|Solar farm in Portugal, from Wikipedia|
Bruce Parker, Vermont Watchdog, published August 25, 2015
STRAFFORD, Vt. — The town of Strafford has changed its tune on approving a 4.9 megawatt solar array at the Elizabeth Mine, saying approval of the project is now contingent on Vermont — not other states — getting recognition for reducing its carbon footprint.
In a letter sent to the Public Service Board on Friday, the five members of the Selectboard wrote they will not let Wolfe Energy and Brightfields Development install solar at the site if the renewable energy credits associated with the power are sold out of state.
“The Strafford Selectboard, which approved an initial letter of support for the project in part based on the understanding that the project would go to meeting Vermont’s renewable energy needs, cannot continue our support of the project unless 100% of the renewable energy credits go to the state of Vermont by 2017,” the letter states.
“We want the impact of the project to help save valuable Vermont farm and forest lands and not, as currently planned, to go overwhelmingly to meeting renewable energy requirements in other states.”
The reversal comes after the selectmen learned Green Mountain Power, the expected purchaser of the solar power, plans to retire relatively few of the site’s associated renewable energy certificates in Vermont.
“It’s likely somewhere around 10 or 20 percent,” Dorothy Schnure, spokesperson for Green Mountain Power, told Vermont Watchdog.
While Green Mountain Power has yet to contract for the solar power, Schnure said the company expected to sell up to 90 percent of the renewable energy certificates to Massachusetts and Connecticut. Those states, upon purchasing the RECs, obtain the rightful claim — on a bookkeeping basis — to have reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
John Freitag, chair of the Strafford Selectboard, said leaders found out about the RECs in recent weeks, long after the town’s public information meeting, and after the Board wrote a July 8 letter supporting Wolfe Energy and Brightfields Development, the companies engaged in a joint venture to develop the Elizabeth Mine site.
“When you look at how this was presented by the developers of the Elizabeth Mine project, the clear impression was this was going to meet Vermont’s renewable energy needs, Freitag said.
“There needs to be a little more honest conversation about this and about weighing the pros and cons. You can’t say Green Mountain Power is lowering the rates and we’re a renewable energy leader if the reason we’re lowering the rate is because we’re selling everything out of state.”
In Vermont, selling RECs out of state generates more than $50 million annually for utility companies. Schnure says Green Mountain Power plans to retire enough RECs to meet Vermont goals but sell the rest to help lower Vermonters’ energy bills.
“On all the various renewable energy projects that we either own or purchase, we will retire RECs that we need to retire to meet the new state law,” Schnure said. “For any RECs associated with the projects that are in addition to that, then we would sell them, and every penny of a sold REC goes to lower costs for our customers.”
Selling RECs enables Vermont to increase the amount of renewable generation it produces in a cost-effective way. Under the newly passed Act 56, a full 55 percent of a utility’s energy sales must come from renewables starting in 2017. That percentage ratchets up every year until 2032, when utilities must have 75 percent renewable energy in their portfolios.
Kevin B. Jones, professor of Energy Technology and Policy at Vermont Law School, applauded Strafford for raising the issue.
“I commend the Strafford Selectboard for taking leadership on this. Vermont has historically had the most fundamentally flawed renewable energy laws in the country because they set renewable energy goals but then encouraged the utilities to sell the renewable energy credits out of state,” Jones said.
“(This year), the Legislature set a goal that utilities have to meet and actually retire the RECs for it. Before, they were meeting the goal by selling the RECs, which was facilitating false green claims and no environmental benefit. The Legislature has changed the law going forward, and for a renewable energy standard the RECs need to be retired in the future.”
Jones said if well-sited projects like the Elizabeth Mine don’t get counted toward Vermont’s goals, renewable energy developers will be forced to develop additional solar and wind projects on less appropriate areas, such as prime ag lands and forests, causing irreparable harm to wildlife.
Asked what happens to a state’s environmental claims when RECs are sold out of state, Jones said, “You can’t say it’s renewable energy for Vermonters. It will result in increasing our carbon emissions rather than reducing them, because of the proper greenhouse gas accounting for it. And we will have to then develop another five megawatts someplace else in the future to meet the Vermont requirement.”
Freitag said that outcome is not what the Selectboard had in mind when members gave initial support for the project.
“Vermont’s not an easy place to live, and it’s not a cheap place to live. The reason why we live here is because of the beauty and uniqueness of our state. … Our feeling was, we don’t want to sell off that beauty of our landscape and the uniqueness of our place for the benefit of Massachusetts and Connecticut, who choose not to build their own renewable energy projects,” he said.
“I don’t think most Vermonters would want to have our landscape covered with these things for the benefit of other states, even if this saves us a few dollars.”
Bruce Parker is a reporter for Watchdog.org. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WatchdogVT
Once again, Bruce Parker of Vermont Watchdog has graciously allowed me to reprint his article. The original article has excellent graphics and comments, and I recommend it.