Despite opposition from local politicians, environmentalists and businessmen, an electric cable may soon link the New England and New York power grids.
The Connecticut Siting Council approved a proposal by the Cross-Sound Cable Co. to lay a 24-mile electrical cable between New Haven and Brookhaven, N.Y., on Long Island in an 8-0 vote Jan. 3.
The proposal calls for laying the cable six feet beneath the New Haven Navigation Channel, where the company said it would pose no danger to shellfish. The council rejected an alternate placement in March by a 7-1 vote because the cable could have harmed shellfish beds.
“The new route was certainly a major factor because it really addressed the concerns that the council had on the environmental impact of the project,” Cross-Sound Cable spokeswoman Rita Bowlby said. “The bottom line is that it’s going to keep the lights on in Connecticut.”
The electric cable still requires approval from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Both groups will likely approve the project by February.
Bowlby said work on laying the cable could begin in March, with transmission beginning in June. The cable will have the capacity to transport 330 megawatts of direct current power in either direction.
“Our goal in developing this project was to provide a safe and environmentally sound way to improve operational reliability in Connecticut and the region,” Cross-Sound Cable President Jeffrey Donahue said.
Despite the expected approval from the DEP and Army Corps next month, opponents of the project are not backing down.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal filed a motion late last week with the Siting Council urging reconsideration of the application and vowed to seek legal action if necessary.
“We will continue to fight these proposals, going to court if the council fails to reconsider this decision,” Blumenthal said.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said the cable would create an economic interest that would be at cross purposes with the viability of the harbor.
“Fundamentally, the channel exists as the major access to the busiest port in Connecticut and one of the biggest on the Eastern Seaboard,” he said. “And why we would want to compromise that resource to bolster a power grid — it’s absurd.”
Some opponents fear the cable would prevent future dredging of New Haven Harbor, the largest port in New England in terms of tonnage. But Cross-Sound Cable Co. does not expect dredging to be problematic.
“If the harbor is ever dredged, we have agreed to lift the cable up and put it back down afterward,” Bowlby said.
Another concern of politicians and businessmen is that the cable will primarily transmit power from New Haven to Brookhaven, leading to an increase in local electricity prices.
“They seemed to have focused on the environmental changes from the first filing and really didn’t reach any further to our issues of reliability and higher prices,” said Connecticut Consumer Counsel Mary Healey, who testified against the cable at the council’s hearings.
But Bowlby said electricity prices would in fact decrease.
“It probably will do the opposite,” Bowlby said. “Any kind of expansion with access to markets will promote a competitive marketplace which should lead to lower prices.”
Bowlby said the cable could save the state between $25 and $100 million annually by reducing costly power outages.
Opponents of the cable also expressed concern that federal influence led to the approval.
“It is extremely puzzling that the same siting council which turned this proposal down 7-1 in March suddenly does a complete 180 and approves it 8-0,” said Barbara Gordon, a Connecticut Seafood Council representative who fears that the cable and heat it creates still could harm shellfish. “There are no significant changes between the two projects. We’re concerned that there has been pressure from somewhere above and the decision was not based on the evidence.”
White House officials cited the denial of Cross Sound Cable’s previous proposal in the May 2001 National Energy Policy as an example of a state siting council failing to address the energy needs of other states.
“A recent decision by regulators in Connecticut to block a proposed transmission line to Long Island did not recognize the need for electricity on Long Island,” the report reads. “Some state siting laws require that the benefits of a proposed transmission facility accrue to the individual state, resulting in the rejection of transmission proposals that benefit an entire region, rather than a single state.”
But Bowlby denied any claims that the company turned to federal pressure to pass the application.
“Oh, that’s a lot of baloney,” Bowlby said. “Our group is not that influential.”