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.

1 comment:

Bas said...

We in Netherlands calculated that covering 50% of all roof surface with good solar panels (>21%) will deliver more than 200% of all electricity the country uses.
And we are at much higher latitude than Vermont!
So I don't understand the issue.
Especially since there is also wind, etc.