CSC: DO 217 Concurring Opinion

DOCKET NO. 217 - Northeast Utilities Service Company application for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need for the construction of a 345-kV electric transmission line and reconstruction of an existing 115-kV electric transmission line between Connecticut Light and Power Company's Plumtree Substation in Bethel, through the Towns of Redding, Weston, and Wilton, and to Norwalk Substation in Norwalk, Connecticut.








July 15, 2003

Concurring Opinion


I fully agree with the majority as to the need for a new 345kV power line to southwest Connecticut. That opinion incorporates "Configuration X", a compromise proposal by the Applicant and four towns, with three Council added modifications acceptable to the parties. While I approve of the compromise as modified, I believe something needs to be said about compromises in general, and about the one in this docket.

The law favors settlements and private parties to an ordinary civil suit are generally free to settle their differences on whatever terms and conditions they themselves deem acceptable. But this is not an ordinary civil suit between private parties, rather it is a proceeding before a governmental agency charged with statutory responsibilities that cannot be compromised by the parties. That being said, however, the fact that such an agreement has been hammered out in a good faith attempt to resolve complex and contentious issues should not be ignored.

Does our decision today satisfy our statutory obligations? Is it sufficiently reliable to be certified? Is the use of substantial undergrounding to avoid visual impacts in exchange for less reliability and greater costs a reasonable trade-off under the circumstances?

First, as to reliability. Two Council members in whom I have great respect have such serious misgivings about reliability that they have dissented for that reason. But I am confronted by sworn testimony from experts that "Configuration X", as modified, is sufficiently reliable to be certificated. Although the Applicantís endorsement of undergrounding all or portions of the line was less than wholehearted (reluctant?) and sometimes seemingly contradictory, the Applicant has continued to assert that the proposed undergrounding "will work." While other configurations are more reliable, the test is adequate reliability, not which configuration is the most reliable. "Configuration X" as modified utilizes both HPFF cable and XLPE cable. The use of HPFF cable for the distances involved falls at the extreme edge of system reliability, such that additional HPFF cable cannot be used elsewhere on the line. As noted in the dissents, use of XLPE cable also raises reliability concerns, but the Applicant has vouched for its reliability for the distances and location is this docket. Based on the record, I will set aside my concerns and defer to the experts.

Second, as to visual impacts. Unlike reliability and costs, visual impacts are not quantifiable and lie in the eye of the beholder. What is acceptable to some is unacceptable to others. How tall is too tall? Why is the line buried in some places and not in others? Such undergrounding is done primarily for visibility reasons despite the loss in reliability and greater cost to the public. As noted in a dissent, in only one section is the undergrounding done to protect "public resources", such a historic preservation or environmental protection. In the other sections, undergrounding is done, not to avoid the visual impacts of a brand new power line cut through a pristine residential area, but to decrease the impacts of extending existing towers.

I am troubled over the policy implications of the acceptance of the amount of undergrounding and the reasons for its location as approved in this docket. Does the Councilís decision set a precedent for future dockets involving high power lines in residential areas? Can this Council approve one policy for suburban residential areas and another one for urban residential areas? Donít urban dwellers have just as good eyesight as suburban dwellers?

Nevertheless, two other considerations present in this docket help me to concur in the majority opinion. First, there has been virtually no experience in the United States with undergrounding 345kV power lines over the distances involved in this docket. The Applicant acknowledged that this line, even with the shorter underground distances of a mix and match line, would be a first. Practical experience with undergrounding high voltage transmissions lines is needed to improve existing technology and to develop new technology. If underground high voltage power lines are ever to be used, we must start somewhere. The varied and confined use of undergrounding that is proposed here seems to be a good candidate with which to gain some hands on experience.

Second, there is the matter of timing. If the line is operational by 2007, the extra cost of undergrounding portions of this line will mostly likely be "socialized" throughout New England. If not operational by 2007, then socialization of costs appears quite unlikely, and all of such costs will have to borne exclusively by Connecticut ratepayers, urban, suburban and rural alike. Thus, 2007 is a date important not only to the immediate power needs of southwest Connecticut, but also to the cost to all Connecticut ratepayers. A prompt resolution to this docket is in everyoneís best interest.

One cautionary note for the future. This is a "one off." The decision on this application, and the balance it strikes between reliability, costs and visibility, is based on the unique circumstances of this docket. That balance should not be viewed as a general policy to favor underground high voltage power lines in all residential areas. Decisions whether to underground such lines in the future dockets should be made on a case-by-case basis under the circumstances that exist at that time.




Colin C. Tait

Content Last Modified on 7/29/2003 9:16:13 AM