Jones: Vermont’s renewable goals are flawed

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Kevin B. Jones, Ph.D., the Smart Grid Project Leader for the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School. These comments are solely those of the author and not necessarily reflective of the views of others at IEE or VLS.

While Vermont is a leader in the energy efficiency arena, with new leadership in Montpelier it is time to overhaul an inadequate state clean energy regime.  First and foremost on the list should be the adoption of a real renewable portfolio standard (RPS) that is regional in scope.

Vermont’s current renewable goals and incentives are, at best flawed, and potentially place Vermont at a long-term disadvantage.  Vermont’s clean energy goals and long-term competitive position are best served by having a transparent long-term renewable requirement which allows Vermont’s utilities and regional renewable developers to plan for the future.

Furthermore, it is essential that if renewables are procured for Vermont consumers, whether through incentives or goals, the renewable energy credits from these resources must be preserved for the benefit of Vermont consumers.  Current rules requiring Vermonters to fund renewable resources without claiming for them the renewable energy credits creates long-term risk for Vermont consumers when a federal renewable portfolio standard is adopted and suggests that our state renewable goals are an illusion.  In addition to an RPS, we should formalize the incentives available to residences and businesses to install distributed renewable resources, which after energy conservation, are our wisest clean energy investments.  New York’s programs offer a worthy model for both funding and design.

Vermont’s clean energy competitive advantages include our small scale and perhaps our proximity to vast Canadian energy resources, but not extensive internal wind resources like the Dakotas or Texas.  Driven by geographic limitations that limit our in-state wind resource to higher elevations, the uproar caused by wind development on Vermont ridgelines should not be ignored.  Historically, former Governor George Aiken demonstrated Vermont sensibility in rejecting the false promise of progress through paving over the Green Mountains when the federal Green Mountain Parkway was proposed.

Similarly, it is unfair to dismiss those vigorously objecting to large scale wind development on our ridgelines as NIMBY’s.  Generations of Vermonters have lived, worked and played among our ridgelines and it is essential that state policymakers include as part of our clean energy program adequate siting protections for our ridgelines and those that live among them while providing clarity to renewable energy developers.

Vermont’s scale is so small and our energy challenges are so manageable that we need not despoil what we love.    Similarly, Vermont’s renewable energy goals and incentive programs should be closely linked with responsible land use planning.  For example, we should follow the lead of places such as California where distributed solar resources have been directed toward developed spaces such as parking lots and existing structures rather than less integrated approaches which have sometimes led to the clearing of acres of forests or the misappropriation of precious agricultural land.

Finally, it is time to move beyond the unnecessarily distracting debate over Vermont Yankee (VY).  The Vermont Senate has decided that VY’s license should not be extended beyond 2012.  What may not be so clear is that Vermont’s utilities have been planning for this eventuality by reducing their reliance on VY power.  With the robust supply of natural gas, which will continue to be the marginal resource for the New England electric market for years to come, five years after the retirement of VY most people will wonder what all the fuss was about.  

Once we move beyond the VY debate, there are plenty of energy infrastructure improvements that are worthy of consideration for securing a clean energy future.  With abundant natural gas, extension of the distribution network for clean natural gas into central and southern Vermont will likely have significant economic and environmental benefits.

Regional transmission planners continue to explore projects such as grid enhancements between New York’s North Country and Northwestern Vermont that could both unlock bottled New York renewable resources and improve reliability.  Additionally, continued investments in a smart electric grid offer opportunities for customers to make more efficient energy choices and to transition toward the electrification of vehicles and away from imported oil.  Vermont is well positioned to secure a competitive and clean energy future with renewed leadership.

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13 Comments on "Jones: Vermont’s renewable goals are flawed"

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David Cardill
5 years 4 months ago

If energy and the environment are your fields of study, then perhaps you can answer a simple two part question about the environment for me.

What is natural gas made of, as in, what are the chemical constituents, and, what are the byproducts when it is burned?

5 years 4 months ago
David, Natural gas is MUCH cleaner than coal; less CO2 per kWh, no particulates per kWh. Gas-fired, 60% efficient CCGT plants emit about 0.67 lb of CO2/kWh, coal about 2.15 lb Dr. Jones, A realistic scenario is as follows: The NRC will extend the VY license, the Public Service Board, a creation of the legislature, will not grant a Certificate of Public Good, VY continues operating while the case goes to court, even the Supreme Court, where VT will not prevail, because its LEGAL case is very tenuous, as some members of the VLS have stated. Below are some websites… Read more »
Jonathan Miller
5 years 4 months ago
Natural gas is made up of carbon and hydrogen atoms (CxHx) and does indeed burn cleanly with H2O and CO2 combustion byproducts. That is not the issues. Natural gas has been derived from hydraulic fracturing or “frac’ing” or “fracking”, a natural gas drilling method that has been used throughout the US for the last 50 years, and also has an exemption from the Clean Water Act. Millions of gallons of water and multiple toxic chemicals are injected at high pressure into the gas well to fracture the surrounding earth releasing the gas up the well hole and into waiting tanker… Read more »
Doug Hoffer
5 years 4 months ago

It’s my understanding that burning natural gas is not “clean” and creates more than “H2O and CO2 combustion byproducts.”

A 50 MW natural gas generating plant can be expected to produce 87,000 tons of emissions including CO2, SO2, NOx, and particulates.

Pretty sure that doesn’t meet the definition of “clean.”

David Cardill
5 years 4 months ago
Well, you did not answer my question. Natural gas contains Hydro-carbons, a bit of Sulphur, and other trace elements. And, it gives off CO, CO2, NO, NO2, SO and SO2 as the six big gasses produced from combustion, and there are also small amounts of HO and H2O2. All of these byproduct gasses contain O, which stands for Oxygen, AND natural gas does not contain ANY Oxygen. So, in order to produce all of these Oxygen rich gasses, it has to take the Oxygen right from our atmosphere. Anyway, I call this the most important scientific document EVER compiled by… Read more »
5 years 4 months ago

Doug,
Your understanding is not based on facts. Please seek some guidance from a professional energy systems engineer.
Burning natural gas is MUCH cleaner than coal, as I stated in a previous post.
Natural gas has NO particulates which are very harmful to health, kill 20,000-25,000 people per year in the US and more elsewhere.
You can look all of it up on the internet.

Doug Hoffer
5 years 4 months ago

Say what?

I said nothing about coal.
I simply responded to an inaccurate characterization of natural gas as “clean.” Please read more carefully.

Do you work for the natural gas industry?

5 years 4 months ago
So far the responses to this op-ed by my learned VLS/IEE colleague Kevin Jones seem to miss the mark. I do not understand Kevin to be arguing that natural gas is a renewable resource or is devoid of environmental externalities. His point, I think, is that natural gas is something of an ineluctable reality in New England even though has been obscured in Vermont because natural gas is a generation source upon which our state (uniquely in the region) has not relied for in-state facilities. The reason is simple — we lack the pipelines to get the fuel here. Nevertheless,… Read more »
David Cardill
5 years 4 months ago
oooo kay. As, apparently, the only energy specialist in this conversation, again: Vermont has more than enough renewable energy to satisfy it’s own load, and either produce the sum total of Yankee, or double that, IF we wanted to. Wind is only one form of electrical production. And, what is it about stop burning stuff that people do not understand? Look at what hasn’t been done in a very long time. The Bennington Pipe. Yes, constructed pipes have a much much higher feet of head, and are super duper power producers. Why is it that since this wooden pipe was… Read more »
David Cardill
5 years 4 months ago

Furthermore, with a lot less pipe than is being proposed to be installed for this Fossil Empire expansion, we could install enough Hydro power to power all of New England.

Jamal Kheiry
5 years 4 months ago

Mr. Cardill,

In your scenario to switch Vermont to ONLY renewables, is price a factor you considered? What would the increase in energy costs be if we switched to only renewables as a replacement for Vermont Yankee?

5 years 3 months ago

I hope folks can remember two things:

1) No combination of renewable energy can replace fossil fuels. We have to change our economies and our lifestyles and start to “power down.”

2) Our forests are working hard for us to combat climate change. Let’s not burn them up for a tiny % of electricity.

5 years 3 months ago
Dr. Jones, A realistic scenario is as follows: The NRC will extend the VY license, the Public Service Board, a creation of the legislature, will not grant a Certificate of Public Good, VY continues operating while the case goes to court to protect a multibillion dollar asset of its shareholders, even the Supreme Court where VT will not prevail, because its LEGAL case is very tenuous, as some members of the VLS have stated. Legislatures, led by politicos out for political gain, can be led in a direction that is harmful to the economic well-being of Vermonters. Example: the Vermont… Read more »
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