Friday, September 25, 2015

Vermont Energy with Pat McDonald

Beyond the Sound Bite

Pat McDonald served many years in government in Vermont, appointed to leadership positions under both Democrat and Republican administrations.  She also represented her community as a legislator in the State House for four years.

Early this summer, MacDonald started a community access TV show "Vote for Vermont." The motto for the show is"Listening Beyond the Sound Bite."  You can read more about her show in this Times Argus article.

About two weeks ago, MacDonald interviewed me about energy issues in Vermont.  She always interviews her guests before the show is taped, to be sure she has strong, relevant questions.

This past Monday, I was on the show.  I embed it below. Because her questions were  so strong, the half-hour show flew by quickly.  I hope you will enjoy it!

Vermont Energy on "Vote for Vermont"

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Intergrating Renewable Resources: ISO-NE Consumer Group Meeting October 9, New Hampshire

The Consumer Liaison Group 

The purpose of the Consumer Liaison Group (CLG) is to be the voice of the electricity consumer in advising the grid operator, ISO-NE. As you can see by this page in their website, ISO-NE has many advisory and working groups, including groups on marketing, transmission, and planning  As you can read in this CLG annual reportThe Consumer Liaison Group (CLG) is a forum for sharing information between ISO New England (ISO) and those who ultimately use and pay for electricity in New England.

I am the Vermont representative to the Coordinating Committee of the CLG.  I used to be one of two representatives (states can have several representatives) but the representative from the Department of Public Service recently resigned.  I expect another representative will be nominated soon.

The Upcoming Meeting in New Hampshire

The next CLG meeting will take place on October 9 in New Hampshire (announcement above). The subject of this meeting is the important issue of integrating renewables to the grid.

CLG meetings rotate between the six New England states, along with frequent meetings in Boston.  Here's my description of the meeting in Vermont in March, when I was the panel chair.  Here is the official (and excellent) summary of the Vermont meeting.

Gus Fromuth, New Hampshire representative, will chair the panel for the upcoming meeting.  Here's a link to the meeting agenda, including call-in information if you can't attend in person.

Somewhat surprisingly, a representative from Green Mountain Power will be on the panel, though Green Mountain Power only operates in Vermont, not New Hampshire.  However, the meeting panels address regional issues, as well as state issues.

The meetings are free and open to the public.  They usually provide a lunch, so it is best to register in advance. It is not-good, seriously not-good, to register and be a no-show (wastes the cost of a lunch).  On the other hand, you can come at the last minute and I encourage you to come.  There's always room at the meeting.  The worst that can happen if you show up at the last minute would be---you don't get lunch.  (But there's usually plenty of food. )  Note: You can call in, if you can't attend in person.


For technical reasons  (I can't mount a pdf on a blogspot post, so I have to play with it), the links in the announcement above do not work.   Here are the links from the announcement, in the order in which they appear on the announcement.

Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside Hotel

CLG and CLG webpage


Mary Louise "Weezie" Nuara email

I hope to see you in New Hampshire!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Solar View from Vermont: The Gold Rush and the Panels.

Andrew Savage of All Earth Renewables
describes a Vermont solar installation
to Energy Safari class, 2011
Blog post on our visit   to the solar installation
Robert Hargraves blog post on our visit

The Solar Gold Rush

At VTDigger, Erin Mansfield wrote a two-part special report on solar. It is well worth reading.

Part 1: Tax breaks drive Vermont solar gold rush
Part 2: Rural communities push back against solar

The first part includes a summary of how solar developers make money: basically, they make money through tax credits.

The second part describes how some Vermont senators tried to give the local towns more say in solar siting. They did not succeed at empowering the towns.  It doesn't matter what the local people think: the Public Service Board rules on solar siting.

I also recommend the comments on these posts.

A Quote: 100,000 acres

When I came back from my trip to England, I discovered that Erin Mansfield had called me.  By the time I called her back, it was too late be quoted in her excellent report on the solar gold rush.

However, Mansfield had looked up my post The 90% Solution: What 90% Renewables would look like in Vermont.  She quoted that post, as follows:

The Ethan Allen Institute, a conservative think tank, estimates that Vermont would need to install panels on 100,000 acres of land to meet 90 percent of its electric energy needs through solar.

The quote is correct. However, this estimate is for the case in which Vermont meets ALL its energy needs through solar renewables, not just its current electric needs. (Meeting all energy needs from renewables is the scenario required by the Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan.)  The Vermont mandate is for 90% renewables for everything: electricity, transportation, heat, industrial processes.

Currently, Vermont uses 6,000 GWh of electricity per year.  I estimated that if electricity was also needed for heat pumps and transportation, we would triple that usage.  We would use 18,000 GWh electricity per year. If we met that requirement with solar, we would need 100,000 acres of solar panels.

Let's say, though, that we only use solar for our current electricity usage. We use 6000 GWh of electricity, and would only (only!) need 33,000 acres of solar installations to generate that amount of energy with solar.  (FWIW: Green Mountain National Forest is approximately 400,000 acres.)

100,000 acres: Showing my work

My estimate of 100,000 acres of solar panels was based on a 2.2 MW solar installation in White River Junction. This installation uses 15 acres and is expected to make 2,800 MWh of electricity per year.  It's a quick calculation to get to 100,000 acres. With 18,000 GWh required, and 2.8 GWh produced per 15 acres--the panels would cover 96,000 acres to make 18,000 GWh.

I wrote that estimate in 2013. I decided to do an update with more recent solar installations. I found a Woodstock installation being planned: 500 kW on 3 acres, and a Strafford Hill installation being dedicated: 2000 kW (2 MW) on 15 acres. Quick calculations showed that the solar installations are taking up about the same acres/kWh as I used in my previous estimate, to the rough level of accuracy of the earlier estimate.

The panels are coming

I don't think Vermont will ever host 100,000 acres of solar panels.  I don't think we will even host 10,000 acres of panels: the costs would be outrageously high.  At some point, even clever financing doesn't work.

But as the Mansfield report describes: solar is booming in Vermont, whether local people like it or not.  The "black billboards" (real billboards are not legal in Vermont) are springing up everywhere. As Mansfield writes:

The number and proposed size of commercial projects is also shooting up. The Public Service Department is now reacting to a handful of 20-megawatt commercial projects — which are 10 times larger than any of the existing projects in Vermont.

In other words, the panels are coming.

Apple tree
Aside: Oh, I can't resist.  Once in a while, the hypocrisy is so blatant that it is funny.

Today,  Green mogul opposed wind farm off Martha's Vineyard, blasts objectors in Vermont was published by Bruce Parker of Vermont Watchdog.  The article tells about a renewable energy developer who has a fifteen million dollar home on Martha's Vineyard. He objected to Cape Wind. He claimed that it would spoil his view and lower the value of his house.  However, this same developer is planning a solar farm near the home of Libby Harris in Vermont. He has dismissed her objections (in a filed brief) as “NIMBY concerns.”

If you read Parker's post, you will see why I included a picture of an apple tree.

Parker has several guests posts on this blog.  The most recent post was Vermont town  protests renewable energy credits for MA and CT.

End Aside.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

L'Shana Tovah: Happy New Year

Apples and Honey
A New Year

The Jewish NewYear, Rosh Hashanah, starts this evening.

Rosh Hashanah is celebrated with religious services and sweet foods.  We dip apples in honey, and wish each other a good and sweet year.

This past year has been hard on many of us.  Last Rosh Hashanah, around 600 people still worked at Vermont Yankee, and the plant was making power.  This Rosh Hashanah, the plant is closed, it employs about 300 people, and we buy power from out of state.

In my personal life, I lost my Aunt Blanche this year.   She was my mother's sister, a pioneering lawyer, and de facto grandma to my children.

Blanche had a full life, passing away at 93.  I saw her a few months before she died, which was good for both of us.  I quote her extensively in this 2010 blog post: Energy Use and Feminism in My Family.

Please.  Don't get me wrong. I am grateful for so many things.  Yet I have to acknowledge that this past year had major sorrows.

Another thing that we often say on Rosh Hashanah, acknowledging the pain:

May this year end with its curses, and the new year begin with its blessings.

To everyone who reads this:

Have a good and a sweet year.

 L'Shanah Tovah.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Vermont town protests renewable energy credits for MA and CT: Bruce Parker Guest Post

Vermont town protests renewable energy credits for Massachusetts and Connecticut

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 Contact him at 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.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Economic fallout from closed Vermont Yankee plant to continue for years: Bruce Parker Guest Post

Economic fallout from closed Vermont Yankee plant to continue for years

By Bruce Parker  August 14, 2015, Vermont Watchdog

Brattleboro, from a walking trail, Wikipedia
BRATTLEBORO, Vt. — As the consequences of closing Vermont Yankee materialize in southeastern Vermont, residents are discovering the dangerous fallout from the plant is turning out to be economic, not nuclear.

“Vermont Yankee had a significant amount of our catering business — probably 10 percent of our business was to Vermont Yankee. And that’s going to go away,” Bill Daley, owner of Vermont Country Deli, told Vermont Watchdog.

Daley, whose deli has served sandwiches, fresh-baked desserts and pastries to the Brattleboro community since it opened more than 25 years ago, said the loss of the region’s sole economic powerhouse is hurting a range of businesses.

“I know a number of businesses that have grumbled about losing Vermont Yankee. My discussions have been, if they go away, you’re losing a piece of the economy, and it’s a large piece of the economy, and definitely our customer base. We’re now having to live with that decision,” Daley said.

Lost business is only part of the trouble facing residents of Windham County after the nuclear plant closed in December. Sales of single-family homes in Brattleboro are down 16.2 percent year over year, and the median sales price for homes has dipped 8.5 percent, from $194,000 in 2014 to $177,500 so far in 2015. The slump comes at a time when housing nationwide is experiencing a robust recovery.

According to Adam Grinold, executive director of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., planners knew ahead of time that closing Vermont Yankee would hurt the housing market and cause job losses far beyond those at the plant.

“We in the region started ringing the alarm the minute that happened, saying housing was going to suffer. There would be too much inventory, which would require prices to drop, and the people who were stuck in the Entergy nuclear world were going to have to move and unload their homes. That’s going to lower the prices,” he said.

RELATED: Brattleboro housing market dives as Vermont Yankee exits region

Since 2012, Grinold’s group has been reviewing Vermont Yankee impact studies that detail economic challenges facing residents and businesses in the tri-county area.

The most recent study, published by the UMass Donahue Institute in December, claims the loss of Vermont Yankee’s nearly 600 employees — who averaged $105,000 in annual pay — will result in an additional 669 job losses at nearby restaurants, retail outlets, real estate services and other local businesses.

The report projects the loss of 141 jobs in leisure and hospitality, 116 jobs in education and health services, 111 jobs in professional services, 81 jobs in retail trade, 54 jobs in financial activities and 44 in construction. The estimated 1,220 total job losses represent a combined annual pay of $106,901,672 and an economic output of $493,406,806.

Grinold is not hopeless, however. He said a 2014 Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy document, or CEDS, holds the key to transforming the regional economy. He also said the Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies, an affiliate of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp., has identified scores of job openings that could lure talent to the area.

“Following the CEDS, SeVEDS initiated a workforce development study. We went out to our region’s largest employers, and we know we have over 3,000 jobs needed in the coming years,” Grinold said. “So we know what sector those are in and what education is needed. We know we have the housing available, and we have the jobs available. Now we just have to figure out how to get the people here to do those jobs.”

Asked if his group was in talks with businesses that could fill the void left by Vermont Yankee, Grinold said nothing was in the works at this early stage. But he expressed optimism about programs such as the Windham County Economic Development Program and the Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone, which held its first committee meeting last week.

“Any region would love to bring in new large manufacturing. BDCC helped attract and develop the Commonwealth Dairy facility two years ago, so we know it can be done,” he said. “Certainly now with the Windham County Economic Development Program Funds, Windham County is uniquely positioned to be able to offer incentives.”

As for Daley, he said operating his deli business is becoming a challenge due to Vermont’s economic and political climate.

“The property taxes have all gone up … and to have the minimum wage go up the way it’s going up, it’s going to be more and more difficult. Plus there’s a limited market here with people,” Daley said.

While Daley said he hasn’t raised prices in the past two years, he couldn’t make any promises going forward.

“Any time you increase the cost of doing business you have to make decisions: Do I increase the number of hours I have and therefore I don’t hire somebody? How do I shift the costs around so it’s affordable?” Daley said. “We’ve tried to hold down costs, but if costs continue to go up I can’t say we’re going to keep prices down in the future.”


Bruce Parker is a reporter for Contact him at 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.  His previous guest post at this blog was Vermont Utilities Buy Nuclear Capacity from New Hampshire. 

And meanwhile, my two cents about today's post:

I am always amazed at people who are excited about "getting the people here to do the jobs" when a big employer has left and the town is (in my opinion) sinking into a mini-depression.  I find some of the comments within the article a bit ironical.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Off to Britain for the Nevil Shute Society

Balliol  front of the quad

Hopefully, while you are reading this,  I will be in Britain.

Specifically, I will be in Oxford, at Balliol College, and at the Nevil Shute Society 2015 meeting, where I am giving a talk.

If you follow the meeting link above, you can see that my talk is "Nevil Shute for Project Managers."

Nevil Shute 

Those of you who follow the blog may remember that I gave a course called Engineering Adventures with Nevil Shute. This was at the Dartmouth College extension program, Osher at Dartmouth.  That course led to further courses by Laura Schneider of the Nevil Shute Society, and the founding of a local branch of the Nevil Shute Society. This group meets once a month in Hanover, New Hampshire.

At Oxford, George and I will actually be staying in the dorms.  This is something that I certainly never even dreamed of being able to do, back I was growing up.  We will also have a visit to Bletchley Park, home of the WWII code breakers. The conference surely looks well-organized.

George and I are looking forward to this adventure!