Jones: The shell game in Vermont’s energy policy

Editor’s note: Kevin B. Jones is 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. He lives in Chittenden.

Recently Sen. Bernie Sanders dove headfirst into the controversy surrounding ridgeline wind development in Vermont by vehemently opposing the three-year ridgeline wind moratorium proposed by state Sens. Joe Benning and Bob Hartwell. While some have attacked Sen. Sanders for taking sides on a controversial state policy issue as a U.S. senator, that criticism seems unfair since Bernie is a Vermont citizen like the rest of us and has the right to weigh in on issues being debated in the Statehouse. The development of ridgeline wind has divided Vermont environmentalists like no issue before and while Sen. Sanders must have known his position would create controversy it is certainly an issue on which people can disagree.

Unfortunately both Sen. Sanders and climate activist Bill McKibben have greatly exaggerated the national policy and global environmental harm that a three-year Vermont ridgeline wind moratorium could have. Additionally, in attacking the moratorium they have unwittingly embraced a decade of failed Vermont renewable energy policy. Both Sanders’ and McKibben’s attacks on the moratorium, if accepted at face value, would leave Vermonters with the impression that if the Legislature rejects the moratorium all will be well in regards to Vermont renewable energy policy. Nothing could be further from the truth.

First, Vermont’s SPEED (Sustainably Priced Energy Development) program, which all of the instate wind resources participate in, is the most fundamentally flawed renewable energy policy in the nation today. As a result of this policy, Vermont’s utilities are largely selling the renewable energy credits from these projects into out-of-state programs rather than retiring them for Vermont customers.

Moratorium opponents, including Sanders and McKibben, have offered two largely hollow arguments. First they have argued that the moratorium will send the wrong signal regarding Vermont’s commitment to renewable energy. Additionally, they argue that it will be a step backward on climate change action which we cannot afford. Unfortunately they are overlooking the effect of current state policy. First, Vermont’s SPEED (Sustainably Priced Energy Development) program, which all of the instate wind resources participate in, is the most fundamentally flawed renewable energy policy in the nation today. As a result of this policy, Vermont’s utilities are largely selling the renewable energy credits from these projects into out-of-state programs rather than retiring them for Vermont customers. While this program raises Vermonters electric rates it does not result in a net increase in renewable energy in the region.

How can a moratorium that would slow rate increases but not change the regional procurement of renewable energy send a worse message nationally than the fundamentally flawed policy in place today? Second, because Vermont’s utilities are largely selling the renewable energy credits from the Vermont wind projects into out-of-state programs, Vermont’s utilities are actually exporting the low carbon energy and in its place importing energy that is largely sourced from fossil fuels and nuclear power. Any credible analysis, including that from the Vermont Department of Public Service, demonstrates that the more Vermont increases the SPEED resources, the greater Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions. Contrary to Sen. Sanders and Bill McKibben’s claims, a moratorium on the primary SPEED resources should actually slow the growth of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions given the shell game that is being played with the renewable energy credits and it would also temporarily halt development on our sensitive mountain ecosystems.

Sens. Benning and Hartwell’s proposed ridgeline wind moratorium may not be the optimal fix for Vermont renewable energy policy but compared to the flawed Vermont policy in place today, it at least sends an appropriate message that Vermonters should not sacrifice their mountains for sham renewable policies that offer no benefit to the climate. Maybe then our Democratic legislative majority will actually implement a Renewable Portfolio Standard based on the successful state policies of all of our Northeastern neighbors and that would be state policy worthy of the support of Sen. Sanders and Bill McKibben.

Comments

  1. Craig Kneeland :

    Based upon my understanding of the laws of physics, locally generated power is used locally. Perhaps the renewable credits are a sham, but that would be a separate issue. We should be building renewable sources every way we can so that fossil sources can be shut down and used only when the renewable sources are lacking

    Legal opinions are important in the renewable discussion but more importantly, the smart grid needs the analysis of engineers who have an understanding of what really needs to be done.

  2. Kevin Jones :

    Craig – Your understanding of the laws of physics are lacking. Electricity follows the path of least resistance. You can’t direct it to a particular source and that is why the electric power industry has set up rules like Renewable Energy Credits to ensure that those who pay for green power get it. As an energy economist with a PhD from RPI who has taught electric market fundamentals to power systems engineers as well as lawyers I can ensure you the rules matter and out of state entities are paying good money for the SPEED resources and VT utilities are purchasing largely fossil fueled generation with the result I explain above. As the late New York Mayor Ed Koch used to say “I can explain it to you but I cannot comprehend it for you.” Just wanting to believe something does not make it so. I would like the planet to not be warming but wishing so does not equal change we need effective public policies to achieve environmental progress.

    • Craig,
      You understanding of physics is incomplete. See below.

      Kevin,
      As both of us went to RPI and studied Physics 101 (in my case many more physics courses), we know energy travels on the grid as electromagnetic waves at nearly the speed of light, 1800 miles in 0.01 second, and the energy travels not through the copper wires, but in the air adjacent to the copper wires, and that the copper surface electrons vibrate in place. Energy, as electromagnetic waves, continuously fills in many millions of voltage valleys created by various demands.

      NO ENERGY fed into the grid from thousands of sources is “local”. That means the grid energy of the Midwest and the East Coast are not much different.

      Bruce,
      The REC feature is not really a shell game. It is a way of enabling IWT companies that ruin ridge lines, to sell their expensive, variable, intermittent energy, i.e., junk energy, at 10 c/kWh and the buyers of that energy, such as VEC, get to reduce their costs by selling RECs to mostly out-of-state entities. Example:

      David Hallquist, CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative, said VEC pays 10 c/kWh for Sheffield IWT energy and sells the RECs mostly to out of state entities for about 5.5 c/kWh. This keeps down VEC’s costs and helps keep rates low for VEC members. This also means Vermont ruins its ridge lines so other states do not have to ruin their ridge lines.

      Tom,
      Thank you for the compliment

      Matt,
      The voltage spikes of the Lowell junk energy were of concern to ISO-NE, which required GMP to install a $10.5 million synchronous-condenser system that adds or subtracts reactive energy to lessen voltage spikes. The remaining energy variations will still require OTHER gas turbines to operate less efficiently in part-load-ramping mode to ramp up when wind energy ebbs and ramp down when it surges.

      John,
      “halting the slow rollout of this utility-scale wind turbines”
      Shulman, IWT project developers, et al, want to go as fast as possible, collect as much subsidies as possible. Lowell’s construction was fast-track to beat 31 December 2012 deadlines, and then it turned out its expensive junk energy could not be used on the NEK grid, had to be smoothed and curtailed, issues that should have been planned for years earlier so that a year’s worth of curtailments could have been avoided. GMP will not be hurting, because all ITS cost will be covered.

      Also ridge line IWT capacity factors and useful service lives are not anywhere near what was touted by IWT project developers to wrangle approvals from the PSB and DPS. See.
      http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/169521/wind-turbine-energy-capacity-less-estimated

      Note: China’s national capacity factor is 0.16, dismal.

  3. Bruce Post :

    Kevin, Donald Kreis, in his articulate recent commentary on excellence in Vermont architecture, included an interesting quote from Ada Louise Huxtable:

    “What concerns me as much as the state of American building is the American state of mind, in which illusion is preferred over reality to the point where the replica is accepted as genuine and the simulacrum replaces the source,” wrote Huxtable. “Surrogate experience and surrogate environments have become the American way of life.”

    I think, although it obviously was not Huxtable’s and Kreis’ intent, this observation can be modified to apply not just to your concerns about the shell game of the SPEED and REC programs but also to larger concerns about environmental policy here in Vermont, today.

    Let me alter Huxtable’s quote slightly to illustrate what I mean:

    “What concerns me as much as the state of Vermont policy is the Vermont state of mind, in which illusion is preferred over reality to the point where the marketing is accepted as genuine and the impression replaces the truth. Imagined experience and imagined environments have become the Vermont way of life.”

    In my opinion, that is what you and many others are up against when trying to shine the light of truth on these issues. Thanks for your persistent efforts; it is easy to get discouraged.

    • Tom Pelham :

      Hi Bruce….a very insightful, wry but ultimately dismaying comment to Kevin’s good work. As you know, fiscal issues have been my major domain but in helping to research this position paper on Vermont’s energy future it became clear how ludicrous Vermont’s energy plan truly is. We want to encourage people to drive electric cars as carbon from automobiles is one of the two major Vermont sources yet have embarked on a subsidy strategy for renewables that helps push Vermont’s electric rates to the highest in the continental U.S.; and not by small margins, but upwards of 40% higher with the spread growing. Imagine what electric rates will look like as we continue on the legislature’s path to 75% or 90% renewables from our current 25% or so, including HQ. The other major source of carbon by Vermonters is heating fuel, yet we can’t find the political will to merge and focus Vermont’s energy efficiency programs on this problem, while spending almost $50 million a year on electric efficiencies and millions more on subsidizing the purchase of heating oil. And, the distressing collateral damage is the environmental and visual erosion of our ridgelines, a once sacred environmental trust but now a sacrifice to illusion.

      There are other venues where your rewrite of Huxtable’s quote apply, for example the just “tax the rich” mantra to solve our social and fiscal problems. The problem here is that Vermont is not like Connecticut, or California or Washington D.C. with a sizable wealthy upper class. A simple look at the Tax Dept’s statistical tables or a read of the Legislature’s own Tax Reform Study confirms this reality.

      So like you, I applaud Kevin, Willem, Steve Wright and the growing cadre of persistent leaders who seek the truth and embrace common sense rather than the currently in vogue illusions and sometimes unsavory political back-scratching that is doing harm to the Vermont we all love. I am optimistic that the tide is turning here.

  4. Craig Kneeland :

    I am not reassured by reading a resume. I know that our so called smart grid has a long way to go before we can direct where particular energy is sent. As for resistance, or more importantly impedence, there is less impedence between the wind generators on Lowell Mountain and the loads at Jay Peak than between the Lowell generators and loads in Massachussets.

  5. We’ve heard plenty of speculation about how building and decommissioning certain power generators will or will not have an effect on electric rates, Vermont’s economy, public health, the environment, carbon emissions, and the fossil fuel industry.

    What few seem very concerned with is how all these IWTs, CFLs, grid-tied PV AC/DC inverters, and smart meters are disrupting the power quality on the grid. As the grid gets noisier and noisier, we will see more appliance failure, electrical fires (especially in older wiring) and health problems related to all the flicker and high-frequency transients.

    There’s even a likelihood that the Super Bowl outage had something to do with these issues.

    —–

    Entergy New Orleans, the company that supplies the stadium with power, and the structure’s engineering staff “had concerns regarding the reliability of the Dome service from Entergy’s connection point to the Dome,” the memo says. Those concerns were due in part to “circumstances that have previously occurred with the electrical service regarding transient spikes and loads.”

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-400_162-57567598/superdome-officials-worried-about-blackout-months-before-super-bowl-memo/

  6. John Greenberg :

    Kevin’s main point – one he’s made many times – appears well-taken. When Vermont utilities sell renewable energy certificates (RECs) out-of-state, the amount of renewable energy which would have been added by projects (e.g. wind turbines) in Vermont is offset by diminishing carbon-reduction efforts elsewhere (at least some of which would have been renewables projects). Buyers of the RECs Vermont sells use them to offset carbon they otherwise would have reduced themselves.

    So, in the absence of a cogent counter-argument which I have yet to hear, I agree with Kevin that Vermont needs renewable mandates similar to those in other states. (I am curious, however, as to why the other RGGI states have not pressured Vermont to change its laws, since the net effect of these REC sales is also to transfer some of the economic burden of renewables projects from Vermont ratepayers to those in other states).

    But granting Kevin’s premise that Vermont’s REC sales represent flawed policy does not help us reach his conclusion that a moratorium on wind projects “sends an appropriate message.” A wind moratorium is not just NOT “the optimal fix for Vermont renewable energy policy,” it isn’t a fix at all. We don’t need 3 years to follow Kevin’s recommendation for a change in the SPEED program; the legislature could make that change any time. Conversely, there’s no certainty at all that after the 3-year delay, the change will have been made. In fact, there’s no connection at all between a moratorium on wind projects and the change Kevin is calling for in Vermont’s renewables policy.

    In addition, while Kevin is not alone in assuming that the only environmental problem wind turbines address is climate change, having plenty of company does not make his argument convincing. Climate change is far from the only environmental problem associated with energy production, and the other sources of energy on which New England relies are far more polluting – of air, of water, of land, etc. than wind turbines.

    Since New England’s primary source of electricity generation is now natural gas, before declaring a moratorium on wind development, we should at least be asking ourselves whether natural gas is more or less polluting than wind turbines. Despite the claims of some, in New England, increasing generation from wind and other renewables decreases the amounts of natural gas burned to produce electricity.

    In like vein, we need to compare wind energy to that from New England’s second largest source: aging nuclear power plants including two which are virtual clones of the Fukushima I plant (Vermont Yankee and Pilgrim), even though wind and nuclear play very different roles on the grid.

    Only if we can honestly conclude that natural gas and nuclear provide cleaner energy than wind turbines, should we even begin to contemplate halting the slow rollout of this utility-scale wind turbines.

    Vermont’s energy policies have evolved over a period of many decades, during the course of which the costs and benefits of MANY sources of energy have been contemplated and debated seriously. Vermont’s regulatory bodies, the Department of Public Service and the Public Service Board have played major roles in these discussions along with the legislature, the utilities, developers, activists, and in-state and out-of-state experts of all kinds. During these decades, the technologies and economics of producing and consuming electricity have undergone significant changes, locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. These are complex decisions involving many moving parts, the vast majority of which moratorium proponents appear to willfully ignore.

    Moratorium proponents, including Kevin, have yet to explain why this organically developing debate should not continue, rather than suddenly coming to a screeching halt for three years.

    • Carl Werth :

      Who proposed a three year moratorium on debate?

    • Kevin Jones :

      John – When a Vermont utility signs a power contract with a wind project and then sells the RECs into the MA or CT RPS programs which is largely what is happening that utility is then purchasing for its Vermont customers the residual mix for New England which is about 2/3 fossil fuels and 1/3 nuclear. So from your perspective you should be concerned because this is Vermont supporting the nuclear and fossil fuel industry not additional renewables. So that is why I argue that critics of the wind moratorium such as yourself should stop suggesting that Sen. Benning and Hartwell bill is a step backward on climate action. Please explain why we should subject miles of our ridgelines to more environmental damage when it is for a sham public policy. Stopping something that is promoting only environmental harm does not seem like radical policy it seems to me to be good Vermont common sense.

      If your point is that we should fix Vermont’s renewable policy rather than bandage it then I am with you but you and others ought to mount a real campaign to do this rather than attack the proponents who want to at least apply a bandage to it. Well before there was a wind moratorium I have been advocating that we replace the SPEED program immediately with an RPS and I would be overjoyed if our legislature took this up again this session but there seems to be no push to do so. In actuality doing the right thing and putting an RPS in place immediately would likely be a three or more year moratorium on wind because, as was previously proposed, phasing in a 20% RPS goal over time (to mitigate rate impact) will mean that rather than building new wind on our ridgelines the utilities would just have to stop selling the RECs out of state for the existing projects. While this would be great for the environment since it would begin reducing Vermont’s ghg emissions, increase regional renewables (while we would not need to sign more contracts in the short term MA and CT ratepayers would for their existing mandates), and stop development on our ridgelines, the Vermont business interests are opposed to this since having an honest and environmentally beneficial renewable policy costs money while continuing the SPEED sham is much cheaper for business at the cost to our environment. So please stop arguing that Senator Benning and Hartwell and their many supporters are harming the environment since it is the corporate interests, the legislators, and other proponents of the status quo such as yourself that are standing in the way of an honest renewable policy that is pro-environment. The SPEED program is a renewable energy Ponzi scheme since if you look closely at the books after years of spending ratepayer dollars on this sham policy there is nothing there for our environment.

  7. Randy Koch :

    One person’s “organically developing debate” is another person’s barely functional chaos where you race to build a bunch of wind power to meet a federal deadline and then the resulting energy is largely “curtailed” (ie, it wasn’t needed) and then it turns out there isn’t and may never be sufficient transmission capacity.

    Time for a time-out. We need to rationalize. Enough “organically developing debate” already.

  8. Townsend Peters :

    Wind projects in Vermont do reduce in greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding kilowatt-hours generated by fossil fuel plants on the regional grid.

    Mr. Jones’ point that the RECs are sold to other utilities in other states means that the Vermont wind plants reduce _those_ utilities’ GHG emissions. The point is correct. But is not correct for anyone to imply from this fact that the plants are not avoiding _any_ GHG emissions.

    Since the projects do reduce GHG emissions, Sanders’ point that a wind moratorium represents a step backward on climate change policy is supported regardless of whether the RECs are sold to utilities in other states.

    It might well be better if Vermont utilities were required to own RECs, because this should result in greater GHG emission reductions around the region. But this assumes other states don’t lower their renewable portfolio standard requirements when their own NIMBYs attack projects located closer to home.

    • Steve Comeau :

      Excellent points that make a lot of sense. I would add that environmental concerns about destroying ridges lines seem overblown. Vermont has mostly a working landscape, it is not a wilderness. Over time, the wind towers will blend into the landscape like farm silos. The construction damage will be temporary and the surrounding forest will repair. But, the turbines will continue to turn year after year, generating electricity without any burning any carbon-based fuels.

      • Moshe Braner :

        VT has a “working landscape” in the valleys, not the mountains (other than the ski facilities, which I have issues with, but are “sacred cows”). We have decided to protect the mountains with laws that bar development above 2500 feet elevation. I think that rule should apply to wind turbines too.

        Wind turbines belong in the “working landscape” lower down. Yes, I know, there is less wind there. So the electricity will cost more. It eventually will anyway, since there is only that much room for turbines at higher elevations. Moreover, most of our electricity is now coming from natural gas, or contracts (with Hydro Quebec) that link the price to the regional market, i.e., to natural gas. They can’t keep on selling the frack gas at half the cost of production for much longer.

        And what if it costs more? Learn to switch the lights off when you leave a room, and use fans and wear shorts instead of using air conditioning. Big deal. Better than leaving a non-livable world for our kids. It’s not the climate OR the economy. The climate IS the economy.

        • Moshe,

          1-3 MW IWTs need about a 2 km buffer zone for health and quality of living reasons. Most Vermonters live in the valleys.

          Another approach is to place the IWTs in Lake Champlain, but about 30% of the hours of the year there is not enough wind speed (about 7.5 mph), to turn the rotors, meaning low capacity factors and high energy costs.

          The best place is in the Great Plains and Texas Pan Handle; low installation costs, no disturbed flow due to flat terrain, easily maintained, BIG winds; CFs of 0.35 – 40.

          Despite all the PR hype by IWT promoters, the physical reality is Vermont and Maine are poor places to have IWTs, and none would be built without the huge federal and state subsidies; they would not get financing from a bank. See detailed info in this article.

          http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/169521/wind-turbine-energy-capacity-less-estimated

      • Steve,
        In New England, about 30% of the hours of the year there is not enough wind speed to turn the rotors, yet IWTs need “dirty” energy from the grid up to 4% of rated capacity while idle; it is called self-use.

        While operating, they likely use their own energy for self-use.

      • Steve,

        Blending in?

        Farm silos are about 60 ft tall, nothing moves, make no noise,

        IWTs on ridge lines are 459 ft tall, 373-ft rotors move and distract, make much noise, 2 km buffer zone.

    • Townsend,

      “Wind projects in Vermont do reduce in greenhouse gas emissions by avoiding kilowatt-hours generated by fossil fuel plants on the regional grid.”

      A true statement, but OTHER generators have to inefficiently operate in part-load-ramping mode to maintain perfect balance on the grid, which greatly subtracts from the fuel consumption and CO2 emissions that wind energy was meant to reduce.

    • Kevin Jones :

      Townsend – it means the VT policy results in no net reduction in GHG emissions since the reduction happens as a result of another state’s mandate. So yes Massachusetts RPS results in GHG benefit and VT SPEED and standard offer programs raise VT rates and achieve no additional reduction. A heck of a deal for Vermont dollars isn’t it?

  9. Stan Shapiro :

    A moratorium on wind projects is warranted because there is no basis to factually ascertain that they will make any substantial difference in minimizing global warming.I believe that the impact in our state of pulverizing our ridge lines only benefits the developers. The PTC is so skewed economically against those towns and effected individuals.We really need an open and transparent analysis as to what is going on with the money involved in these projects. The public is really at a great disadvatage and the state is not working for the public good.IWT are not green in our state except for those that are achieving astronomical financial benefit.

  10. Adding to the my above comment:

    A Massachusetts entity buying the RECs from VEC is likely required to do so because MA has an RPS mandate. The price of the REC is slightly above NE grid prices, because of its “green” halo; with enough coupons the entity has not only the energy it needs, but also the “green” aura of RPS compliance.

    Vermont’s utilities want to sell their RECs to MA entities, because it reduces their RE costs; VT-DPS and VT-PSB approve.

    If Vermont had an RPS, that cost reduction door would be closed, and the full cost of RE would be borne by already-strapped Vermont households and businesses, which likely would cause even more social unrest against IWTs on ridge lines.

  11. Moshe Braner :

    Craig: where the physical energy goes is irrelevant. It all gets mixed up (somewhat) on the grid. That’s what a grid is for. What matters for the climate is the total emission of greenhouse gasses (as absolute amounts, not percentage of an every-rising total). The question here is: does VT policy cause a reduction in those total emissions. Kevin has done a good job explaining why it does not.

    Willem: shifting away from fossil fuels carries a cost, although it’s cheaper than trying to survive in a radically altered climate. Trying to arrange things so that VT ratepayers don’t have to pay any more is the shell game, the self-delusion. If the utilities in other states were not REQUIRED to pay more (in the form of buying those RECs) they would not do it and VT utilities could not sell those RECs. Thus our ridgelines are sacrificed so as to be part of Massachusett’s climate-protection policy, not our sham policy.

    I would propose a general principle: those who use the energy should pay all its costs – including the non-monetary ones. If MA or NY want renewable energy then they should lose their views or habitat. If Burlingtonians want it they can sacrifice their waterfront (a prime wind resource). Disallow the shifting of such costs onto others, and then perhaps people will see the light and do what should be done instead: use less energy, via efficieny and conservation.

    As somebody quipped, “Carbon offsets” are like sitting on the bench eating ice-cream while paying somebody else to exercise for you. You won’t lose weight that way.

  12. John Greenberg :

    There have been various responses to my comments, but no actual answers to my questions. So first, I’ll put them in simpler form, in hopes they won’t be missed again:

    1) How does a moratorium on wind projects do anything at all to prevent Vermont utilities from selling RECs?

    2) Since SPEED can be changed in a matter of a few days (or less), why ask for a 3-year moratorium?

    3) If SPEED IS changed, then why isn’t a 3-year moratorium deleterious to climate change?

    4) Even assuming SPEED is NOT changed, how does a 3-year moratorium help prevent climate change?

    5) What would the impact of a wind moratorium be on clean air, clean water and other environmental concerns? In particular, how do we justify a bill against fracking in Vermont, while simultaneously increasing our dependence on the fracking that’s happening elsewhere?

    6) How does a wind moratorium help reduce New England’s dependence on aging nuclear power plants?

    7) How does an abrupt reversal in policy, ignoring decades of Comprehensive energy plans and 5-year electric plans aid long-term energy planning in Vermont? Especially, where is there any evidence that the sponsors of the legislation are even aware of the decades of policy decisions which preceded this proposed sudden change?

    Now, having posed my previous questions a second time, I’ll answer some of the new ones raised by other comments.

    Kevin Jones (whom I’ll take the liberty of calling Kevin in what follows) repeats what hopefully we now understand – namely that when a project’s RECs are sold, its power needs to be considered as equivalent to the remainder of the grid. He then asserts this is “supporting the nuclear and fossil fuel industry.” But that’s not quite as clear as he makes it sound.

    Actually, it’s supporting whatever is on the grid at a given moment in time, and in New England, that’s changing. While coal is still in the mix, I noticed that recently, coal is down from about 10% of grid power to about 3%. From any environmental perspective at all, this is excellent news, even if natural gas is supplying the largest portion of the difference. When power companies build new plants, even if they are not considered “renewable,” they add to the amount of power on the grid. That makes it easier to retire old, inefficient, and/or polluting producers. So even though there is no direct contribution to the amount of “renewables’ as such, the addition of new non-polluting supply DOES facilitate choices which would otherwise be precluded.

    Kevin’s real point, however, is this: “Please explain why we should subject miles of our ridgelines to more environmental damage when it is for a sham public policy.” The answer, which I have tried to explain repeatedly – here and elsewhere – is that the environmental costs and benefits of wind turbines need to be weighed as part of an encompassing picture, not just in the light of climate change or ridgeline damage. It’s true that, for as long as RECs from wind projects are being sold, their impact on climate change is negligible (a sham, in Kevin’s terms).

    But it is ALSO true that their effect on other forms of environmental damage is not negligible: wind turbines do not foul the air or the water (except for some brief damage during construction), and the risks from a catastrophic accident at a wind farm are incomparably smaller than those from a nuclear reactor. Wind turbines do not produce long-lived wastes which need to be isolated from the environment for millennia either.

    Calling wind projects a “sham public policy” applies only to the issue of climate change, and only while RECs are being sold. There is no sham in cleaner air and water, elimination of toxic wastes, and reduced catastrophic accident risk.

    To conclude, as Kevin does, that wind turbines are “promoting only environmental harm” is at best hyperbole completely unjustified by the arguments and facts Kevin has marshaled so far. At worst (and alas, more probably), it’s simply wrong.

    Next, Kevin presents us another faulty argument: “phasing in a 20% RPS goal over time (to mitigate rate impact) will mean that rather than building new wind on our ridgelines the utilities would just have to stop selling the RECs out of state for the existing projects.” The assumption here is that utilities act strictly to comply with renewables standards, and not for any other reason. Common sense – and much belabored history – both suggest that this is simply false. We are told over and over again by wind critics – including in the present set of comments – that expiring federal wind credits were a large motivator for the utilities. Additionally, the utilities’ own portfolio needs – especially in view of the loss of Vermont Yankee’s large contribution – encompass issues well beyond renewables standards or RECs. Some of these include issues which have little to do with the economics or environmental aspects of power production per se: for example, with a responsibility to be “always on,” utilities must consider portfolio diversification and other grid safety issues which the rest of us spend little time thinking about.

    The common thread of many of the remarks I’ve seen from wind critics – unfortunately including Kevin – and assuredly including the authors of the moratorium – is a willingness to substitute a few simplistic, but deeply held propositions for a considered analysis of the interconnected fabric of issues which must constitute a rational energy policy. It is certainly true – as Randy Koch, Kevin and many others suggest – that our existing solutions and compromises are imperfect and, at best, a work in progress. Not only are the issues themselves complex, but complicating them is the fact that there are many players wearing a wide variety of hats – from utilities and regulators to business interests and environmental groups, and what has emerged is not fully satisfying to any of them. Yet another complication is that these decisions take place not just in a local context, but in a regional, national and global context which is constantly changing, and over which we have little control.

    I’ll close where I did the first time: someone needs to show us how a 3-year moratorium will change ANY of this and make a positive contribution to reaching better global solutions to energy policy, or even specifically, better solutions to climate change. So far, no such showing has emerged. Accordingly, I remain opposed to the moratorium.

    • Moshe Braner :

      Somehow, whatever the issue is, the standard answer from the VT legislature is to put off actions for a few years, and conduct endless studies. That’s sometimes a good idea, but at other times seems like a political cop-out. E.g., when for many years in a row a large majority of Vermonters say (in polls) that they want something (e.g., widening the “bottle bill”), and the legislature still says “we need more studies on how this could work”.

      So, a “moratorium” (so we’ll have time to “study” the issues) would fit right into this pattern. EXCEPT, that when it comes to the utilities, er, our now one foreign-owned mega-utility, it seems to own the legislature, and will accept no delays. Thus, for example, when there was a debate some months ago about the $21 million that CVPS ratepayers were promised to be repaid, instead of studying that for a while before approving the merger of CVPS and GMP, the legislature obediently quickly approved the merger, without a repayment, and without any tangible proof that the merger will really benefit us “little people”, IMO.

      There is plenty of hydropower available in our region (from Quebec), that is an economic advantage we should make use of. Alas we don’t own the dams. We _could_ have owned the dams on the CT River etc that were for sale some years back, enough power to run the state, but the governor we had back then opposed that idea for ideological reasons. We will live to deeply regret that decision in the years ahead as more and more of our economic lifeblood flows out of state to import energy in all its forms and at ever-rising prices.

  13. pete blose :

    Perhaps this is part of what’s going on here in Vermont:

    “Exelon chief: Wind-power subsidies could threaten nuclear plants

    February 08, 2013|By Julie Wernau, Chicago Tribune reporter

    Exelon Corp. Chief Executive Christopher Crane said Thursday that the rapid pace of subsidized wind-generated electric power could ultimately force it to shutter nuclear plants.”

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