Upper Cape Will Get Chance To Comment On Power Line Plans
By: Diana T. Barth
A hearing has been set for Tuesday, December 14, that will allow the public to comment on an NStar project that will change the way Cape Cod receives its power. That project, when complete, would add 18 miles of new transmission line running from Carver to a new substation in West Barnstable and end the region’s reliance on the Mirant Canal Plant in Sandwich for backup power.
The meeting, which will be held at 7 PM at the Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School on Sandwich Road in Bourne, is one of three being held in the region in conjunction with the proposal. This week, the first of those hearings was held in Carver, and, on Wednesday at 7 PM, one is set to be held at Barnstable High School on West Main Street in Hyannis.
Along with the proposed addition of a new power transmission line, the project will also change the skyline near the Cape Cod Canal. NStar is proposing to separate the two existing major transmission lines crossing the canal in Bournedale. Those two lines now cross the canal together, one on each side of a lattice tower. Under the NStar project, as proposed, the three lines will be strung on a series of monopoles about 100 to 115 feet high.
The monopoles, an NStar spokesman told Bourne officials last October when the project was first introduced, will have less visual impact on the area than the existing lattice towers, which are more massive, four-sided, pyramid-shaped steel structures.
In December of 2003, an incident occurred in which all of Cape Cod, Wareham, and part of Plymouth lost power. In the wake of that blackout, NStar had to put a contingency plan in place in case one or both of those transmission lines ever went out again. For the past several years, such a plan has involved the Mirant Canal Plant in Sandwich.
Under that short-term plan, a unit in that plant has run on standby 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing voltage support in times of high power usage. Starting in 2006, customers throughout the region began paying an “uplift charge” on their electric bills to pay for that backup supply.
The new transmission line that will be discussed at next Tuesday’s public hearing should provide a long-term solution to the Cape’s power needs, NStar has said. It would eliminate the need for the support unit at the Mirant plant, and thus also eliminate all uplift charges. The project will certainly have an impact on the Sandwich utility.
The proposed new transmission line “is being built to meet a specific need,” NStar spokesman Michael Durand said. What that means to the future of the Mirant plant, “will be a business decision made by the owners of that plant,” he said.
While the addition of a third major transmission line will not end Mirant plant operations, it will end an arrangement that has given that utility a guaranteed income. Therefore, the Sandwich plant may be faced with having to compete to sell the electricity that is now earmarked for backup voltage support for the Cape on the open market, utility experts have said.
The preferred route for the new line proposed by NStar uses existing rights-of-way. The line would pass though the Myles Standish State Forest station and then go south through Plymouth to Bournedale and over the canal before heading to Barnstable. No new transmission line construction would be needed on the Cape to go from the Bourne switchyard to the line’s end in West Barnstable.
A possible alternative route could go through Carver, Middleborough, Rochester, Wareham, Plymouth, and Bourne before taking the same route to the West Barnstable substation as the preferred option. The decision-making process that arrived at the preferred route, however, involved consideration of both environmental factors and impacts on residents and businesses, along with cost and construction impacts.
The preferred option would entail expanding NStar’s Carver substation. It would also involve 11.8 miles of new line running through Plymouth, along with the construction of what is called a “transition station” on three acres north of Yearling Run Road and east of Route 25, not far from the Plymouth/Bourne town line.
In Bourne, the proposed project will entail putting in a new overhead line from Bournedale Road to the canal, a new canal crossing, separating the two existing 345-kilovolt lines onto separate towers, and approximately a quarter mile of overhead line construction to the switchyard, which lies on the Bourne portion of the Massachusetts Military Reservation. In total, there will be 1.8 miles of new line in Bourne, less than a mile of which will be on the MMR.
The biggest impact, however, will be visual. Instead of the lattice-style transmission towers now in place, there will be three monopoles in Bournedale, for the three major lines and new monopoles across the canal on the MMR.
While there will be some voltage increases in the lines running through Sandwich, no physical work is planned for that town.
A new substation is planned at the terminus of the new major line, and will be built on one of two parcels in West Barnstable. One possible site is off Oak Street just north of Route 6; the other is off Service Road to the east of Capn Jacs Road.
When the project was discussed back in October, an NStar spokesman said the cost of the $110 million project would be spread among NStar customers in all six New England states over a 40-year period. For an average residential customer, that charge was estimated to be about 84 cents a year.
Next week’s public hearings will be conducted by the state’s nine-member Energy Facilities Siting Board. Its job is to determine that any new energy facilities will provide a reliable source of power with a minimum impact on the environment at the lowest possible cost.
For those who cannot attend a hearing, written comments can be sent to: Kathryn Sedor, Presiding Officer, Energy Facilities Siting Board, One South Station, Boston, MA 02110. The board can be reached at 617-305-3525.
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