Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Slow Renewable Growth Means We Must Retain Existing Power Sources: Guy Page Guest Post

With renewable growth slow, Vermont and New England must retain existing, diverse power sources

In an April 13 Associated Press story, a prominent renewable energy advocate said Vermont’s wind power industry is “just taking a little hibernation here as federal policy gets the tax credits right.”
While Vermont waits for Congress to act, now is a good time to examine the status of the state and regional supply of low-cost, low-carbon, reliable electricity. Vermont’s power needs changed dramatically in March 2012, when Vermont Yankee, per its contract, stopped providing one-third of the state’s power – every kilowatt of it low-carbon and low-cost. But not to worry, Vermonters were assured: new, renewable power would fill the gap.

Slow Growth

Three years later, the promise is being fulfilled slowly, and with great uncertainty. Based on state, utility and media sources, here’s an update on instate renewable power generation built since March 2012:
  • Three ridgeline industrial wind turbine developments (in Lowell, Sheffield, and Georgia) contribute about 4% of the state’s total electricity load.
  • A rapid proliferation of photovoltaic solar power generators, from small rooftop projects to big developments, contributes 1-2 percent.
  • Four farm bio-digesters contribute about 0.2 percent, and a small biomass generator and a hydro dam total about 0.1 percent. 
By rough count, in-state renewable generation built since March 2012 comprises about six percent of total demand. Currently, only solar is growing. The others have almost stalled since January, 2013 due to opposition, weak incentives, or cheaper energy alternatives. Yet even the “Solar Express” may slow if Congress lets a 30 percent construction tax credit expire. Through 2016, for example, the builder of a $10,000 solar power generator will pay $3000 less in federal taxes. Whether Congress continues,
eliminates, reduces to 10 percent or phases out this crucial credit is anyone’s guess. Some solar experts believe the declining cost of production has moved solar power almost to the point of tax credit independence.

Wind is Treading Water

Visiting a wind turbine
In New Hampshire
The wind power industry is indeed treading water, waiting on Congress. The three projects cited above
were sufficiently completed by December 31, 2012, just in time to receive an expiring 2.3 cents per kilowatt hour Production Tax Credit (PTC). Congress has since granted the PTC a couple of grudging one-year extensions, hardly the confidence builder the industry needs. The U.S. Senate voted against a five year extension this January. Some pro-wind senators now want a five-year PTC “phase-out.”  

The owner of Vermont’s only unbuilt but permitted project – Deerfield II in Searsburg – must have a power buyer under contract before construction begins, a spokesperson told VTEP in 2013. Ground remains unbroken. A proposed Northeast Kingdom (NEK) wind farm was rejected in a multi-town referendum. Also, transmission lines in the NEK cannot accommodate another large wind power generator, a senior state energy official said last month. Finally, most of the tri-county region’s senators, newspaper editors, and development officials have publicly opposed more ridge line wind projects in the NEK.

Three serious proposals to build instate biomass-burning power plants are unbuilt due to lack of support from neighbors, power-buying utilities and/or regulators.

It's Hard to Build New, So We Need to Keep What We Have

For one reason or another, it’s hard to build new power generation in Vermont. Therefore we must protect the low-cost, low-carbon power generation we already enjoy. With the exception of encouraging the departure of Vermont Yankee, Vermont is pretty good at this. Long-term Hydro Quebec contracts were renewed, as was a permit for a biomass plant in Ryegate. Small, defunct dams are making power again. Active dams have been re-licensed. Burlington declared itself “100 percent renewable” last year after buying a large, existing Winooski River dam. Green Mountain Power has long-term contracts for New Hampshire wind and nuclear power, and owns a small share of a Connecticut nuclear plant.

Throughout New England, hydro and nuclear power plants provide base-load, low-cost, low-carbon electricity. However, their future is jeopardized by policies favoring natural gas, New England’s dominant fuel, including a New England governor’s agreement last week that called for more natural gas infrastructure but was virtually silent on retaining existing nuclear power. Vermont must urge the rest of New England to keep its low-cost, low-carbon power.

Vermont must seek new reliable, affordable, clean power. But first – let’s keep what we already have.


Guy Page
Guy Page is a frequent guest blogger at this blog.  He is  Communications Director of the Vermont Energy Partnership ( , a Montpelier-based coalition of individuals, businesses, and labor and development organizations promoting clean, safe, affordable and reliable electricity for Vermont. Vermont Yankee is a VTEP member.

This article also appeared in Vermont Digger and other newspapers in Vermont. 


jimwg said...

No sooner than the Indian Point transformer fire was put out was Hudson River Alliance was already hawking spots of how unsafe nukes "inherently" are on New York-1 cable TV -- a Time Warner Company. Plus proclaiming that this will impact any decisions on Upstate plants. Other NYC local stations are as berserk over this incident. Now is the time for nuclear professional organizations to get off their blogs and go mass media like the far less well funded nuclear opponents.

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Meredith Angwin said...


In an older post (about an older transformer fire at IP), I note that less than 1% of the transformer fires in the country seem to be at nuclear plants. That assumes that we believe the Union of Concerned Scientists count of transformer fires at nuclear plants.

I hope Entergy can do more with this.


jimwg said...

Meredith, I can't tell you how much I admire and Howard trucking your seniors and credentials and passion and humps OUT THERE out into the fray and meeting and challenging rabid anti-nukers toe-to-toe. How this Indian Point fire is being exaggerated by local metro NYC media in league our Gov. Cuomo fanning the flames about how uncontrollably ominous anything nuclear near people is, just sickens me -- but more so is that this FUD slinging is going totally uncontested by nuclear professional organizations who ought know better than hide in their blogs and let antis run amok in the mass media to our own detriment. Some nuke blogs might loathe the gas and oil industry but damn, give the devil his due -- they are PROACTIVE in getting their spiel out the public! It says something when my relatives in Tampa say people around there now say "Spill Who??" because BP Gulf GOT OUT THERE not only fixing the leak but their incredibly soiled image. Forget Fukushima, want to wait for the nuclear community to straighten out the mass media with the facts on transformer fires before it sours prospects for other plants as well? And PLEASE I don't wanna hear about this "well, Ads are too expensive for our orgs to do" when here in $$ NYC Puppy Rescue and Hudson River Alliance have no problems feeding their coffers to bury Indian Point & Company! GOD! How I wish I could beam you and Howard into the public affairs and media relations chairs at NEI and ANS and other nuclear orgs pronto because you two are street-wise enough not to just sit on your duffs and read a newspaper about an incident that your career has skin in!

James Greenidge
Queens NY

Meredith Angwin said...


Thank you. Howard and I both thank you!

I wish NEI and ANS would do more also. I don't know if Howard and I could actually do more if we held those positions. Whenever you are part of a big company like ANS and NEI, there are always internal hurdles of various kinds. Though, as you say, BP managed to get everyone to forget about the well blowout. And BP is also a big company. Much, much bigger than NEI or ANS.


Mitch said...

>> Whenever you are part of a big company like ANS and NEI, there are always internal hurdles of various kinds. <<

That's pretty pathetic how they run things. If I was in charge of departments assigned to promoting a product and the opposition bags a profit over you each turn my ass would be out on the street faster than you can say pink slip!