CSC: Docket 197 - Opinion

DOCKET NO. 197 - TransÉnergie U.S. Ltd. application for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need for the construction, operation, and maintenance of a high voltage direct current (HVDC) submarine electric transmission and fiber optic cable system from One Waterfront Street, New Haven, Connecticut to Brookhaven, New York.   }






March 28, 2001       


On July 7, 2000, TransÉnergie U.S. Ltd., (TransÉ) applied to the Connecticut Siting Council (Council) for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need (Certificate) for the construction, maintenance, and operation of a 300-megawatt (MW) high voltage direct current (HVDC) submarine electric transmission and fiber optic cable system.  The proposed cable system would interconnect the electric systems of both New England and New York and would allow for the transfer of approximately 300 MWs of electricity to or from Long Island.  In addition, TransÉ also proposed to construct a substation and an alternating current (AC) electrical interconnection, at One Waterfront Street, New Haven, to support the proposed HVDC electric transmission cable system.

Public notice of the proposed project was published in The Hartford Courant and The New Haven Register, and distributed in the utility bills of United Illuminating's (UI) customers in New Haven, East Haven, and West Haven.  The Council held hearings for these proceedings on September 27, 2000, and on seven additional days to allow parties and intervenors in these proceedings an opportunity to thoroughly review the application and to cross-examine all exhibits and testimony.  We believe that notice of the proposed project was proper, and that the public and all interested parties had ample opportunity to participate or make their positions known to the Council during these proceedings.

The Mayors of New Haven, West Haven, and East Haven acknowledged reviewing the technical report of the proposed project, and had no recommendations; however, the New Haven Board of Aldermen is opposed to the proposed project.  Information on the effects of the proposed project on shellfish resources within New Haven Harbor, obtained during the proceedings, has raised concerns from both municipal and State officials, legislators, and the public.

New Haven Harbor is, and has historically been, a primary oyster habitat resource in Connecticut.  The shellfish beds in New Haven Harbor serve primarily as "seed beds" for the Eastern Oyster, and the hard-shell clam, and are among the most productive and intensively farmed beds in the country.  Oysters harvested from Connecticut waters are considered among the highest quality oysters in the world.  The seed beds within New Haven Harbor provide a unique habitat and optimum spawning environment for oysters and other shellfish.  In order for oysters and clams to be a commercially viable product to harvest and sell to consumers, they must be cultivated in an environment that promotes their fertilization, setting, and growth.  New Haven Harbor provides that environment, and has no equal along the entire Connecticut coast.  The importance of these seed beds and oysters to the Connecticut shellfish industry cannot be overstated.

The agreement that TransÉ entered into with the shellfish interests in New Haven Harbor binds successors and assigns the terms of the agreement to future shellfish leaseholders, including a provision restricting the cultivation of shellfish within the 160-foot installation corridor.  The shellfish beds within New Haven Harbor are a resource that belongs not to the current lease holders, but to the people of the State.  The provisions of the agreement may serve the interests of the current lease holders, but may unfairly restrict the future use of these important shellfish beds.  The reduction of cultivated shellfish beds and the potential adverse effects to oysters from New Haven Harbor affects more than the few shellfish bed leaseholders that have reached agreement with TransÉ.  The shellfish industry in Connecticut is a multimillion dollar a year industry.  In addition to the economic impact of the proposed cable system installation, the potential reduction of such a valuable food crop would be a serious error in judgment.  While additional available electric capacity can be achieved by reducing consumption, adding new generation, modifying the existing transmission system, or adding new transmission capacity elsewhere, the shellfish beds within New Haven Harbor are an irreplaceable resource.

Heavy metals and toxic substances, which are associated with sediment particles within New Haven Harbor, may become assimilated and biologically amplified by shellfish when contaminated sediments are suspended and ingested.  We acknowledge that the potential adverse effects of heavy metals and toxic substances on oysters depend on the quantity of contaminated suspended sediment, the concentration of the contaminant, the filtration activity of the oyster, and the exposure period.  Further, we recognize that the seed oysters would be harvested and transplanted to cleaner waters for a period of between three and five years; however, mature oysters obtained from the restricted relay areas may in fact ingest and bioaccumulate pollutants associated with very fine-grained sediment that would remain in suspension and be transported and deposited beyond the primary sediment deposition zone.

Clams and oysters have the ability to discharge some unacceptable material collected through filtration during short-term exposure periods, but would assimilate contaminated suspended sediment over extended periods of time.  Although it was the applicant's contention that during the proposed cable installation process no oysters would be present in New Haven Harbor and that the oysters would not be filter feeding; we believe that the seed oysters would likely be present during the winter, and would filter seawater, albeit at a reduced rate during colder temperatures, during the entire year in order to obtain food and oxygen.  Furthermore, the primary cause of death of oysters in Connecticut waters is suffocation and starvation caused by silt.  We believe the applicant underestimated the potential impact of near and long range sediment suspension and transport from the proposed construction activities on both mature and seed oysters within New Haven Harbor.

TransÉ stated that they would attempt to restore the proposed cable trench and the shellfish beds in the vicinity of the proposed cable trench.  We question how the proposed restoration efforts will benefit the shellfish industry given the restriction barring the cultivation of oysters within the installation corridor.  Although there may be a natural set of oysters in an area that is not cultivated, it is likely that the potential yield of oysters harvested from such an area would not be cost-effective.  Furthermore, the Council concurs with both the Department of Agriculture Bureau of Aquaculture, and the National Marine Fisheries Service that the shellfish beds, directly affected by the proposed cable trench, could not be fully restored, would become an unproductive zone for shellfish production, and are an irreplaceable resource.

Although the proposed HVDC cable system would increase the temperature of the sediment directly above the proposed submarine cable system, and impart a DC magnetic field on the environment, evidence in this record does not support the contention that the projected temperature increase attributed to the proposed cable system would cause the development of shellfish diseases and parasites, such as MSX and Dermo, or have an adverse effect on shellfish spawning.  Furthermore, we believe that the DC magnetic field produced would be too weak to pose any risk to public health, marine species in Long Island Sound, or cause significant interference to compass-based navigation.

TransÉ evaluated and rejected eight alternative overland routes from six alternative landfall locations to the proposed substation site.  However, TransÉ did not perform soil or groundwater testing for pollutants; undertake a survey of the proposed alternative upland cable routes, utilities, or rights-of-way; negotiate with public or private property owners for the acquisition of an easement; conduct a wildlife impact analysis, or obtain information from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection regarding the specific state-listed wildlife species.  In fact, the cursory evaluation of alternative routes, which was not completed until December 6, 2000, appears to be an attempt to justify the proposed in-harbor route.  Had TransÉ conducted a thorough evaluation of alternative landfall locations and alternative upland cable routes prior to submitting an application to the Council, many questions regarding the feasibility of all reasonable and prudent alternatives to the submarine cable route through New Haven Harbor may have been resolved.  We believe a more objective analysis of alternatives is necessary, even though the alternative upland cable routes might take more time to construct and might be more costly to TransÉ than the proposed in-harbor route.

The Council recognizes the value of interregional cooperation and interconnections between regions.  The proposed cable system could enable Connecticut and New England to have increased access to electricity supplies on Long Island in the event of a system emergency, and could increase markets available to electric generators in New England and Long Island.  However, the Council must balance the potential cumulative environmental effects with the projected public benefit for the proposed project.  State law defines a public benefit for an underground or underwater electric transmission line if "such a facility is necessary for the reliability of the electric power supply of the state or for the development of a competitive market for electricity".  The recent development of several new electric generation facilities with a total capacity exceeding 3,000 MWs is evidence that there is currently a competitive market for electricity. The development of the proposed cross-sound cable project is not necessary, or a requirement for these new generation facilities to operate in a competitive environment; therefore the Council does not believe that the proposed project is necessary for the development of a competitive power market for electricity.  We acknowledge that the proposed cable system would increase the reliability of Connecticut's electric system by approximately one-tenth of one percent, assuming Long Island had sufficient electric generation capacity to meet all of its demand and the volition to export power.  However, Long Island does not have, nor will it have adequate generation capacity to serve its own load for several years.  Consequently, the proposed project would have substantial benefit to Long Island, but it would at best provide only incremental benefits to Connecticut and the region, that may not be realized for several years.

Based on the record in this proceeding we find that the limited benefits and cumulative effects associated with the construction, operation, and maintenance of the proposed HVDC cable system, including effects on the natural environment; ecological integrity and balance; public welfare; scenic and recreational values; forests and parks; air and water quality; and wildlife are in conflict with the policies of the State concerning such effects, are not balanced, and are sufficient reason to deny the proposed project, without prejudice.  We find that while some benefit exists, the proposed facility is not essential or necessary for the reliability of the electric power supply of the State or for the development of a competitive market for electricity.  We further find that although the proposed route may have been less costly and more expedient than other alternative routes, it may not be an appropriate selection based on the potential adverse effects on the irreplaceable shellfish resources within New Haven Harbor.  Therefore, we will not issue a Certificate for the construction, operation, and maintenance of the proposed 300-MW HVDC submarine electric transmission and fiber optic cable system.

Content Last Modified on 10/9/2002 11:53:04 AM