Proposal for Vermont to buy power dams appears dead

Snare Falls Hydropower Plant

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A proposal to have Vermont buy a series of 13 hydropower dams on the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers in hopes of stabilizing power prices appears to be dead.

Instead, state officials are talking about pursing a long-term power purchase from the entity that ends up owning the properties.

Administration Secretary Justin Johnson, chairman of a special working group looking at buying the series of hydro stations that energy giant TransCanada has put up for sale, provided that update in an interview this week.

While a purchase price estimated at $800 million to $1.2 billion would be too much for Vermont to swallow, Johnson said there's strong interest in buying power generated by the dams from their future owner.

"Obviously we're very interested as a group in seeing what a long-term agreement would look like," Johnson said.

Interest in the dams, which the state and a private partner tried to buy before being outbid by TransCanada a little over a decade ago, was rekindled in March with news that TransCanada was trying to sell power generation properties in the northeastern United States to raise money to buy a Texas-based natural gas company.

Johnson said one impediment was that several of the properties lie partly or completely out of state. New Hampshire owns the Connecticut River to the Vermont bank, so the dams on the river's main stem north of Massachusetts are mainly in that state. Johnson said there would be stronger interest if Vermont could buy the three Deerfield River dams located wholly within Vermont.

Former state Sen. Vincent Illuzzi led the push for the state to buy the dams in 2003 to 2005 and served on the working group giving the idea a second look this summer.

He said both the price tag and the speed with which the private sector operates may be hurdles for a government purchase of the properties.

"Most of the interested buyers essentially can write a check if they are the successful bidder," Illuzzi said. "State government needs to issue bonds. It's a much more time-consuming process."

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