Rhode Island PUC issues favorable opinion of Interstate Reliability Project

The Interstate Reliability Project continues to advance following a favorable opinion by Rhode Island state regulators (Docket No. 4360).

In its written advisory opinion issued on April 8, the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) recommended that the state Energy Facility Siting Board find that there is a need to rebuild and realign about 0.25 miles of the existing 345-kV transmission line (3361 Line) from the Sherman Road switching station to the NSTAR segment of the 3361 Line at the Massachusetts/Rhode Island border in Burrillville.

The PUC also recommended that the board find that there is a need to rebuild and realign about 0.25 miles of the existing 345-kV transmission line (333 Line) from the Sherman Road switching station to the Ocean State Power generating plant in Burrillville; to rebuild and realign about 0.25 miles of the existing 345-kV transmission line (347 Line) outside of the Sherman Road switching station and replace and/or modify other 346 Line structures to accommodate the construction of the 341 Line; and replace and/or modify a number of existing structures of the 115-kV transmission line (B-32 Line) to accommodate the construction of the 341 Line.

The siting board ordered the PUC and other “designated” agencies in October 2012 to submit advisory opinions on the Rhode Island components of National Grid USA’s Interstate Reliability Project by April 10, 2013.

According to the siting board’s Oct. 10, 2012, preliminary decision and order, National Grid proposes to build a new 345-kV transmission line from the existing Millbury No. 3 switching station in Millbury, Mass., to the West Farnum substation in North Smithfield, a total distance of about 20.2 miles, of which about 4.8 miles are in Rhode Island. The line will be built within an existing National Grid right-of-way (ROW) in North Smithfield.

As part of the project, National Grid and Northeast Utilities (NYSE:NU) propose to build a new 345-kV transmission line – the “341 Line” – between the West Farnum substation and the Lake Road switching station in Killingly, Conn., a total distance of about 25.3 miles, of which about 17.7 miles are in Rhode Island. This line will be built within an existing National Grid ROW that extends through North Smithfield and Burrillville.

The project also entails, among other things, relocating about 0.25 miles of an existing 345-kV line outside of the Sherman Road switching station to realign with the reconstructed Sherman Road switching station.

In pre-filed testimony, David Beron, principal project manager of National Grid USA Service Company, said that the company considered several alternatives to the project’s design, including a “no build” alternative, alternate overhead routes and configurations, underground alternatives and non-transmission alternatives.

“Noting that transmission upgrades are necessary to relieve existing transmission constraints on the electric grid, particularly from east to west and from west to east across southern New England and to satisfy both national and regional transmission planning standards, Mr. Beron maintained that the ‘no build’ alternative would be contrary to these necessities,” the PUC added.

Discussing the estimated costs of the preferred alternative, Beron said the study grade estimate – plus or minus 25% – for the proposed project is expected to be $181m for the Rhode Island components. Construction work, including vegetation clearing and installation of foundations and pole structures, is expected to begin in early 2014, with an in-service date in late 2015.

According to the company, the proposed alternative of new 345-kV transmission lines between the Millbury No. 3 switching station, the West Farnum substation, the Lake Road switching station and Card Street substation best addresses the transmission needs and reliability concerns.

The PUC noted that Judah Rose, managing director of ICF Resources, in pre-filed testimony, highlighted challenges related to non-transmission solutions, particularly the need for multiple power plants and demand resources in several locations, the “absence of centralized multi-state procedures for non-transmission alternative implementation,” too much reliance on demand response by ISO New England (ISO-NE), a higher financial risk to ratepayers from the likely need for contracts to recover revenue shortfalls, large capital costs and the inability to spread costs over the region.

The PUC also said that ISO-NE indicated that the Interstate Reliability Project component of the New England East-West Solution (NEEWS) is still needed and is the preferred transmission solution to address reliability concerns.

Among other things, the PUC said, “It was undisputed in the record that there are transmission upgrades necessary to relieve existing transmission constraints on the electric grid, particularly from east to west and from west to east across southern New England and to satisfy both national and regional transmission planning standards.”

The PUC added that it was also undisputed that the overhead alternative presented as the preferred alternative was the least cost solution.

According to the siting board, the Energy Facility Siting Act consolidates in the board, with two exceptions, all state and local governmental regulatory authority for the siting, construction or alteration of major energy facilities. A board decision in favor of an application to site a major energy facility “shall constitute a granting of all permits, licenses, variances or assents,” the siting board’s order said.

In a March 27 notice, the siting board said public hearings on the project will occur on April 30 and May 2, with final hearings starting on May 6.

National Grid is a subsidiary of National Grid plc.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3295 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares, chief editor for TransmissionHub, has covered the U.S. power industry for the past 16 years. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines. She can be reached at clinares@endeavorb2b.com.