ruth Ann Wiesenthal-Gold, president of the Woodlands Coalition, a group of citizens seeking to have as much of the line built underground as possible, said the cost may sound high, but it includes important features.

Burying the line means greater sensitivity to environmental issues, and it means fewer families along the line's proposed route not losing their homes to the right-of-way, she said.

"The number sounds huge," she said, "But if that number saves 29 families from being displaced, not to mention property owners losing significant pieces of their property, then you have to say, what price peace?" 


20 more miles of power line could be buried
Luther Turmelle , New Haven REGISTER Thursday October 14, 2004
HARTFORD — A consultant hired by the Connecticut Siting Council has issued preliminary findings that suggest that between 10 and 20 miles of high voltage electric transmission cable can be buried between Milford and Wallingford.

That’s in addition to the 24 miles of 345-kilovolt underground cable already proposed by United Illuminating Co.
and Connecticut Light & Power as part of an upgrade of high voltage electric cable between Norwalk and Middletown.

KEMA Inc.’s findings were released Wednesday as part of a summary presented by Siting Council Executive Director Derek Phelps during a Federal Regulatory Commission Technical Conference at the Legislative Office Building.

"If effective mitigation is employed, additional undergrounding of up to 20 miles along the proposed corridor from East Devon north to Beseck would be technologically feasible," the KEMA summary states. East Devon refers to Milford and Beseck refers to a substation located in Wallingford near the Meriden border.

KEMA’s summary says the ability to bury additional portions of the cable is contingent upon the use of filters and stabilizers designed to prevent fluctuations that could damage the regional power grid. The full report will be released on Friday, Phelps said.

"We will make the report and our consultants available to all parties involved," Phelps said.

FERC officials will likely return to Connecticut in December or early January to take part in that questioning, said agency Chairman Pat Wood.

UI and CL&P say the proposed cable is needed to supplement the aging 115-kilovolt system and to ensure reliability in Fairfield and New Haven counties.

"You have too much good going on in this state and we don’t want to see a fragile transmission system ruin that," said Wood, who referred to the current transmission in Fairfield and New Haven counties as "third world," before choosing another term.

Political leaders and citizens groups seeking to maximize the amount of cable buried along the proposed route hailed the findings as a breakthrough.

"This is what we have been saying from Day 1," said Milford Mayor James L. Richetelli Jr. "I suspect the power companies will refute it; hopefully, they can’t."

Woodlands Coalition President Ruth Ann Wiesenthal-Gold said KEMA’s findings will force UI and CL&P to take a harder look at increasing the amount of buried cable.

"It’s helpful, certainly something they’ve got to pay attention to," Wiesenthal-Gold said.

Orange First Selectman Mitchell Goldblatt said he and others in attendance at the conference were caught off guard by the summary.

"This is a huge development," Goldblatt said.

Connecticut’s House Majority Leader James Amann, D-Milford, said proponents of burying more of the power line need to build on the findings.

"I understand there is much more work that has to be undertaken so that we can come up with the best solution for our communities to accept," Amann said.

State Rep. Mary Fritz, D-Wallingford, said KEMA’s initial findings support a law the General Assembly passed last spring requiring power lines to be buried when technically feasible.

"This is a vote of confidence for the legislation we created," said Fritz.

State Sen. Winthrop S. Smith Jr., R-Milford, says KEMA’s findings call into question claims by the utilities and ISO-New England, the regional power grid operator, that burying more of the cable can’t be done safely.

"This report … completely undercuts the position of the applicant and ISO," Smith said. "The Siting Council is to be commended for hiring this expert to perform the study."

Officials of ISO-New England and the two utilities offered a more measured response.

"We’d like to take a look at the full report and analyze it a little deeper," said Frank Poirot, a CL&P spokesman.

"From what it appears, they (KEMA) did only one level of study," said Stephen Whitley, chief operating officer of ISO New England. "What we have to do is dig a little deeper, into the next level."

Wood said he and fellow FERC commissioners Nora Brownell and Suedeen Kelly came to Hartford to learn more about the difficulties in siting the proposed 69-mile high voltage line.
 



Sept 29, 2004 CT Siting Council Hearing:

City officials pan power line
By ROBERT KOCH, Norwalk Hour Staff Writer
NORWALK -- Mayor Alex Knopp and Public Works Director Harold Alvord argued Wednesday against running a proposed 345-kilovolt Middletown-Norwalk transmission line under residential streets.

Northeast Utilities wants the line under Route 1. State transportation officials in June proposed three alternative routes that would run the high-voltage transmission line under various residential streets.

On Wednesday, Knopp and Alvord testified against those alternatives at a Connecticut Siting Council hearing in New Britain. The nine-member board has until next spring to approve or reject the line.

"The alternatives are a bad idea because they'll make the line more expensive, less reliable or longer, and therefore compromise the ability to put it underground," said Knopp, after returning from the hearing. "The original line along Route 1 has the least impact on residential areas and the alternative routes have the maximum impact. You can't make it longer and keep it all underground." Knopp said the state Department of Transportation has proposed three alternative routes, all along residential streets in Norwalk.

The first option would affect Main and Newtown avenues; and Broad, Cannon, Murray and Ward streets. The second alternative uses Old Kings Highway South; East, Belden, Sunset and Strawberry Hill avenues; and King, Tierney, Wall and William streets. The third option affects County Street and Old Kings Highway South, he said.

In prefiled testimony to the Siting Council, Knopp and Alvord challenge the state's reasons for using the alternative routes. They dismiss that it will minimize twists and turns, run along reasonable terrain and use lower volume roadways in noncommercial areas.
Knopp and Alvord acknowledged that traffic volumes on the residential streets "may be less than that on U.S. Route 1 during normal business hours," but added that it is "intense in the mornings and evenings." They argued that traffic on Route 1 is down in the evening and early morning, allowing nighttime construction.

"The most important reason Norwalk opposes all of the ConnDOT alternatives is that all of the alternatives add three or more miles to the length of the lines from Middletown to Norwalk, and therefore would sabotage the widely recognized goal of reliably placing underground as much of this transmission facility as possibly," stated Knopp and Alvord in a prefiled testimony.

The council has until April to decide on the Middletown-Norwalk line, after a six-month extension was granted. As the hearings continue, the utility company is standing by its preferred route along Route 1. "It provides the width that we need. The residential streets are barely two lanes wide -- (construction) wouldn't merely slow the flow of traffic, it would stop it dead," Northeast Utilities spokesman Frank J. Poirot said. "Route 1 is also a straighter and flatter route." Northeast Utility's original plan to run the line underground 24 miles from Milford to Norwalk was called into question in June, when ISO New England expressed reliability concerns.

Knopp said it is premature for the Siting Council to consider the DOT alternatives until a working group comprising ISO New England, Northeast Utilities and United Illuminating determine "which route is going to be a reliable underground route." Poirot said Northeast Utilities is finishing a preliminary report, whose results "are not encouraging for additional underground" cable beyond the 24 miles proposed from Milford to Norwalk. An aboveground line into Norwalk, however, appears unlikely.

"It's highly unlikely that the Norwalk stretch of the right-of-way would change," Poirot said. "The impact on homes along (an) aboveground route would just be too great. We don't see that as an attractive alternative proposal," he said.
The Middletown-Norwalk line is part of a larger plan to upgrade the power grid in southwestern Connecticut. Other elements include an already-approved 345-kilovolt Bethel-Norwalk line that will run aboveground into Norwalk; and an underground Stamford-Norwalk transmission line.



Siting Council delays ruling on power lines;  Several more hearings needed

By ROB VARNONrvarnon@ctpost.com
August 24, 2004

With technical questions plaguing plans to upgrade electric power lines between Middletown and Norwalk, the Connecticut Siting Council on Monday decided to continue hearings on the matter until September.

The United Illuminating Co. and Connecticut Light & Power Co. submitted a joint application with the council last year to replace the 50-year-old power lines feeding southwest Connecticut.

The companies offered a two-phase plan; the council gave preliminary approval to the first phase, to replace the lines running from Bethel to Norwalk. But the second phase - replacing lines from Middletown to Norwalk - ran into trouble after review by the region's power grid operator, Independent System Operator New England.

In June, ISO New England raised concerns about Phase 2 because the companies proposed to run 24 miles of the new lines underground, which would create voltage irregularities that would compromise reliability, according to ISO New England.

Since then, ISO and the two companies have worked together to find a technical solution, but the Siting Council decided to suspend public hearings on the application, pending further review.

The council decided Monday to move forward with some of the issues confronting the project and will hold a hearing Sept. 8 in New Britain to discuss a motion by two towns to rescind the council's preliminary approval of Phase 1.

Representatives of Durham and Wallingford are asking the council to reconsider due to similar reliability concerns confronting that project, because 12 miles of the lines will be buried.

The two companies are opposing the towns' request and both sides are expected to deliver arguments in September.

The Siting Council also said it will discuss new state laws calling for buffer zones to reduce the effects of the electric and magnetic fields that power lines create. There is growing concern among townspeople that the fields cause cancer, and some medical studies that seem to support this.

The council also announced that it will hold evidentiary hearings on UI and CL&P's application on Sept. 28 and 29 at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain on magnetic fields and preferred routes for the power lines.



Burying power line could cost $250M more
By Lisa Chamoff, Stamford ADVOCATE
August 17, 2004

New technology could allow the Fairfield County portion of the proposed Norwalk-to-Middletown power line to remain buried, but it may cost an additional $250 million that would likely be shouldered by state residents.

OSI New England, Connecticut Light & Power and United Illuminating Co. filed a report with the Connecticut Siting Council yesterday detailing the alternative, which the firms said requires further study to ensure reliability.

The possible design would keep 24 miles of the 345-kilovolt transmission line underground from Norwalk to Milford. It would use static synchronous compensators, or statcoms, in at least six spots along the transmission line to help keep voltage at a constant force.

"We caution that it could create an undesirable amount of complexity," Stephen Whitley, ISO New England's chief operating officer, said yesterday during a news conference. "In addition, the alternative design will cost more to maintain and to operate (and) will require the hiring and training of specialists. It is highly probable that all these additional costs will be paid by Connecticut consumers."

Whitley said the group will continue to study the feasibility of the design and plans to report back to the Siting Council by the end of next month. He called the proposal unique in that it would use more of the new devices than any other system in the country.

Mitch Gross, a spokesman for Northeast Utilities, called the alternative "undesirably complex" and said the higher cost should not come as a surprise.

"We have maintained since day one, if you want to go underground, it will cost more," he said.

The report was required by the Siting Council, which regulates the placement of transmission lines, after OSI New England, the region's power grid operator, questioned an underground line's reliability during a hearing in June.

The Siting Council already approved the first phase of the project, a 20-mile line from Bethel to Norwalk. Twelve miles on that route would be underground.

CL&P and UI -- which are jointly proposing the power line project -- formed a Reliability and Operability Committee with OSI New England to explore options that would keep the line underground while addressing the grid operator's concerns.

Local officials, who had expressed shock at OSI New England's opposition, said they were optimistic about the new proposal despite the price tag.

"Compared to the bombshell that ISO New England dropped in June when it claimed that the underground proposal was not reliable at all, this is certainly welcome news, because it means that the original plan can more or less go forward," Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp said. "There is a feeling that rate payers are going to be paying the cost of this and it's better to have it underground than not."

State Rep. Robert Duff, D-Norwalk, said although $250 million sounds expensive, the cost would be spread among all Connecticut ratepayers.

"I think that it's always expensive to do any of these lines," he said. "In talking to people, they'd be willing to pay a little more on their electric bill each month to keep the lines underground."

The Siting Council said it would suspend hearings on the project until ISO New England and the utilities come up with a solution they support.

The extra work to bury the lines would bring the entire transmission line upgrade, including the Bethel to Norwalk section, to an estimated $1.2 billion. Statcoms also would require more land acquisition and labor costs that have not yet been calculated.

Federal rules allow for all of New England to help pay for necessary transmission projects in the region that improve reliability in the system. But, Whitley warned, Connecticut customers might have to pay for any unnecessary extra costs themselves.

"I anticipate other utilities in New England are going to be very concerned about this whole project being over $1 billion," Whitley said.



Struggle rages over electric price zones

By Louis Porter, Stamford ADVOCATE
July 22, 2004

Political and business leaders of southwestern Connecticut are preparing to fight a proposal to pay
regional power generators more. They say the proposal could dramatically hike costs for ratepayers...

The regulators who oversee electricity generation and distribution in New England are proposing a
special price zone for southwestern Connecticut to encourage the building of new electricity
generation facilities here.

The two agencies involved are the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees power
issues nationally, and ISO New England, which runs the power grid in the region. Money from the
higher rates could go directly to power companies, which proponents of the plan say would encourage
greater output.

"Because there are a lack of generation resources in southwestern Connecticut, there is justification
for a separate zone," said Ellen Foley, spokeswoman for ISO. "The goal is to spur investment in needed
resources."

The price zone would stretch from Greenwich to New Haven and include about 50 cities and towns.

If FERC approves the ISO proposal -- which FERC requested -- the new pricing could go into effect as
early as January 2006, officials said. New zones would be created elsewhere in New England, but it's
unlikely they would lead to energy prices as high as in southwestern Connecticut.

Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and others said they
believe the change could result in power bills soaring by as much as several hundred million dollars.
They say ratepayers would lose money long before the zone leads to increased energy capacity.

"We have to fight this with every bit of strength we have," Malloy said. "This ignores the fact that it takes years to get permits and build an energy plant of any size."

It is especially difficult and time-consuming to add power plants in Fairfield County, where many towns do
not meet federal air-quality standards because of pollution from cars and from the Midwest, officials said.

"I believe in a cost-based system," Malloy said. "But this is a penalty, and that is very different."

ISO New England sees it differently.

"The rest of the state will no longer be subsidizing the cost of southwestern Connecticut in terms of
capacity," Foley said.

By increasing the amount of money paid for power generation in southwestern Connecticut, where it is in
short supply, more generation plants will be encouraged, she said.

But some say ISO's approach is unfair.

"It really is outrageous," said Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy for SACIA, the Business Council of Southwestern Connecticut. "I think this is energy pricing run amok."

McGee said the incentives may be unnecessary because Fairfield County municipalities are already near an agreement to allow the construction of the Bethel-to-Norwalk and Norwalk-to-Middletown transmission lines.

"I am dismayed by heavy-handed tactics like this, and it just demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding by Washington's bureaucrats about the economics of power generation in Connecticut," said state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, vice chairman of the Legislature's Energy and Technology Committee.

"The timing of this leads inevitably to the question of whether the regulators are using this as a means to seek retribution for our principled opposition to energize the Long Island Sound cable."

Some also don't like that the additional money will go to power generators, some of which like NRG Energy Inc., own part or all of the so-called "sooty six" power plants. The six plants, the state's oldest and most polluting, are in Norwalk, Bridgeport, Middletown, Milford, Montville and New Haven.

In March, Blumenthal said in a statement, "This proposal will provide the power industry with a huge, unjustified windfall at the expense of consumers."

There also is already excess power produced in New England, he said.

Several factors would influence how much the new pricing system, called locational installed capacity pricing zone, or LICAP, would cost.

FERC has not established the base price to be paid for the capacity to produce power, which will help establish prices under the LICAP system, Foley said. It also is not clear how the state will distribute the new costs, she said.

Originally, when ISO New England responded to FERC's request for a LICAP proposal it included all of Connecticut in one zone, Foley said. Under that proposal, the cost of the proposal would be $90 million to $120 million in the first year and increase afterward.

But last month, FERC requested that southwestern Connecticut be in its own price zone -- and ISO New England agreed. That means that Fairfield County would pay more for power capacity than the rest of the state, Foley said.

Some estimates, including Blumenthal's, put the cost of the proposal in Connecticut overall as high as $500 million a year within five years.

SACIA estimates the cost for Fairfield County could be $375 million a year.

LICAP is part of a larger push to have the marketplace determine costs -- and drive investment -- rather than the government.

For example, ISO New England and FERC last year implemented new rules regarding how the price of power-line congestion is paid. Such costs, common in southwestern Connecticut, used to be paid by ratepayers all over New England. Now they are paid for by Connecticut residents and companies alone.

Chris Riley, spokesman for Connecticut Light & Power, which serves about 80 percent of the state, said the change has increased costs by $186 million for the company's customers from March 2003 until January 2004.


NU gives public details of power line
By Christina S. N. Lewis, Stamford ADVOCATE Staff Writer - similar event held in Norwalk two weeks later - Stamford, March 18, 2004
STAMFORD -- Northeast Utilities held its first public forum on a planned Glenbrook to Norwalk transmission line last night at the government center.  The sparsely attended open house was the first in a series of four public forums the power company is holding to solicit public comments
on a proposed new $100 million, 115-kilovolt transmission line.

One of the few Stamford residents to attend was Rhonda Keyt, who was concerned that the lines will pass near to her house. But she left the open house satisfied.  "I think they have it really worked out," Keyt said. "It's in a spot that (I) don't think it'll be a problem for our neighborhood."

Although the underground cable line, called the Glenbrook Cables Project, has drawn significant criticism from some towns, particularly New Canaan, Stamford's reaction has been mild because only about a mile of the line would run through the city.  Robin Stein, Stamford's Land Use Bureau chief, said he was pleased the cable would be underground minimizing "visual pollution." He said the southern route, the primary route under consideration, is better for the city because construction would be less inconvenient along Route 1 than on Route 106.  "(Route 106) gets heavy traffic and is only two lanes," Stein said.

The company hopes to file a formal proposal in May with the Connecticut Siting Council, which must approve all utility projects. They hope for a decision by early next year and to complete the project by the end of 2007.  Anticipating concerns about safety, construction and the environment, Northeast designed an elaborate presentation that included a three-dimensional animation of the construction phases, computer locator that showed the line in relation to a given address.  Northeast representatives stood at each station to answer questions. Attendees also were given an energy cost-saving light bulb.

Company representatives said they would minimize construction inconveniences by doing it during the day in residential areas. They also said that the line would be encased in concrete.  The line will run from a Hamilton Avenue substation to one on New Canaan Avenue in Norwalk.

The primary route under consideration runs 8.1 miles, starting at Hamilton Avenue before heading up Brookside Drive and crossing into Darien where it continues along an access road west of Interstate 95.  The route then heads northeast up Ledge Road and joins Route 1 into Norwalk.  Finally, the line heads north on Riverside Avenue, crosses the Norwalk River and reaches the substation.

A secondary route under consideration would go up Glenbrook Road in Stamford and would pass through New Canaan. The 9.3-mile alternate plan goes north along Route 106 through western Darien and into New Canaan. After heading down Old Stamford Road to Farm Road and Old Norwalk Road, the line would head south on Route 123 to the Norwalk substation.

Three other public forums are scheduled for Monday in Darien Town Hall auditorium, March 25 in the New Canaan Town Hall auditorium, and March 30 in the Norwalk City Hall Community Room. All sessions begin with an open house at 7 p.m. and a question-and-answer segment at 8 p.m.



City asks court to block power line
By Matt Breslow, Stamford ADVOCATE Staff Writer
March 6, 2004
Norwalk is asking a judge to block installation of a controversial power line between Broad River and Bethel while the city fights state approval of the project.  The city last week filed an application for a "stay," a court order barring Northeast Utilities from installing the 345-kilovolt line, until there is a ruling on Norwalk's appeal of the Connecticut Siting Council's July approval.

The stay application and two appeals Norwalk filed are pending in state Superior Court in New Britain, located next door to the Siting Council, which decides the location of utility projects.  Norwalk leaders and residents oppose the 345-kilovolt project because NU plans to string the line atop 90-or 107-foot-tall poles between a New Canaan Avenue substation and southern Wilton.  A document the city filed with the stay application states the project would do Norwalk "irreparable harm," damaging or destroying "scenic, historic and recreational resources."  Installation of the line would hinder economic activity and the city's ability to "provide for the public health and safety," the document states.

NU spokesman Frank Poirot yesterday said the company hopes to begin construction of the Bethel-to-Norwalk line by late June or early July. Poirot said it would be speculative to comment on whether a stay would prevent NU from meeting a federal deadline of December 2007, when the line must be finished for its $200 million cost to be spread among customers in all of New England instead of just Connecticut.

"I can't speculate on that but . . . suffice it to say our schedule is tight as it is," he said.  The approved configuration calls for burying more than half of the 20-mile line through Bethel, Redding, Weston and Wilton, though none of its subterranean portions would be in Norwalk.  The Siting Council, NU and the four towns north of Norwalk affected by the project have filed motions to dismiss the city's appeal. Judge Henry Cohn will preside over an April 5 hearing in New Britain on the motions, which Norwalk has challenged. It remains unclear whether Cohn also will consider Norwalk's stay application at the hearing.

Documents Norwalk submitted to support its stay application identify numerous problems the project would create for the city. Some relate to concerns about the height of the poles, while others involve disruption that could result along busy Main Avenue.  City officials and community leaders submitted several affidavits supporting the stay application, including Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce President Edward Musante,
Planning and Zoning Director Michael Greene and Anne Carbone of the Norwalk Association of Silvermine homeowners.

Greene's affidavit states the new power line could scare people away from the planned Norwalk River Valley Multi-Purpose Trail, slated to run parallel to the Norwalk River from Oyster Shell Park to Wilton.  An affidavit submitted by Richard Linnartz, the city Public Works department's principal design engineer, states burying part of an existing 115-kilovolt line under Main Avenue would hinder public safety vehicle access and interfere with a major commercial strip.

"The city's inhabitants, living both within and within sight of the Bethel-to-Norwalk project path, will suffer from increased exposure to harmful environmental and ecological impacts" of the line, one of the documents states.  The city also maintains the power line is unsightly and would adversely affect residents' quality of life.  Siting Council Executive Director Derek Phelps could not be reached for comment yesterday.


City hires lawyer to fight power line
By Brian Lockhart, Stamford ADVOCATE  Staff Writer
September 3, 2003
NORWALK -- The city has hired a former member of the state's utility siting council to spearhead the fight against Northeast Utilities' plans to run a 345-kilovolt overhead power line into the historic Silvermine neighborhood.  Peter Boucher of the law firm of Halloran and Sage has been tapped by Mayor Alex Knopp to appeal -- at a cost of $200 an hour -- the Connecticut Siting Council's controversial decision to run the power line on 90-foot-high power lines through Norwalk.

The city's Common Council voted July 22 to seek an attorney to challenge the ruling.  "Attorney Boucher is, in my opinion, the premier utility and energy law specialist in the state," Knopp said yesterday. "He can best represent Norwalk's concerns that Northeast Utilities' proposal should not have been approved."

According to his resume, Boucher has been with Halloran and Sage since 1991 and is chairman of the firm's government affairs and administration and regulatory law practice groups. Boucher's membership on the Connecticut Siting Council from 1987 to 1991 coincided with his chairmanship of the Department of Public Utility Control.  He also has been a member of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, a board member of the National Regulatory Research Institute and president of the New England Conference of Public Utility Commissioners.

"We considered three or four (attorneys), but he had an expertise on transmission and power line-type disputes," said Louis Ciccarello, Norwalk's  corporation counsel. "He has a very good reputation."  Boucher could not immediately be reached for comment.  The mayor said Boucher had agreed to lower his customary $300 per hour rate to $200. Local Republicans have argued the city would not be paying any legal fees, had the mayor handled the 345-kilovolt line situation differently.

NU has been working for two years on a plan that would run additional power lines from Bethel to the New Canaan Avenue substation in Norwalk. The utility also has proposed upgrading its lines from Norwalk to Middletown and beneath Long Island Sound between Norwalk and Long Island, N.Y.  NU in March entered into a deal with Bethel, Redding, Wilton and Weston to bury the cable through those towns.  About that time, Knopp announced he had arrived at a separate agreement allowing NU to run 130-foot-tall poles near the Silvermine section of the city.

As part of the agreement, the utility would have to guarantee in writing not to pursue plans to eventually run a cable from the New Canaan Avenue substation through several residential neighborhoods and across Long Island Sound.  Silvermine residents, environmentalists and Common Council members said they had no previous knowledge of Knopp's agreement and no say in its formulation.

The mayor has since said on different occasions that he was misled by NU regarding the ability to bury the line in Silvermine and that the four neighboring towns sacrificed Norwalk to cut a deal with the utility company.  Town leaders such as Wilton First Selectman Paul Hannah have disputed Knopp's version of the situation, arguing they made an effort to include Norwalk in their deal with NU.

The Connecticut Siting Council this summer agreed to mostly honor the compromise between NU and the four towns; however, in the face of the public outcry, it changed the settlement design to shorten the poles in Norwalk to 90 feet.  Still, the Knopp administration decided to appeal the council's decision and force NU to bury the 345-kilovolt lines in Norwalk.

Knopp also believes the appeal is important because it could have implications on the effort to have NU and the Siting Council agree to bury another 345-kilovolt line planned to run to Middletown.


Siting council reopens case
By HAL BROWN, Norwalk HOUR Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 27, 2003
The Connecticut Siting Council announced Tuesday that it is reopening the opinion it issued in July certifying construction of the proposed 345,000-volt Bethel-to-Norwalk electric transmission line.  S. Derek Phelps, executive director of the siting council, said Tuesday's action is to allow a technical correction to the council's opinion.

"It is for the purpose of modifying some of the language that is contained in the opinion," Phelps said. "The council does not intend in any way to alter the findings of fact or the decision and order, only the opinion." The rewrite of the opinion is necessary, he said, because "the statutes require that we address certain rationales and reasoning and we think it's appropriate that we reopen for the purpose of meeting the certificate's compliance with the statutes." A certificate from the siting council is necessary before the power lines project can be built.

The council's decision is unpopular in many quarters in Norwalk.  Under a plan negotiated between the utility and Bethel, Redding, Weston and Wilton in March called Configuration X, substantial portions of the circuit would run below ground in those communities.  Beginning in Wilton, the line would rise above ground at "Norwalk Junction," a location south of the intersection of routes 7 and 33 opposite the USA Storage facility, and run parallel to Route 7 along an existing right-of-way suspended on 130-foot-tall monopoles to Northeast Utilities' Norwalk substation on New Canaan Avenue.

Norwalk made a side agreement with Northeast Utilities and was not a party to the compromise, dubbed Configuration X.  Residents, particularly in the Silvermine and Broad River neighborhoods, have objected to the overhead construction on aesthetic, economic and health grounds. The Norwalk Common Council authorized funds to hire an attorney to investigate the possibility of appealing the Siting Council decision.

The question of whether the city will appeal remains open, and the decision to reopen the opinion Tuesday means the city will have more time to consider its options.  Phelps said when the appeal is rewritten and sent out to parties in the power line proceedings, it restarts a 45-day window for appeals of the decision.  He would not say when the rewrite might be released.

"What the statute says is that upon reopening we must complete whatever it is we're seeking to do within a reasonable time," he said.  "The first thing we are going to do is develop some proposed language, circulate it among the service list (of parties in the proceedings) to give everybody some time so they can remark and get back to us. Then the council will take up the issue of what exactly it is they want to make in the way of changes to the opinion.  Then one that is sent out in the form of a new certificate package, I think that would be the date upon which the 45-day period of the appeal is set." Leigh Grant, president of the Norwalk Association of Silvermine Homeowners, who attended Tuesday's meeting said she  isn't sure why the opinion is being rewritten.

Parties to the proceeding received a copy of proposed changes to the opinion Tuesday, but Grant said she could not immediately see what was different in the rewrite.  "There has to be a legal reason," she said. "I don't see anything that is glaringly different." Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp said he will have city staff review the changes. He said he has not had time to review the proposed changes.

Northeast Utilities spokesman Frank Poirot said the company is not concerned about the rewrite of the opinion. "It's something we can certainly live with and wait for the council to go through its process," he said. "We can pick it up from there." He said the company is not worried that opponents of the power line will see the rewrite as an opening wedge to attack the project.  "It won't stop folks from trying, but as the Siting Council chair said (Tuesday), the reopening has been narrowly defined to take care of technical corrections to the measure that was acted on in July, and that's it." Grant and other critics, though, were pleased.  "Everything affords us hope," Grant said. "Anything that gives us more time gives us hope."

Knopp said the restarted appeals window "will allow us to do additional research to make sure that: First, that an appeal is justified, as I believe it is; and second, to make sure we submit the best appeal in terms of basing it on a solid reference to the findings of fact and the opinion." No siting council decision on a project has been overturned on appeal, leading some critics to sound a cautionary note about optimism about the Tuesday action.

"I guess at this point it's all technical," said State Rep. Bob Duff, D-137, who has been a critic of the project, and successfully championed legislation this year that changes the way the siting council proceeds in cases in the future.  "You don't want to get anyone's hopes up that they're gong to reverse their actions, which I don't think they're going to do," Duff said. "I think a lot of what happens in Norwalk comes down to    whether there is going to be an appeal or not." Knopp would not give a definite date on when the city will decide about an appeal.

"I'll be making an announcement on that shortly," he said. The siting council's action, he said, "is the right decision to protect the rights of Norwalk and other entities that may want to appeal." Wilton First Selectman Paul Hannah said he doesn't think reopening the opinion will affect the results. But the council's action "is too bad, because it means there will be a delay in getting (the project) going." he said.


Council nixes settlements
By JENNIFER CONNIC, Hour Staff Writer, August 22, 2003
WESTPORT -- The Connecticut Siting Council chairwoman announced during a forum on Thursday night that the council would hire an outside expert to analyze underground tunneling for Phase II of Northeast Utilities high-voltage power line application and the council would not allow settlements as happened during Phase I.

The forum, organized by state Rep. Bob Duff, D-137, in order to prepare residents from across the region for Northeast Utilities' Middletown to Norwalk 345,000-volt power line, which is Phase II of the company's power line project.  The first phase, which was highly contentious, stretched   from Bethel to Norwalk, and one of the main issues was placing the overhead power lines underground.  Pam Katz, Siting Council chairwoman, said during the forum that she plans to send out a Request for Proposals in order to hire an expert on underground power lines.

"There is a little used statute that I uncovered that allows us to hire our own experts," she said.  The consultant would help the council analyze the application and prepare questions to cross-examine Northeast Utilities officials on the feasibility of an underground power line, Katz said.  "Phase I was more tortured than it needed to be on the issue," she said.

Diane Lauricella, president of the Sierra Club of Fairfield County, said she would encourage the council to send the Request for Proposals to engineers from Europe or Asia.  "Underground transmission lines are not unique there," she said.  Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp said having an underground transmission line was the single biggest issue for the city during the proceedings for Phase I.

He said the city's experts had asked the council to hire an independent expert on the matter, but the proposal was rejected.  The council's members, however, have a broad range of opinions on the reliability of an underground transmission line, Knopp said.  The council's independent expert should also set a standard of what is considered reliable for an underground transmission line, he said.

If that is not done, he said, the work the communities have done with providing input to Northeast Utilities on the proposal and the changes made could be moot because the council would change portions of the plan.  Katz said the reliability of an underground transmission line is based on the power grid, and it is of varying degrees in each area.  Because of the differences between grids, she said, the council cannot set one standard, but the expert would tell the council what the reliability is for the proposal.  Katz also said the council will not want to see settlements like it did with the Phase I application.

"It's good the towns and utilities are talking to each other," she said. "I encourage them to talk." The council, however, could not just rubber stamp the settlement because there were "nine independently-minded people" serving on the council, she said.  G. Kenneth Bernhard, Weston and Wilton town attorney, said the decision of the council gives the impression that it has an agenda, and he would think the council would want to encourage the two adversarial groups to work together.

Katz said she would want the electric company to settle with all communities or none.  "How would you feel if your community has overhead lines while your neighbor struck a deal for underground in a settlement," she said. "I see anarchy if some get a better deal than others." Wilton First Selectman Paul Hannah said it may not be practicable to settle with all 22 communities involved with the second phase and it may be feasible that there would be segments with different issues.

"What you may see is that this ends up being the equivalent of four separate applications," he said.  After the meeting, Knopp said his chief objection to Phase I was that the Siting Council relied on a private settlement that excluded Norwalk.  City officials are still considering their options to appeal the phase one decision, he said.




Phase One of Power Line Plan Approved
By Don Casciato, Westport NEWS, Friday, July 18, 2003
After almost two years of protests and discussions, the Connecticut Siting Council ruled Monday in a 6-2 vote that part of a Northeast Utilities
(NU) power line project, which includes Weston, Bethel, Redding, Wilton and Norwalk, will be underground.

In hearings held in Weston, as well as other communities, overflow crowds had protested the project and pushed for underground installation.
Residents along the route of Phase 1 of the power project complained that the overhead lines were not aesthetic, would lower property values, damage the environment and pose an undetermined health risk because of the electromagnetic field emanating from the lines.

Under terms of the Monday ruling, a compromise plan with NU, called Configuration X, would put approximately half of the route underground.  The other option, of putting all the lines underground, was called F3 and was favored by the towns at the start of the power drama but was termed
by NU as not being feasible, according to Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss.  The compromise with NU and leaders of Weston, Bethel, Redding and Wilton had been announced March 17.

'Significant Decision'

"I think it is a very significant decision," said Bliss. "We all [the other towns] felt that way. In politics, a lot of it is compromise. A lot of time was spent negotiating. It is not perfect, but it is acceptable. The Siting Council has great power and no one has won an appeal against a council decision."  Bliss, who attended the Siting Council session Monday with the chief executives of the other four communities, cited Westport's failed
appeal on a cell tower decision as an example of the council's clout.

Bliss, once an IBM executive, termed the power lines an example of what engineers familiar with technical and physical problems call "risk balancing."  Besides the Siting Council decision, a new wrinkle has emerged in recent weeks. Norwalk, which was not a party to the March 17 agreement with Weston, Wilton, Bethel and Redding, has complained because the lines would surface from the underground and be strung on poles from Norwalk Junction in southern Wilton to the New Canaan Avenue electrical substation in Norwalk, according to press reports.

Norwalk's bid for underground lines was rejected in the Monday decision but 90-foot power line poles are slated for the city instead of NU's
originally announced plans for poles averaging 130-feet high.  In addition, before the council vote Monday, Pamela Katz, the chairman of the Siting Council, criticized NU for not including Norwalk in the four-town agreement of March 17 and said the Norwalk omission was unwise.

Possibility of Appeals

NU hopes to start construction by the end of the year, but the possibility of appeals remains despite the past success of the Siting Council in court.  There still is the chance that some residents in the four towns might balk if they are near power line poles and Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp said the ruling might be appealed. Opponents of the decision can file an appeal up to 45 days after the Siting Council mails the final draft of the decision.

In a TV interview Monday night after the ruling, Knopp said he had hoped the Siting Council had hired its own independent expert to investigate
apart from using Northeast Utilities data.  In May, the Siting Council denied a request Knopp had made for the appointment of an independent
expert.

NU, through its subsidiary, Connecticut Light & Power, plans to run the 345-kilovolt power line from its Plumtrees sub-station in Bethel to its New Canaan Avenue substation in Norwalk.  The Configuration X plan was approved by Katz, the Siting Council chairman; as well as Colin C. Tait, the vice chairman; Brian O'Neill, Daniel P. Lynch Jr.; Edward S. Wilensky and Gerald J. Heffernan, who represented Department of Public Utility Control Chairman Donald W. Downes.

Philip T. Ashton, the appointee of the governor on the council, and Brian J. Emerick, representing the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, posted the two no votes.  Estimates of the cost of the project are subject to change depending on when it starts, but the most recent price tag for the 345-kilovolt power line was $185 million, according to press reports.



Norwalk looks to appeal power line decision
By Matt Breslow, ADVOCATE Staff Writer
July 16, 2003
NORWALK -- The city will likely hire an attorney specializing in utility projects to determine whether it should appeal the Connecticut Siting Council's ruling on the 345-kilovolt transmission line Northeast Utilities plans to run from Bethel to Norwalk.  In a final decision Monday, the Siting Council agreed to mostly honor a compromise between NU and four towns -- Bethel, Redding, Weston and Wilton -- that calls for burying more than half the 20-mile line.

The agreement, which Norwalk was not a part of, called for running the power line on 130-foot-tall poles.  Out of consideration for Norwalk, which also wants the line buried, Siting Council members made one change to the settlement design: shortening the poles carrying the line from NU's planned average height of 130 feet to about 90 feet.

But the Siting Council's ruling has not been well received in Norwalk, where Mayor Alex Knopp and many residents want the entire line buried.  Knopp yesterday said he will ask the Common Council at its meeting Tuesday to hire an attorney specializing in Siting Council utility projects to analyze the Bethel-to-Norwalk line's approval process.

The mayor said his desire for an appeal was heightened by comments Siting Council members made at Monday's hearing questioning the reliability of
345-kilovolt underground lines.  Knopp said he is concerned the panel's comment indicate that it may not allow NU to bury another major power line project, which is slated to run from Norwalk to Middletown.  "If any appeal has a shot of winning, then it's worth taking, especially in light of the new concerns I have," Knopp said.

Regarding the Norwalk-to-Bethel line, Knopp said he has spoken to about 30 residents who supported a fully underground cable, urging him to appeal Monday's decision.  Anne Carbone, a board member of the Norwalk Association of Silvermine Homeowners, said yesterday her group is contacting other neighborhood leaders to explain Monday's ruling and ask people to e-mail Knopp in support of an appeal.  Carbone, who favors a fully underground design for health and aesthetic reasons, said everyone she has contacted wants the city to appeal the decision.  "It's very clear -- people are very upset about this," she said.  NU spokesman Frank Poirot said an appeal is "something we expect."

"We know that there may be those that are not completely satisfied with (Monday's) Siting Council decision, but we wouldn't be surprised or deterred if there is an appeal," he said. Poirot said it is too early to say what an appeal could mean for the Bethel-to-Norwalk project. However, he said an appeal likely would not prevent NU from completing the line in time to meet the deadline for "socializing" the cost of the line among all New England customers.

Because of new regulations, the line must be operational by Dec. 20, 2007, for NU to require non-Connecticut residents to share in the project's $185 million cost. NU hopes to begin construction on the Bethel-to-Norwalk line by year's end and finish in 2005.



New power line to be built on 90-foot poles in Norwalk

By Matt Breslow, Stamford ADVOCATE Staff Writer
July 15, 2003

NEW BRITAIN -- The verdict is in: Poles about 90 feet high will carry the Norwalk section of Northeast Utilities' new 345-kilovolt power line between New Canaan Avenue and Bethel.  Otherwise, the $185 million project will mirror the compromise design NU announced in March with Bethel, Redding, Weston and Wilton, the Connecticut Siting Council ruled yesterday in a final decision handed down at the panel's New Britain headquarters.

Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp and Anne Carbone of the Norwalk Association of Silvermine Homeowners -- who had urged the Siting Council to require NU to place the entire line underground -- said they may appeal the ruling.  NU said it hopes to start work by year's end on the Bethel-to-Norwalk line, which is slated to be operational in 2005.

Shortly before yesterday's 6-2 vote, Siting Council Chairwoman Pamela Katz chastised NU for failing to ensure Norwalk was included in the four-town settlement. Someone at NU should have realized when the company began agreeing to place portions of the line underground in other towns that it was unwise to omit Norwalk from the negotiations, Katz said.  "I believe a five-town settlement would probably look different from the four-town settlement we are dealing with today," Katz said.

NU had originally announced plans to place the entire Bethel-to-Norwalk line atop poles averaging 130 feet high. The four-town settlement called for burying more than half the 20-mile line but keeping the proposed 130-foot towers in a few places -- including the stretch between southern Wilton and a New Canaan Avenue substation.

The Siting Council attempted to ameliorate the situation by modifying the settlement design to require NU to bury an existing 115-kV line in Norwalk that currently runs aboveground so the 345-kilovolt line can be placed atop shorter poles, Katz said.  The 115-kilovolt line sits atop poles about 70 feet high in Norwalk; the new towers for the 345-kV line will be about 90 feet high.

Despite the height reduction the Siting Council voted to require in Norwalk, Carbone described the homeowners association as "very disappointed" by the panel's ruling.  "Having those lines closer to us (on shorter poles) isn't a solution, and I'm very sorry that the council chose to humor us by allowing us to express our opinion and then completely ignoring what we had to say," said Carbone, whose neighborhood will host part of the 345-kV line.

She said homeowners will speak with Knopp before deciding whether to appeal the Siting Council's ruling. Groups such as the Silvermine association can file an appeal in state Superior Court up to 45 days after the Siting Council mails out the final draft of its decision.  Knopp said he will consult with neighbors and the city's attorney before deciding whether to appeal.  "But the administrative law system is very heavily weighted against appeals, and I don't want to appeal unless there is a reasonable chance of success," he said.

The mayor said he is grateful the Siting Council reduced the proposed towers' height in Norwalk, and he appreciates the criticism Katz leveled against NU for failing to ensure Norwalk was included in the four-town settlement.  "But I regret that the Siting Council did not hire its own independent expert to investigate apart from Northeast Utilities about how much underground cable is reliable," Knopp said. "Therefore, this decision was too much driven by NU and had too little independent analysis in support of the all-underground option that all the public supports."

Though the Siting Council denied a request Knopp made in May for the panel to appoint an independent expert, he said Katz last week pledged to hire an outside analyst for NU's recently unveiled proposal to place a 345-kV line from Norwalk to Middletown.  Several Siting Council members, including some who voted in favor of the final ruling that passed yesterday, expressed concern before the vote about the design's reliability.

However, Siting Council member Edward Wilensky said the configuration's benefits far outweigh any disadvantages. Council member Gerald Heffernan said NU feels the configuration is reliable.  Heffernan and other Siting Council members attested to the expanding demand for electricity in southwestern Connecticut.  "I think it's been demonstrated that they absolutely need the power in the area," Heffernan said.

NU spokesman Frank Poirot yesterday praised the Siting Council's decision, saying it reflected wisdom and concern for all towns affected by the project.  However, Poirot said NU learned the lesson that it should "go the extra mile" to ensure all towns are included in settlement talks for future projects.  "The whole process has been a real lesson for us, and that's one of the more important lessons we've learned, I'm sure," he said. 



Monday is the big day at Siting Council headquarters...
Knopp upset about letter
By HAL BROWN HOUR Staff Writer, Saturday, July 12, 2003

Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp drafted a last minute motion to the Connecticut Siting Council Friday, asking council members to refile and restate a letter that asks municipalities along the proposed 345-kilovolt Bethel to Norwalk power line what their preference is for the line's design and route.

The Siting Council sent inquiry letters to the five towns along the Phase 1 345kV line route on July 2, asking the towns' preference.  Knopp's letter, drafted and sent Friday, says that letter contains "a hidden flaw" because it doesn't clearly say that an all above-ground line will not be under consideration.  The Siting Council meets Monday in New Britain to consider its final findings of fact, a preliminary to issuing a certificate for the project. The certificate is a state requirement before it can be built.

Knopp said communities will be less than forthcoming in their support for an all-underground line because Northeast Utilities, the corporation proposing the power line, has an implied threat against the towns to revert to its originally-preferred all-overhead route.  That proposal caused considerable furor in Bethel, Redding, Wilton, Weston and Norwalk. Residents along the route of Phase 1 complained that the overhead lines are not aesthetic, will lower property values, damage the environment and pose an undetermined health risk because of the electromagnetic field emanating from the lines.

The four northern towns on the route reached a compromise agreement, tabbed Configuration X, with NU, announced March 17, that would put more than half the route underground. Norwalk, which was not a party to the agreement, has objected, primarily because the lines would surface from the underground and be strung on 130-foot poles from Norwalk Junction in southern Wilton to the New Canaan Avenue electrical substation in Norwalk. The prospect of the overhead power line spurred protests in the Silvermine and Broad River neighborhoods of Norwalk after the agreement was announced.

In the interim, Northeast Utilities has announced the Phase 2 of the 345kV project from Norwalk to Middletown. That project includes a 14-mile underground stretch of cable from Norwalk to the Bridgeport area. Previously NU had said the cable could be buried only for five miles at a stretch before it needed to be strung overhead.  On June 27 NU and Bethel submitted a clarification of a technical question that said that an all underground (F3) route would be a sufficiently reliable design for the project.

That submission was followed by a June 30 submission from Wilton, Weston and Redding, that they supported the F3 underground solution. Norwalk issued a similar submission the following day.  On July 2 the Siting Council asked the towns to clarify their position vis a vis the power line design.  Friday night, the chief executives of towns along the line seemed to favor either the F3 all-underground solution, or the compromise
Configuration X.

"We have supported the F3 configuration since the beginning," said Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss yesterday. Faced with the assertion that the F3 line was not feasible, though, Bliss said Weston and the other towns negotiated Configuration X with Northeast Utilities.  "We're going to back away from our agreement" with NU, he said.  "So I guess you could say that sort of leaves it in NU's hands. If NU wants to go ahead with F3, terrific. But if for whatever reason they feel (Configuration) X is a better configuration, we support that, too."

Bethel chief executive Judy Novachek and Wilton First Selectman Paul Hannah said the F3 solution was their original first choice, too.  Novachek said Bethel would prefer the all-underground route, but is committed to Configuration X.  Hannah said Wilton, like the other towns, preferred the F3 underground solution from the beginning.  But, he said, given Northeast Utilities reservations about the underground route Wilton compromised, along with the other towns, on Configuration X.

"Certainly if the Siting Council, in its wisdom, were to decide on the F3 option, we would certainly accede to that," he said. "But we are somewhat constrained by the agreement that we have come up with.  We don't really have a choice (other than Configuration X) because we've made a deal." Wilton, he said, "is not inclined to break that deal." "The danger of trying to break that deal is that if we break it, then Northeast Utilities can break it -- and they all along have preferred the overhead option." Knopp said basically the same thing in his Friday submission to the Siting Council. Responses from the four northern towns, he said, "will not accurately indicate whether the four towns prefer Configuration X over F3, but only that the towns prefer Configuration X over the original all above-ground NU proposal!"

"The worst outcome," Knopp wrote, "is that the Siting Council will be delegating its authority to make the final transmission configuration decision to NU." Hannah said Knopp's assessment of the implied NU threat to return to its all-overhead proposal is probably correct.  "Nothing as far as the Siting Council is off the table," he said. "The Siting Council is legally free to force an all above-ground solution, legally free to force an all-underground solution -- and, of course, it has the right to design the line itself, if you will. Certainly there are a whole bunch of options that have been presented that it could use as a guideline."

Bliss said he doesn't know how to assess the possibility of an overhead route.  "I don't pretend to read what's on other people's minds," he said of Northeast Utilities. "That's why I'm going (to the Siting Council meeting) Monday. I think we're all going Monday to find out what the deliberation is, now that they've had all the information and a chance to digest it and the staff has looked it over thoroughly. We're very interested in listening to their discussion, the rationale for reaching whatever conclusion they reach." Novachek, in Bethel, said that after two years' work on the power line proposal, "it's time to make a decision." "The Siting Council, I believe, has two viable options (F3 and Configuration X) and I think rather than playing with it, which I don't believe is their duty, they need to deal with the application as it stands, not go out and design something new." Novachek, specifically ruled out a proposal put forth by Siting Council Chairwoman Pamela Katz and three other council members at the end of June. That proposal, Configuration XX, changed the compromise route, surfacing some lines that were to be buried and stringing them overhead on poles.  Novachek said she would "never ever, ever, ever support the (Configuration XX) suggestion they made."


NU, towns asked for stance on power line
By Matt Breslow - Stamford ADVOCATE Staff Writer
July 10, 2003 the Connecticut Siting Council is confused about whether Northeast Utilities plans to bury the entire 345-kilovolt Bethel-to-Norwalk power line.  The answer, an NU spokesman reiterated yesterday, is a resounding "no."

Because a document NU and the town of Bethel jointly filed June 27 elicited varying interpretations -- even from NU and Bethel -- the Siting Council is asking both parties and Redding, Weston and Wilton to clarify which design they prefer before the panel makes a decision this month.

In letters that seek responses by tomorrow, the Siting Council offers NU and the four towns a simple choice:  Either reiterate support for the compromise design they announced in March, or endorse an all-underground route.  The Siting Council could make a final ruling on the Bethel-to-Norwalk line at a special meeting on the project Monday.

NU spokesman Frank Poirot yesterday said his company plans to submit a response to the Siting Council's letter echoing a statement he made last week:  Despite speculation to the contrary, NU does not favor an all-underground route.  Siting Council Executive Director Derek Phelps said he sent the letters seeking clarification because the document NU and Bethel jointly filed last month said that an all-underground line would be adequately reliable, evoking speculation the company decided it now prefers that option.

In the wake of the NU/Bethel filing, Redding, Weston and Wilton officials submitted a document on June 30 asking the Siting Council to "strongly consider" forcing NU to bury the entire line.  Norwalk filed a document July 1 stating it appeared NU and the four towns were endorsing an all-underground line, and urging the Siting Council to agree to that design as well.

Phelps said the Siting Council is seeking clarification on the positions of NU and the four towns because the compromise design announced in March would bury only part of the project, while placing 345-kilovolt lines above ground in other places -- including in Norwalk, where 130-foot poles would be erected.  "We felt that it was appropriate to ask that they clarify their position," Phelps said.  Poirot said NU still supports the four-town compromise announced in March.

Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss said his town along with Redding and Wilton -- and possibly Bethel -- will submit a joint response telling the Siting Council they continue to support the settlement with NU.  Bliss said the response will state that before the compromise was reached, the
towns had called for NU to bury the entire line. The towns will resume support for an all-underground line only if NU decides to make that design its preference, Bliss said.  An attorney for Bethel declined to say what his town's response will be, because it has not yet been filed with the Siting Council.

Phelps said he did not send a letter to Norwalk requesting clarification of the city's position on the project because Norwalk was not part of the settlement with NU.  After speculation emerged that NU had changed its stance at the eleventh hour, Poirot last week said there was no new information in the company's joint filing with Bethel, which was submitted simply to correct a perceived misunderstanding on the Siting Council's part.

The Siting Council had begun deliberating on the Bethel-to-Norwalk project last month, and discussed two possible alternatives to the four-town settlement. One change would shorten the height of poles in Norwalk, while the other would increase the number of above-ground lines in Bethel.  Poirot said NU believes the Siting Council raised the proposed changes, which angered Bethel officials, out of concerns about the compromise design's reliability. The June 27 filing was simply meant to ease the Siting Council's fears about the settlement, Poirot said.

He said NU's response to the Siting Council's recent query will state the company's first choice for the Bethel-to-Norwalk line would have been placing the entire project above ground, for economic and reliability reasons.  However, Poirot said NU will make it clear the company continues to honor the agreement it made with Bethel, Redding, Weston and Wilton. The recent changes to the compromise design mulled by the Siting Council are also acceptable to NU, Poirot said.

He said the company's response to the Siting Council will reiterate an all-underground line would be adequately reliable, but not as dependable as the compromise design.


Powerline plan uncertain
By HAROLD F. COBIN Hour Correspondent, June 18, 2003
REGION -- A proposed revision to a plan to run high-voltage power lines from Bethel to Norwalk is a deal-breaker, according to Bethel's Republican First Selectman Judith A. Novachek, who said she was "furious" that lines that were to run below ground would, instead, be strung above ground between poles.

"What the hell did we go down this road for?" asked Novachek of her town's negotiations with Northeast Utilities. "Why didn't they say upfront, 'Look, this is the way it's going to be.'" Novachek responded Tuesday to a proposal by members of the state's Siting Council to route high-voltage power lines around Bethel's Educational Park above ground, rather than have them follow two below-ground paths.  Bethel was one of four towns north of Norwalk that negotiated a plan with Northeast Utilities, announced in March and called Configuration X, to place much of a new 345-kilovolt circuit below ground within their borders that the utility had intended run above ground between poles as tall as 130 feet.  The other towns were Redding, Weston and Wilton, with the agreement resulting in the 345-kilovolt circuit completely bypassing Weston.

In announcing the proposed revision to that agreement Monday, the chairwoman of the state's Siting Council, Pamela B. Katz, said the benefit to Bethel of modifying the agreement would be moving an existing 115-kilovolt overhead transmission line off the Educational Park's property.  But under the revision, the 115-kilovolt circuit would be strung between poles along with the new 345-kilovolt lines through an area where the agreement called for them to be buried.

Putting the 345-kilovolt lines above ground would eliminate the need to use a type of cable NU has described as technically difficult to install and of uncertain reliability at that voltage.  Katz revealed the proposal, called Configuration 20, at the council's New Britain headquarters during a meeting where its members reviewed a revised report on the proposed 345-kilovolt Bethel-to-Norwalk circuit.  Katz said she and three other members of the council, working as a sub-committee, developed the proposal unbeknownst to the rest of the council, the utility, or other interested parties, few of whom sent representatives to the sparsely attended meeting.

The proposal also calls for burying one of two existing aboveground 115-kilovolt lines in Norwalk, along with a 27.6-kilovolt line, leaving another above-ground, 115-kilovolt line in place. As a result, the new 345-kilovolt lines could be strung between structures either 90- or 108-feet tall, instead of the 130-foot-tall monopoles the utility planned to install along its existing right-of-way from Wilton to its Norwalk sub-station on New Canaan Avenue.

Mayor Alex Knopp did not respond to a request Tuesday to comment on the sub-committee's proposal. NU spokesman Frank Poirot said on Tuesday that the company's initial response to the proposal was that it found the council's "attention to reliability encouraging," referring to its eliminating the need to use a type of cable in the 345-kilovolt circuit the company believes might be undependable.

Poirot said the company needed more time from an engineering standpoint to consider what the proposal's new route around the Bethel Educational Park would entail before commenting on that aspect of it.  At the same time, Poirot said, the final decision on the overall project is "far from over" in the council, whose members, he said, need more time to consider Configuration 20.

In Norwalk, the project has drawn vehement opposition, particularly from residents in the Silvermine and Broad River areas of the city, where the new 345-kilovolt circuit would follow an existing right-of-way adjacent to Route 7 that already has poles 71 to 100 feet tall.  "Obviously it's a lot better than 130-foot-tall poles," said Leigh Grant, president of the Norwalk Association of Silvermine Homeowners, "but it's still (an overhead) 345-kilovolt line, which is scary." Grant, who wants the new circuit to be entirely underground, said she felt health and safety issues have been "thrown away" during the planning process, adding, "I'm really concerned about (electro-magnetic fields), and really concerned about the line breaking."

Grant said she believes NU is wedded to using overhead transmission systems, and has the money and technical experts to force their acceptance.
"We've said all along (NU) is using 19th-century technology. I think (they) sold their information to the Siting Council and they bought it."  Norwalk state Rep. Robert Duff, D-137, said he advised taking a wait-and-see attitude on the proposal.  Duff, who has been actively presenting the concerns of residents about the power lines throughout the planning process, saluted the Siting Council "for acting as an independent body, as it should be."

Duff described Katz as "a pretty smart lady who wants to help Norwalk." But from Bethel's perspective, Novachek takes the opposite view.  "I don't know where on earth she's coming from," said Novachek of Katz's proposal, "and I absolutely will not stand still and say that it's going to be buried in Redding and Wilton, and it's not going to be buried here. They damn well are not going to do that." Katz said Monday she wants the council to conduct a final vote on the project July 22.


Shorter poles possible
By HAROLD F. COBIN, June 17, 2003 HOUR
NEW BRITAIN -- Four members of the state's Siting Council announced Monday a proposal to modify an agreed-upon plan for running high-voltage power lines from Bethel to Norwalk that would allow shorter support structures to be used to carry the lines through Norwalk while increasing the overall reliability of the project.  Dubbed Configuration 20 by the council members who met as a sub-committee to develop it, the proposal also calls for routing the new and existing transmission lines around the Bethel Educational Park, and eliminates the need for an above-to-below ground transition station on Whittlesey Drive in that town.

It also would eliminate the need along any portion of the 345-kilovolt circuit to use a type of cable that the utility said is technically difficult to install and of uncertain reliability at that voltage.  The proposal was revealed at a meeting of the full council after its members reviewed and requested changes to the latest draft of the Findings of Fact about the project prepared by the council's staff.

The Configuration 20 proposal would modify Configuration X, a plan hashed out between the project's sponsor, Northeast Utilities, and the four towns north of Norwalk the line was originally routed to travel through: Bethel, Redding, Weston and Wilton.  Commonly referred to as the "Four Towns Agreement," Configuration X would eliminate the need for the 345-kilovolt circuit to go through Weston.

According to documentation from the Siting Council released Monday, before Configuration 20, 18 configurations had been proposed for the new transmission line, including so-called "mix and match" configurations that varied where and by how much it would run below ground.  The documentation said the project as originally proposed by NU with an all-overhead route had an estimated capital cost in 2002 dollars of $124 million. Each plan thereafter that included greater and greater lengths of the circuit below ground showed increased projected costs, with NU estimating Configuration X to cost $177 million.

No cost was discussed Monday to implement Configuration 20.  The Siting Council serves as arbiter between applicants and local interests in deciding where the infrastructure of power companies, hazardous waste generators, and telecommunications providers may be placed.  The utility intends to run 345 kV transmission lines along an existing right-of-way from Plumtree sub-station in Bethel to Norwalk sub-station on New Canaan Avenue. Under Configuration X, the lines would stretch 26.6 miles.  NU has argued that running a high-voltage power line underground a distance of 20 miles or more would require greater use of cable encased in a conduit filled with an insulating fluid under high pressure. During a public hearing on the proposed transmission line, the fluid was described as non-toxic, but remained a risk of leaking into the ground.

As an alternative, the utility said it could use a non-fluid-insulated solid cable called cross-linked polyethylene cable, or XLPE, but said it is of unproven reliability at 345 kV.  Under Configuration 20, XLPE cable would be used only for the 115 kV circuit, which the utility considers a reliable application.

The planned 345 kV Bethel-to-Norwalk circuit has been a target of fierce opposition since Northeast Utilities applied to the state to install it in October 2001 because, as originally proposed, it would be strung between 130-foot-tall monopoles.  Under a plan negotiated between the utility and Bethel, Redding, Weston and Wilton announced in March, substantial portions of the circuit would run below ground in those communities. But beginning in Wilton, the line would rise aboveground at "Norwalk Junction," a location south of the intersection of routes 7 and 33 opposite the USA Storage facility. From there, it would run parallel to Route 7, suspended on 130-foot-tall monopoles, to NU's Norwalk sub-station on New Canaan Avenue.

The revised and at the time little publicized plan drew a storm of opposition from Norwalk residents when they learned the city had not participated in the agreement. The height of the poles has drawn sharp opposition from residents in the Silvermine and Broad River areas of the city, which border the existing right-of-way with poles 71 to 100 feet tall.

From the beginning, the issue of contention between the utility and the affected municipalities has been over how much of the circuit must be above ground. The utility has argued that running it underground will make it more costly and less reliable, while the communities objected to its impact on property values where it was above ground.

For Norwalk, Configuration 20 calls for burying one of two existing aboveground 115 kV lines, along with a 27.6 kV line, leaving another aboveground 115 kV line in place. As a result, the new 345 kV lines could be strung between structures either 90 or 108 feet tall.  In Bethel, an existing 115 kV circuit that runs above ground through the Bethel Educational Park would be re-routed around the park above ground with the new 345 kV circuit.

Besides CSC Chairman is Pamela B. Katz, Configuration 20 was developed by the council's vice chairman, Colin C. Tait, Brian J. Emerick, designee for Arthur J. Rocque Jr., the state's commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, and member Philip T. Ashton.  During several straw votes on Monday after Configuration 20 was announced, council members expressed numerous misgivings about the circuit's proposed route.

In opening discussion on Configuration 20, Katz said it was proposed "in the spirit of trying to preserve the (Four Towns) settlement, and perhaps improve upon it." Katz said she thought the council should "do something" for Norwalk, "even though Norwalk didn't camp out at our door the way the other towns did." Katz indicated she would not endorse Configuration 20 if it resulted in the four towns demanding to reopen negotiations with NU, a view not shared by Tait, who said, "We should be influenced by the settlement, but not bound by the settlement."

"They have a settlement. Leave it alone," said Gerald J. Heffernan, designee of Donald W. Downes, the chairperson of the state's Department of Public Utility Control.  Heffernan called Configuration 20 "a terrible risk" because the council did not know what was considered when the towns negotiated with NU. In response, council member Daniel P. Lynch Jr. said the towns "worked out a compromise. This is another compromise. If we can't tweak this plan, why are we here?"

"I think we started out with a Ford and ended up with a Ferrari," said council member Brian O'Neill of the range of proposals the project has elicited.  O'Neill said current technology prevents his preference of putting the entire circuit underground, adding, "Anytime there is this much undergrounding, there are going to be unknown costs. I'd be surprised if this project comes in on budget." Katz said the negotiated agreement between NU and the towns resulted in something that is "technically not the best solution," and not "the best engineering." Katz said that had revisions to the route originally proposed by NU been left up to the council, it would have less "porpoising," the utility's term for a power line that repeatedly transitions from above- to below ground.

Configuration X "has Flipper and he's brought along several of his friends," Katz said.  Monday's meeting concluded with Katz saying she would direct the council's staff to revise the project's draft of Findings of Fact based on comments the members made, and to prepare a draft Opinion, Decision and Order, which will state the council's decision on whether and how to install the new circuit.  Katz said she intended to have a vote on the Opinion, Decision and Order at special meeting July 22.

NU wants to install the 345 kV circuit because southwestern Connecticut is considered a "congested" area by power officials, with inadequate local generation capability, and where the transmission lines into the area approach capacity during heavy summertime demands for electricity.  In the past, the cost of installing transmission lines in New England has been spread across the region's entire ratepayer base, known as "socialization." But after 2007, the cost of installing the new 345 kV transmission line could be borne only by the ratepayers in southwestern Connecticut.



Underground mandate fails
By HAL BROWN - Hour Staff Writer, Friday, June 6, 2003
NORWALK -- A last-minute attempt in the legislature to mandate the burial of the Norwalk portion of the 345,000-volt Phase 1 Bethel-Norwalk power line failed after fierce opposition from other towns along the route of Northeast Utilities' proposed 345-kilovolt projects.  State Rep. Bob Duff, D-137, successfully attached an amendment last week that would have required the last five miles of the Bethel-Norwalk project to be placed underground. His amendment was added to House Bill 6682, sponsored by Wallingford State Rep. Mary Fritz, D-90. Her bill sought to require that Connecticut Siting Council not approve the 345-kilovolt Phase 2 (Norwalk-Middletown) line unless it was placed underground in all residential neighborhoods and overhead in commercial and industrial areas.

Objections to Duff's rider came immediately from the towns north of Norwalk on the Phase 1 line -- Bethel, Redding, Wilton and Weston.  "We all had concerns, those of us that have been involved in this (Phase 1 controversy) from Day One, in terms of the agreement reached by my towns, that this would upset the entire apple cart should (Duff's amendment) go through," said state Sen. Judith Freedman, R-26. "I think it was a threat to everybody who came to the table and made the agreement." That so-called "Four Towns" agreement placed the 345-kilovolt line underground for more than half the distance in the Phase 1 project. Near the Wilton-Norwalk line, however, Northeast Utilities proposes to string the line on 130-foot overhead power poles. Northeast Utilities and the four municipalities announced the agreement in late March.

Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp has since criticized the agreement, saying Northeast Utilities misled the city about available technologies and that the city was surprised by the agreement between the four towns and NU because those talks were protected by a confidentiality agreement that prevented discussing the negotiations.  Knopp announced that although Norwalk was not a party to the agreement, he had sought assurances from NU that it would not extend high voltage lines across Norwalk to serve "Phase 3," a projected line from the Manresa Island power plant to Long Island to sell electricity to the Long Island market.

At a Siting Council hearing on the Phase 1 compromise last month, Knopp argued that Norwalk's portion should be placed underground.  The Siting Council in effect told Norwalk and NU to work out their differences and return to the council with a plan, and that it would issue a ruling only if the differences could not be worked out.  Duff's amendment sought to legislatively mandate burial of the line.  State Rep. Lawrence Cafero, R-142, said that although the amendment passed the House, representatives knew it would have difficulties in the Senate. Representatives from Phase 1 communities were afraid the provision would affect their already-negotiated agreement, he said, while legislators from Phase 2 communities did not want a provision regarding Phase 1 to clutter up a bill that was aimed at the Phase 2 project.

Other objections, he said, came from legislators who said the legislature was trying to preempt the Siting Council's authority to dictate the placement of power lines and other projects.  In the interim between Friday and Wednesday, 29 amendments were offered to the bill. All those were stripped out, along with Duff's amendment, and the bill was presented the House at 11:50 p.m. Wednesday.

"This was the compromise that the chairs and ranking members of the committees put together that they thought would get everybody's approval, which basically it did," Freedman said.  The resulting bill now says basically what it originally did before the amendments. It said that there is "a rebuttable presumption" that portions of the Phase 2 line in residential areas that are buried meet "a public benefit." Portions of the line in commercial and industrial areas, the bill said, are presumed to meet "a public need." In regulatory terms a "public need" is sometimes considered a more difficult proposition to prove than is a "public benefit." Freedman said the effect is to set a lower standard for proponents of burying the line.

"That was pretty much the explanation we received on the floor, so that made sense to me," she said. "It doesn't have any impact on any of the agreement that have already been made, which from my vantage point was very important." For Norwalk residents opposed to power lines in their neighborhoods, the outlook is unclear.  Cafero said the passage of the bill prejudices negotiations with Northeast Utilities over the Norwalk portion of the phase1 345kVproject.

"They don't have to give in to anything," he said.  Northeast Utilities corporate spokesman Frank Poirot said the company isn't sure what the legislation will mean.  "We should have a clearer idea of what it says tomorrow (Friday)," he said. "We don't know what impact it would have on Phase 1, which is really in the Siting Council's hands right now." As for the difference between "public need" and "public benefit" for Phase 2, NU doesn't think there is a distinction, he said.  "We're still trying to figure out if (underground construction) is mandated or strongly recommended," he said. "We'll probably know that tomorrow after we've had a chance to look at it some more."



Electricity Legislation Headed For Rowland's Desk;  House Approves Bill Aimed At Creating Competitive Market
By MICHAEL COSTANZA, New London DAY Staff Writer
Published on 5/28/2003
Hartford — The state House of Representatives approved legislation Tuesday that will set a higher price cap for the sale of electricity, sending the measure to Gov. John G. Rowland, who intends to sign it.

The proposal, which cleared the Senate last week, will mean bigger electric bills for most Connecticut consumers, who on average are likely to pay at least $5 or $6 more per month per home. Supporters argue that it will protect consumers from much more drastic price spikes, however, while raising prices enough to attract new suppliers and creating the competitive market that lawmakers envisioned when they first deregulated the
state's electric industry in 1998.

“We don't expect competition to develop overnight ... certainly not in the attention span of this legislature,” said state Rep. Terry Backer, D-Stratford, who crafted the new bill with Sen. Melodie Peters, D-Waterford. But Backer said the bill improves the 1998 law, ensures that the
state's utilities can remain in business, and sets new standards to promote the use of renewable energy sources to protect the environment.

The bill caps rates at 1996 levels, an increase of about 10 percent, until Jan. 1, 2007. The current cap, known as the standard offer, is set to expire at the end of this year. Consumer advocates have predicted that electric rates will jump dramatically without a new cap in place.  Lawmakers say the state needs to increase the cap because it was set too low in 1998.  New suppliers have been unable to match the standard-offer rate and still make a profit, making it nearly impossible for a competitive market to emerge. A few companies have entered the market but dropped out, leaving Northeast Utilities and United Illuminating as the state's dominant suppliers.

The House passed the bill Tuesday on a vote of 121 to 25 after nearly four hours of debate. Critics sought to eliminate some of the extra fees that utilities will receive, extend the standard offer for residential customers, and set smaller rate increases tied to the consumer price index, but all amendments failed by wide margins.

“We would never have passed any bill (in 1998) if the companies didn't agree to it,” said state Rep. Vickie Nardello, D-Prospect, who led the House effort to defeat the rate increase. “They are now asking us to pay them more money for what they agreed to do in 1998.”   Nardello and other opponents argued that many residential customers could actually end up paying about $16 more each month, with increases possibly topping 20 percent after counting increases from federal mandates. She complained that lawmakers have flip-flopped the purpose of the 1998 law. “Wasn't our goal to lower prices by generating competition,” she asked rhetorically, “or was it to generate competition by increasing prices?”

But supporters of the legislation warned that Connecticut could face an energy crisis increase if it keeps rates artificially low and forces utilities to operate at a loss as their costs increase.  “The real question is not what are the utilities getting out of this bill,” said Rep. Kevin DelGobbo, R-Naugatuck. “The real question is what are the ratepayers getting out of this bill. It is fundamentally in the best interests of ratepayers to ensure the viability of these suppliers. These utilities are not companies like Joe's Hardware down the street, where if it goes under, we just go to Home Depot instead.” Utility companies are the tires on which Connecticut's economy rolls along, he said.

DelGobbo is the ranking member of the legislature's Energy and Technology Committee, of which Peters and Backer are co-chairmen. The committee leaders negotiated the new legislation over the last 18 months with consumer advocates, retail and wholesale electricity providers and federal regulators.  Backer highlighted provisions in the bill that are meant to clean up Connecticut's air and protect the environment. The measures include a plan to gradually increase the state's proportion of electricity drawn from renewable, clean energy sources —such as wind, solar and hydropower — from one-half of a percent to 10 percent by 2009. Critics have complained that the 1998 law set impossibly high requirements for so-called green
energy.

Rowland's spokeswoman, Michele Sullivan, said the governor would likely sign the bill on Monday. “He believes it contains a good balance of protections for consumers as well as the electric industry,” she said.  Only three Republicans voted against the bill Tuesday, along with 22 Democrats. One of the Republicans, Rep. Diana Urban, R-North Stonington, said she believed the rate increase would pose too much of a financial burden on small businesses, the elderly and other residents on fixed incomes.

But Rep. Michael Caron, R-Danielson, said the state should deregulate the electric industry altogether and eliminate the price controls to spur competition and ultimately bring prices down.  “Artificial price caps encourage waste and reduce conservation,” Caron said, and hurt the environment by making it financially difficult for green power suppliers to do business in Connecticut.



Electricity Competition Bill OK'd By State Senate;  Price-control Measure Would Impact Consumers
By MICHAEL COSTANZA, New London Day Staff Writer
Published on 5/27/2003

Hartford — Consumers would pay more for electricity under legislation that passed the state Senate last week and heads to the House of Representatives today. The bill is intended to improve upon the 1998 deregulation law that failed to create competition.  The new legislation is intended to protect consumers from drastic price spikes, while increasing price caps enough to generate competition.

The changes would add about $5 or $6 to the average consumer's monthly bill. The state Senate voted 33-2 last week to approve the plan.  Besides controlling electricity prices, the proposal is meant to clean up Connecticut's air by requiring utilities over the next several years to draw more energy from renewable sources, such as fuel cells, solar power and wind.  The plan is the result of 18 months of negotiations among legislators, consumer advocates, retail and wholesale electricity providers and federal regulators.

“It's our hope that this will turn the electricity market around the same way competition turned around telephone long-distance rates,” said state Sen. Melodie Peters, D-Waterford, the chief architect of the 1998 deregulation law and this year's changes. “The more competitive the market becomes, the lower the rates will be.”

Lawmakers have made it a priority to pass the legislation before they adjourn June 4, because the price controls put in place in 1998 will expire at the end of this year. The new plan calls for raising the rate cap about 10 percent. The new cap would remain in place through the end of 2006.  "We need to increase those rates in order for the market to be viable, but to make sure they (utilities) don't go hog wild, we're capping the rates,” Peters said.  The changes are supposed to make right what the 1998 act got wrong.

The deregulation law divided the generation, transmission and sale of electricity into separate businesses, forcing utilities to sell their power plants. Lawmakers hoped new suppliers would enter the market and electricity prices would drop as a result of competition.  For consumers who didn't choose a new supplier, the law required large companies — such as Northeast Utilities and United Illuminating — to provide electricity at a "standard offer” rate, which the state set at 10 percent below the rates charged in 1996, thus guaranteeing savings for consumers.

The price controls stifled the new market, however, and lawmakers now concede that they set the rate too low. Suppliers have been unable to beat, or even match, the standard-offer rate and still make a profit.  A few companies, such as the Connecticut Energy Cooperative and Green Mountain Energy Co., entered the market but soon dropped out. Those two companies had hoped to attract consumers by promising to supply electricity only from environmentally friendly, renewable-energy sources.  “Unfortunately, we set the standard offer so low they just couldn't compete,” Peters said.  “Especially if they were buying green energy, which tends to be more expensive.”

By allowing the 10 percent increase, the new plan effectively caps rates at 1996 levels.  Supporters hope the higher cap will lure new suppliers into the market and help keep current suppliers in business while protecting the state's nearly 1.5 million consumers from “sticker shock” in the meantime.

“This allows a balance. It lets the distribution companies make the investments we need to ensure a safe and reliable infrastructure, while mitigating any dramatic price increase for consumers,” said Chris Riley, spokesman for Connecticut Light & Power, the largest subsidiary of Northeast Utilities. The company distributes electricity to more than 1 million customers in 149 cities and towns.  A typical consumer with a monthly bill of 500 kilowatt-hours, which hovers around $61, should end up paying about $6.25 more, Riley said.  The new law does not directly impact municipal utilities, which remain exempt from the deregulation legislation. There are municipally operated electric utilities in the City of Groton, Jewett City, Bozrah and Norwich.  Consumer advocates are not thrilled with the extra fees that the utilities would earn, but they support the overall proposal nonetheless.

“We think it's a good bill,” said Bruce Johnson, litigation attorney for the state Office of Consumer Counsel, which works specifically on utility issues. “It has a lot of protections in it, not only with rate-relief goals, but also for the environment.”  The environmental measures include a plan to gradually increase Connecticut's proportion of renewable, clean energy sources, such as wind, solar and hydropower.  Critics have complained that the 1998 law set impossibly high requirements for the amount of electricity that suppliers had to draw from green sources, so this year's
legislation reduces the levels — at first.

The requirement starts at half a percent and rises to 10 percent by 2009, said state Rep. Terry Backer, D-Stratford, who serves with Peters as co-chairman of the legislature's Energy and Technology Committee.  The gradual increase in clean sources of electricity is intended to reduce Connecticut's dependence on oil and gas.  “We have some of the worst air in the country,” Backer said.   Both Backer and Peters expect the House to approve the legislation today, sending it to Gov. John G. Rowland, but the debate there will probably contain a bit more drama than in the Senate.

“The House has some more liberal members who feel the distribution companies should get nothing,” Peters said. “But you can't do that and expect them to have the resources they need to keep the lights on.”




From Wednesday, September 10, 2003 DAY:
Governors Blast Change In Rules On Factory Pollution.  In Groton, They Say U.S.-Canada Clean-air Commitment Violated
By GEORGINA GUSTIN
Groton— Leaders from New England states and eastern Canadian provinces sharply criticized the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday, saying that a recent rule change by the Bush administration violates a commitment made by the two countries to clean up the air and will allow older factories to continue spewing dangerous pollutants that contaminate
northeastern skies.

At the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers, held at the Mystic Marriott, all six New England governors and five Canadian premiers supported a resolution calling for the Bush administration to change its stance on the rule change announced two weeks ago. The change will allow older power plants to upgrade their facilities without adding pollution controls required by the Clean Air Act.

“We're worried, we're concerned this is a backward step,” said Jean Charest, the premier of the province of Quebec, who added he believed the rule change was a “backing away” from the two countries' commitments to controlling cross-border air pollution.  Gov. John G. Rowland, co-chairman of the two-day conference, said the rule change was of great concern to all the northeastern states and their attorneys general. “We are all very disappointed with the EPA's decision of two weeks ago,” Rowland said.

As much as 50 percent of the Northeast's air quality problems stem from older, coal-fired plants in the Midwest, particularly the Ohio River Valley, which belch the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides that lead to acid rain and smog.  If those plants, and others, are allowed to operate without adding pollution controls, northeastern efforts to clean up the air will be useless, officials fear.

According to Chris Recchia, executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Ozone Transport Commission, emissions from “point sources” like     power plants have been reduced by 60 percent in New England through various programs. But, Recchia said, “we are running out of tools and last week's announcement by the Bush administration to minimize the ... rules will further exacerbate the situation.”

When the Clean Air Act was adopted in the early 1970s, lawmakers exempted older power plants from new emissions standards, assuming those   plants would eventually cease operations.  Instead, plants continued to upgrade, extending their operations without complying with the federal rules. To combat this, in 1977, the so-called New Source Review Provision was added to a newly updated Clean Air Act, which said that older plants had to add new pollution controls when they upgraded but not when they conducted “routine maintenance.”

The change announced two weeks ago by the Bush administration expands the definition of routine maintenance by saying power plants can spend 20 percent of the cost of the main generating unit, called a “process unit,” of the plant to replace other equipment.  That means, critics say, that as many as 17,000 old power plants can each spend millions of dollars extending their operations without adding pollution controls.

The EPA, however, says the re-definition of the equipment replacement provision will allow power plants to more efficiently control pollution on their own.  Attorneys general from New York and Connecticut say they plan to challenge the rule, and have filed lawsuits challenging previous changes to the New Source Provision.   “This resolution is highly significant as an official bipartisan repudiation of the Bush administration's anti-environment policies in support of our fight in court,” said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in a statement Tuesday. “This united front by all New Englanders sends a message: We will not surrender. We will confront and defeat the administration's dictatorial edict illegally gutting the law and inflicting death and disease on our citizens. This historic initiative should give the administration a solid jolt of legal and political reality.”

Lawmakers said Tuesday they hoped the resolution will prompt the administration to rescind the rule change before the lawsuits progress.  “It really is a significant statement,” said Brooke Suter of the Connecticut Climate Coalition.  “I think the message is that the governors and premiers (whose states and provinces) are greatly affected by this air pollution are not going to stand for a weakening of the laws that should be there to protect the citizens. We would hope that this signal would encourage other governors in the states to similarly stand up for the health of their citizens.”

The resolution adopted Tuesday also calls on the EPA to “uphold the spirit and the letter of the Clean Air Agreement between Canada and the United States.”  That agreement, signed in 1990, committed both countries to controlling trans-border pollution.



Power Grid Ills Dominate Governors' Discussion;  New England, Canadian Leaders Seek Expansion
By GEORGINA GUSTIN, Tuesday, September 9, 2003 DAY:
Groton— New England and Canadian leaders and power industry executives, who met at a governors' conference here Monday, said the region's chronically stressed transmission grid badly needs expansion and enforceable, regionwide rules.

The governors of the New England states and the premiers of eastern Canadian provinces are meeting at the Mystic Marriott Hotel for their      annual three-day conference.  They heard Monday that while the Northeastern region has ample power from a range of generation sources throughout the New England states, New York and Canada, bottlenecks in the transmission lines prevent power from reliably reaching areas where the demand is greatest.  Those include southwestern Connecticut, which lost power during the mid-August blackout.

“It's a very weak, stretched system,” said Stephen G. Whitley, vice president and chief operating officer of ISO-New England, the company that manages the New England power grid. “In Connecticut we drastically need more transmission if we can get it.”  In fact, leaders pointed out, some power generators in New England are facing bankruptcy because the power they generate has no place to go. Yet in southwestern Connecticut, older, inefficient and polluting generators still need to operate to serve customers there because insufficient lines bring in power from elsewhere.

"If you can't get it out on the system,” Whitley said, “you may as well not have it.”  The goal of deregulating the power industry, a process that began in the 1990s, was to enhance supply reliability by interconnecting power suppliers in different states and Canadian provinces, as well as to bring costs down for the consumers.

But the newly interconnected system and the competitive marketplace have flooded an outdated transmission system with more power than it can reasonably handle, constraining the flow of inexpensive, cleaner power to consumers.  Additionally, experts say, the industry is not required to adhere to standardized rules, creating inconsistencies from place to place.  “Reliability standards must become mandatory,” said Gordon van Welie, the president and chief executive of ISO New England, adding that there should be penalties for companies that fail to meet the rules.

“The secret to making deregulation successful is to have adequate infrastructure,” van Welie said at Monday's conference. “The other thing is to
have good market rules.”  Welie and others also stressed the need to remove barriers to improving the transmission system. In Connecticut, for example, the construction of two high-voltage cables needed to pipe power into Fairfield County has stalled because local communities don't want the cable running through their towns. Welie said he believes states should have control over siting approval for these lines, but that a centralized,
regional authority should also have some leverage if the states can't see the projects through on their own.

“We are having an awful lot of trouble siting transmission lines,” said David Boguslawski of Northeast Utilities, noting that Southwestern        Connecticut, which has the weakest part of the grid, uses 50 percent of the state's energy consumption. Boguslawski said that in order to       address the problem, the federal government should get involved, something New England leaders are hoping to avoid.

Canadian premiers in attendance at Monday's conference said they had ample power to continue exporting it to New England for now.  “We have more energy capacity than all of New England and the maritimes combined,” said Jean Charest, the premier of the Quebec province. But, he said, the province will reach capacity in 2005.

In the meantime, industry members said, at this point in the deregulation process, systems throughout the Northeast need to be synchronized.    “We are all interconnected as part of a system,” said Boguslawski. “But that has some ramifications... Sometimes the rules don't match the system.”



Some news...on another front:
CL&P surges ahead with power line plan
By Louis Porter, Stamford ADVOCATE Staff Writer
January 29, 2004
STAMFORD -- Connecticut Light & Power is moving ahead with a new power transmission line from Norwalk to Stamford that would bring more electricity to Stamford and Greenwich.

The proposed project would consist of two 115-kilovolt lines that would run side by side from the power substation on Norwalk's New Canaan Avenue to a substation on Hamilton Avenue in Stamford's Glenbrook neighborhood.

Earlier this month, the power company met with the first selectman and mayors of the towns through which the line would run and would talk to more elected officials in coming months. Public hearings may be held in the next two months, after which the company would present plans to the Connecticut Siting Council.

The utility hopes to start work on the project in 2006 and complete it in the following year, said Frank Poirot, a CL&P spokesman.  It is likely to be less controversial than CL&P's proposed 345-kilovolt line from Bethel to the Norwalk substation because the Stamford line is smaller and would be underground.

But determining the path of the transmission line -- installation of which is likely to result in closed roads and traffic delays -- may pit the interests of the four municipalities. The power line would either run to the north through New Canaan and Stamford or south through a large chunk of Norwalk and Darien.

The northern route would run alongside Route 123, across Farm Road and down Route 106 through Stamford.  "Our preferred route is the southern route," Stamford Democratic Mayor Dannel Malloy said. "We are looking at what is the least disruptive to the Stamford community."

To have Hope Street, a major throughway, tied up in construction would be a "disaster" for Stamford, Malloy said.

Republican First Selectman Judy Neville of New Canaan agreed.  "Our preference is obviously the southern route because we want to keep it out of New Canaan," she said.  To run the line through her town would add to its length, as well as mean construction on narrow roads, Neville said. It's unlikely the power line would be connected to the New Canaan substation, but if it were, that may make the northern route attractive.

Poirot said connecting New Canaan is a possibility, but no decision has been made.  The new power connection also would help reliability throughout the area by stabilizing the power grid, he said.

The second possible route would run farther south along Norwalk's Connecticut Avenue and the Post Road through Darien. That would be terrible for Norwalk, Democratic Mayor Alex Knopp said. Norwalk would already have to deal with the disruption from the Bethel to Norwalk line and a second phase of the power transmission project that would install a 345-kilovolt line from Norwalk to Middletown, he said.

The cumulative effect of these massive construction projects at the same time would be a substantial disruption of business and traffic along Norwalk's two main business corridors, Knopp said.

Norwalk "deserves some special consideration" because it would already be the site of power line construction, he said.  "Our part of the state needs to improve its electric system and everyone will have to play a role," Malloy said. Stamford has dealt with such problems, including the recent upgrade of the Glenbrook substation, which the power line from Norwalk would feed into.

Darien First Selectwoman Evonne Klein also would prefer the power line run through New Canaan, rather than along the Post Road.  "Darien is happy to do its part," she said. "We need to look out for our town and how this project will affect Darien."

When an accident stops cars on Interstate 95, traffic streams through Darien on the Post Road, she said. Having CL&P burying a large power line next to or under the road would make it that much worse, Klein said.  A bridge repair project is slated for the interstate overpass for the next few years.  That, combined with the power project, could tie up traffic in the center of town, she said.

The Norwalk to Stamford line, whatever route is chosen, almost would certainly be less controversial than the Bethel to Norwalk line, said Robert Forrester, a founder of the Woodlands Coalition, which opposed some aspects of the 345-kilovolt line.

Almost everyone agrees that southwestern Connecticut needs more power. And by burying the line, the risk of diminished property values and the fear over possible health problems from overhead lines are reduced, he said.

"I don't think they will get much opposition," Forrester said.



Earliest story (ISO New England) here...