Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Challenges for Instate Hydro: Guest Post by Guy Page

Wilder Dam on the Connecticut River
From a 1930s era postcard
New leadership, owners, challenges face instate hydro

Guest post by Guy Page, Vermont Energy Partnership

Congratulations are in order for Ken Nolan, the newly-appointed general manager for Vermont Public Power Supply Authority (VPPSA), the umbrella organization for 12 small town water and light departments.

Mr. Nolan is the former chief operating officer at Burlington Electric Department (BED), majority owner and operator of the McNeil station, Vermont’s largest biomass-fueled power plant. Like VPPSA’s other members, BED owns and oversees significant hydro-electric assets. During a phone discussion with Mr. Nolan several years, ago, he struck us as a candid, informed, hands-on operator of in-state power generators.

Mr. Nolan appears to be an excellent choice to provide leadership for the owners of Vermont’s small hydro generators. This position will keep him busy. Even before the August 22 announcement of Mr. Nolan’s position, August had already been a “big news” month for Vermont’s small hydro production.

Hydro dam purchases, challenges

On August 17, Vermont Digger reported that Green Mountain Power, the state’s largest utility, had purchased 14 hydro dams. They reported that GMP has bought some small-to-middling sized “run of river” dams in eastern Vermont and across New England from an Italian company named Enel. The deal totals 17 megawatts (MW), with about 157,000 MW-hours of generation, or about 3.5% of the utility’s total portfolio, GMP spokesperson Kristin Carlson told VTEP. The Digger story also noted that the purchase was made to “meet statutory requirements on the percentage of its power supplied from sources deemed renewable.”

But lest you think that hydro is suddenly the State of Vermont’s unqualified preference thanks to renewable portfolio demands, consider this lead sentence from the August 18 issue of Lamoille County’s News and Citizen: “Conflicting state policies have Morrisville Water and Light stuck between a rock and a hard place.”

In short, one state policy, with aggressive renewable power goals, is urging the dam to produce maximum power. Yet the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources “has ordered major limitations on how much water is released through the hydro dams” in the interest of water quality.

Confusing and contradictory? Yes, it’s just one more example of how the supposedly straightforward alternatives to, say, nuclear power, really aren’t so simple after all.

Another example of energy imperatives versus environmental requirements occurred in nearby Johnson, when Vermont Electric Co-Operative had to abandon plans for proposed solar projects due to their proximity to wetlands, according to the News & Citizen August 18 issue. And in Grafton and Windham, the tug-of-war between proponents and opponents of the Iberdrola wind turbine project continues, with a non-binding Australian Ballot vote set for November in Windham.

New York has embraced nuclear to meet low-carbon goals –why not VY, NE?

It’s time for Vermont to consider that nuclear power deserves a place in low-carbon energy portfolios. New York took this epic step on August 1, as Meredith Angwin reported in her estimable YesVY blog. Both Vermont and New England should consider ways to support nuclear power and consequently meet their low-carbon goals with a minimum of environmental impact.


Guest post by Guy Page, Communications Director, Vermont Energy Partnership.  This post has or will appear in several newspapers in Vermont.  Page is a frequent guest blogger at this blog.  His most recent post was Taking the High Road with Yankee Water.

This is the first time Page has called my blog "estimable." 😊

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