Area utilities plan power network upgrade
ERVING — The area electric utilities plan an infrastructure upgrade project with a new transmission line and structures in Northfield and Erving, with regional service benefits and local tax benefits.
The plan is to string a new 1.2-mile, 115-kilovolt transmission line from the Northfield Mountain pumped-storage hydroelectric plant in Northfield to a new switching station planned in Erving, connecting a passing 115-kV National Grid transmission line to the plant.
The new connection is part of a transmission upgrade needed in the greater Greenfield area to make the system fully compliant with federal and regional reliability standards, according to a letter to the town from project manager Robert Carberry of Northeast Utilities. Carberry wrote studies managed by the Independent System Operator for New England documented the need.
“What we’re really looking to do is make sure we have a transmission system that can take a one-two punch,” Carberry said Tuesday.
The purpose of the project is to tap the power of the 345-kV interstate transmission system, routing it into the 115-kV system
“It’s got to be put in somebody’s town and everyone wants to know what’s the local benefit, but really it’s a regional benefit,” Carberry said.
On Monday, Carberry presented the project to the Erving Board of Selectmen requesting the town’s support in bypassing the town zoning process to seek a zoning dispensation at the state level.
Carberry said the project requires nine special permits or variances from provisions of Erving’s zoning bylaws, including structure height and noise restrictions, and it is industry practice to seek a zoning exemption from the Department of Public Utilities rather than seeking individual permissions from the relevant local boards.
Carberry said the DPU considers such exemptions when a town is clearly opposed to a project or supports the utility’s request. The project requires nine structures in Erving, Carberry said, with a risk of delay to the whole project if one or more is not eligible for a special permit or variance or if a particular board is slow to meet or rule.
Both the local process and the state process take a similar amount of time and consider similar factors, according to Carberry, including a public hearing.
The proposed switching station would sit in a depression at the northern base of Poplar Mountain, in an isolated area between Route 2 and Northfield Road. The entire project is to be constructed on land owned by WMECO, with the new transmission line running parallel to an existing line connecting the plant to a Ludlow substation.
The utility estimates the cost of the project in Erving at $30 million.
Jacquelyn Boyden, the town’s assistant assessor and a Planning Board member, said Tuesday she could not quantify the exact impact of the proposed project, but new taxable infrastructure would lower the tax burden on residents in Erving and qualify as new growth, increasing Erving’s tax levy limit.
The cost of the project will be shared by all electric customers in Western Massachusetts, Carberry said, but the impact is not likely to be noticeable with transmission being the smallest portion of most electric bills, and transmission costs often translating into energy savings.
Planning Board Chairman William Morris said the board, all three members of which are abutters to the project, support the plan.
“It’s a great location for it; it’s about as hidden as you can get,” Morris said. “We all like electricity. We all like it abundantly.”
The Board of Selectmen took no immediate action but deferred a decision on a letter of support to a joint meeting with the Zoning Board, Planning Board and Conservation Commission. That meeting was tentatively scheduled for Jan. 27.
The utility has requested the same letter of support in Northfield. The Northfield Selectboard on Tuesday voted to waive the town’s zoning process, with stipulations intended to protect the town from any potential costs from the project and requesting the utility consider gifting the town some form of energy-related project.
You can reach Chris Curtis at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 257