Should we invest in 13 dams, $750 million?

A very unique vote could be looming in the House. Many of you may have heard that the state has formed a working group to look at the purchase of 13 dams on the Connecticut River, an initiative that would require the General Assembly to authorize a bond for purchasing power somewhere in the region of $750 million and would require the state to form a power authority to operate and maintain the dams while also brokering the sale of its generated power here in Vermont and elsewhere.

There are forceful arguments both for and against this purchase. The dams were last up for sale in 2004 when they eventually sold to TransCanada for $500 million and in the ensuing decade these dams have reliably produced roughly 567 megawatts of power, which is more than half of Vermont’s 1000 megawatts of power demand. They have also matured in value, given their projected sale price, and have provided a steady stream of clean energy.

But a purchase of this size would more than double the size of the state’s debt, a burden that already requires upwards of $75 million a year to service and would largely expand the size of state government to form the aforementioned power authority. Also, forecasting the power output and subsequent price per kilowatt is notoriously difficult to nail down—making the state’s potential investment dividends hazy. In addition, I take issue with some of the makeup of Governor Shumlin’s working group to study this purchase. With a deal this big, that would require nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars of borrowed money and is looking at a generational shift in the way power is provided to Vermonters, I am concerned that no business person was put in the room to assist in the cost-benefit analyses. If we come to the table looking at the purchase through the filter of a passion for renewable energy, which is a great passion to have, I’m really concerned that the long term issues presented by the state owning a set of aging hydroelectric dams weren’t adequately vetted.

I believe that Vermont currently has its hands full with a set of pressing problems—from our affordability crisis, opiate epidemic to the increasing exodus of our young people. To me the idea of an undertaking of this size seems beyond Montpelier’s current bandwidth. I also have severe reservations, frankly, about Montpelier’s ability to execute well on pretty much anything nowadays. From the never-ending drama surrounding Vermont Health Connect and Medicaid to the chronic mismanagement of our budget and economy, I’m not convinced Montpelier wouldn’t make a colossal mess of things if we were to purchase the dams.

With a possible act of this size on the horizon I am very eager to hear from the members of our district how they would feel about it. It’s possible that this could be a wise investment that would reap large dividends for Vermont and could provide the budget with a steady revenue stream, but I also have my aforementioned reservations. If it does come up for a vote, I am focused on properly representing our district but need to hear from you your thoughts on the wisdom of this potential purchase. I know from past experience that many of you can provide a unique viewpoint that could go a long way towards informing the best vote for our region and you can count on me to vote for anything that would improve the lives of the residents of Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon. Please contact me via email at job@jobtate.com or by phone at 802-558-5153.

Very Respectfully

Job Tate

Rep. Rutland-Windsor-1

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