Special Report: Vermont smack in the middle of crucial electricity supply and demand

Aerial photo of a Hydro-Québec dam. Hydro-Québec photo

Aerial photo of a Hydro-Quebec dam. Hydro-Quebec photo

Southern New England is thirsty for more renewable power and Hydro-Québec is eager to quench that demand.

Meanwhile, developers see an opportunity to make money on the massive transmission line projects needed to carry Canadian hydropower several hundred miles through Maine, Vermont or New Hampshire to the Boston metropolitan area. Six, billion-plus dollar projects are on the table.

One of those projects, the New England Clean Power Link, would be in Vermont. TDI New England, a transmission line developer, wants to submerge a high-voltage line the length of Lake Champlain. Environmental groups warn the proposal could impact the health of Lake Champlain, an vital economic and ecological asset for the state.

Click thumbnail to view map.

Northeast Energy Link
Proposal: A 230-mile underground transmission line between eastern Canada and Orrington, Maine, to Tewksbury, Mass.
Cost: $2 billion
Size: 1,100 megawatts
Developer: Nova Scotia-based Emera and National Grid partnership.
Status: Applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for approval of its funding approach.
Champlain Hudson Power Express
Proposal: A 333-mile underground and submarine transmission line extending from the U.S./Canadian border to New York City.
Cost: $2.2 billion
Size: 1,000 megawatts
Developer: Blackstone doing business as Transmission Developers Inc.
Status: The New York Public Service Commission approved the plan last year. The company needs approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Energy.
New England Clean Power Link
Proposal: A 150-mile underground and submarine transmission line between Canada, under Lake Champlain, to a Ludlow substation.
Cost: $1.2 billion
Size: 1,000 megawatts
Developer: Blackstone doing business as Transmission Developers Inc.
Status: Applied for permit from U.S. Department of Energy. Intends to apply for state approval in 2014.
Grand Isle Intertie
Proposal:A 40-mile transmission line between wind power in Plattsburgh, N.Y., under Lake Champlain, to Burlington.
Cost: Unknown
Size: Unknown
Developer: Anbaric Transmission
Status: Applied for interconnection application from ISO New England.

Green Line
The Green Line
Proposal:A 300-mile terrestrial and submarine transmission line connecting Aroostook County, Maine, to Boston.
Cost: Unknown
Size: 1,000 megawatts
Developer: New England Independent Transmission Co. LLC (NEITC), a partnership of Anbaric Transmission, Pittsfield, Maine-based Cianbro Companies and Fairfield, Conn.-based PowerBridge.
Status: Applied for interconnection application from ISO New England.

Northern Pass
Northern Pass
Proposal:A 187-mile above- and below-ground transmission line from Quebec, through northern New Hampshire, to Deerfield, N.H.
Cost: $1.4 billion
Size: 1,200 megawatts
Developer: Northeast Utilities doing business as Northern Pass Transmission LLC.
Status: Applied for permit from U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Forest Service, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Interconnection application accepted by ISO New England.

The TDI proposal wouldn’t bring a watt of power to Vermont electricity customers, but make no mistake, the state wants projects like these to pass through Vermont.

“I think we would stand to benefit more from having a project hosted by the state of Vermont than having it go through another state,” said Department of Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia, who is Gov. Peter Shumlin’s point person on the issue.

That’s because all six states that draw from New England’s power grid have agreed to share the costs of transmission projects. The new lines would carry up to 3,600 megawatts of renewable power needed for the region to meet its electricity demands and greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Electricity price spikes, the closing of large power plants in the region (such as Vermont Yankee) and a search for more renewable energy are among the region’s energy challenges. That’s why the region’s six governors in 2013 launched a regional energy infrastructure initiative to attract the investments needed to solve these urgent problems.

This marks a critical juncture in the region’s electricity marketplace: Everyone in the energy industry stands to win or lose as elected officials bet billions of dollars on what’s best for the region’s energy future.

As part of this rare moment in the region’s history, all six New England governors are willing to put ratepayers’ dollars on the line hoping to secure lower electricity prices for the entire region through this massive energy infrastructure initiative.

How much Vermont has to pay will be determined when the newly created New England States Committee on Electricity launches a competitive bidding process for projects this fall. The committee will decide how to split the costs of the projects. Plans must be approved by federal energy regulators and it’s likely none would be online before the latter part of the decade.

VELCO says projects grossly underestimated

Developers are pitching plans, and are now offering states handsome “benefits packages” in seeking their support. In addition, states could earn millions from new property or infrastructure taxes, the leasing of existing right-of-ways and financial returns on public investment in the lines.

But these assurances aren’t enough, according to Kerrick Johnson, vice president of Vermont Electric Power Co., or VELCO.

VELCO, the state’s transmission utility, is looking for any way the state can take advantage of the new proposals. But so far, he says, the plans offer no certain benefit to the state or the region.

“Unfortunately, we don’t think the analyses conducted to date justify the speed at which this is being pursued,” Johnson said of the six-state initiative. He said more time is needed to better understand the multibillion-dollar proposals despite political pressures to move them forward as soon as possible.

“Spend the time in advance,” Johnson said. “Measure twice. Get this right. If you’re talking about speed, that’s the best way to ensure an expeditious energizing of a line.”

Johnson says developers have underestimated the costs for the projects by 80 percent, and as a result, the region’s electric ratepayers could pay hundreds of millions more for the projects. (VELCO uses the same cost assessment method as the region’s grid operator, ISO New England.)

VELCO, however, does not oppose the development of new transmission lines in the region, Johnson said. The utility will work with states, project developers and utilities, he said, but VELCO wants more questions answered before it lends support to projects.

Johnson did not rule out public investment in the lines should the plans prove to be economically viable.

Powerful demand

Electricity prices reached record highs last winter due to the region’s inability to supply enough natural gas to power generators, driving the price of natural gas above the cost of burning coal. Natural gas accounts for more than half of the region’s total electricity generation, according to ISO New England.

“The region spent an extra $3 billion – with a B – on power costs,” Recchia said of last winter’s price spikes. “As bad as it was this year, it’s projected to get worse next year. And there is no end in sight to change what’s going on.”

In order to keep the lights on, the region needs to find power quickly. The scheduled closure of several aging power plants in the region is making matters more urgent.

The Massachusetts coal-powered Salem Harbor plant and the Vermont Yankee nuclear power will close this year. And the Massachusetts fossil fuel-fired power plant Brayton Point is scheduled to close in 2017. ISO New England estimates about 8,300 megawatts of generation to go offline by 2020, about a quarter of the region’s total energy needs.

Northern Pass is one of the projects seeking to deliver hydropower to the metropolitan south. The $1.4 billion privately funded plan would run mostly through New Hampshire (see sidebar).

Northern Pass spokeswoman Lauren Collins says no one transmission line will be able to fill this void.

“Northern Pass is part of the solution, but it’s not the only solution. The fact is we are going to need a bunch of them,” Collins said. “We have to start filling this pool of power up somehow and these things take years to get built.”

VELCO vice president Kerrick Johnson testified before the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee on Friday to discuss regional transmission development. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

VELCO vice president Kerrick Johnson testified before the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee in April. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Renewable power, especially electricity from massive hydropower plants in Canada, is the solution most energy experts and government officials are choosing.

The lynchpin is a legislative proposal in Massachusetts that would require state utilities to purchase hydropower. The Bay State is drafting legislation backed by Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick to rapidly advance the state’s renewable energy goals. The law would require the state’s utilities to lock in 20-plus year contracts to purchase about 2,400 megawatts of renewable energy – enough to power more than one million homes.

“Without these transmission lines, it would be very difficult to meet our global warming solutions goals,” said Barbara Kates-Garnick, Massachusetts’ undersecretary of energy and environmental affairs.

Transmission developers have been eager to help the region import abundant supplies of Canadian hydropower into the region for years. And now, the region’s grid operator and elected officials agree that the power is urgently needed.

“It’s rare. It’s very, very encouraging from a developers’ perspective to see the marketplace speaking so strongly in one voice,” transmission line developer Don Jessome said.

Jessome, president and CEO of TDI New England, is leading one of the most advanced proposals on the table. He wants to bury a 150-mile transmission line under Lake Champlain. TDI, a subsidiary of Blackstone Group, a financial services firm, has lined up private capital for the estimated $1.2 billion project.

Related story

TDI proposal.

Jessome says the merchant transmission project could cut the region’s electricity rates by $200 million a year for 10 years (and up to $10 million for Vermont utility customers); raise tens of millions in property tax benefits on the transmission line and a $200 million converter station in Ludlow; and create hundreds of jobs to build the project and new hires through company savings on electricity.

TDI says it would also donate tens of millions of dollars to the state for costly Lake Champlain cleanup – or whatever the state decides is best.

“We can offer something very competitive not only to Vermont but the broader New England market,” Jessome said.

Northeast Utilities, the developer of the Hydro-Quebec funded Northern Pass proposal in New Hampshire, is offering a similar benefits package to buy the state’s support, including a $7.5 million trust fund to support jobs in the Granite State’s north country. Though the overhead transmission line known as the Northern Pass, which would cut through national forests, has been controversial, it has advanced further than other projects in the region.

High-tension power lines cut through New Hampshire. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

High-tension power lines cut through New Hampshire. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

State buy-in

Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, who chairs the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, wants to see the state reap rewards for becoming a pass-through for power.

“If Vermont is going to be a highway for power to the south from the north, then Vermont needs to benefit from it handsomely,” said Klein.

He said the state could make tens of millions of dollars if VELCO invested in the lines.

“If you invest in it, your return on your investment could be almost endless,” Klein said.

Through the initiative, Vermont would also be on the hook to pay for at least some of the costs.

TDI New England is meeting with potential state partners about purchasing a share in the line. The most likely investor would be VELCO. And state regulators require that any profits earned through these investments go back to Vermont’s utility customers.

“Blackstone is going to support this project,” Jessome said. But he said the company “would be interested in talking to parties in Vermont, in particular, who would be interested in being an investor” in the project.

“We have the capital now to build this project,” he said. “But having said that, we have always looked for local partners to help get projects across the finish line.”

After any project is selected, Commissioner Recchia said the state can also place conditions on the developers’ permit that will ensure the project serves the public good.

“The state participating in the regional process is not relinquishing or changing any of our siting authorities for projects in state,” he said.

Canadian hydro’s impact on small-scale renewables

With hydropower imports being the chief focus of the region’s future energy supply, advocates for small-scale renewable generation are concerned Canadian power will flood regional markets.

“We want to make sure that imports of a significant amount from Canada that the public is being asked to help subsidize are not undermining efforts to build out more renewable supply in the region,” said Sandra Levine, a senior attorney for the Conservation Law Foundation.

John Bennett, executive director of the Sierra Club Canada, opposed industrial-scale hydropower and has been publicly seeking to stop the Northern Pass project.

Bennett said building out this transmission corridor only “undermines” the world’s energy future and “hooks people to the past.”

“Power should be generated close to where it’s being used,” he said. “Usually that’s more cost effective to the local community than bringing in electricity from the outside. We would really think that New England should be figuring out how to meet its own energy needs.”

Department of Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia testifies at a joint meeting on electric generation plants at the Statehouse Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

Department of Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia testifies at a joint meeting on electric generation plants at the Statehouse in September 2013. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

Rooftop solar, distributed energy, smart grid infrastructure and energy efficiency are better energy investments that support local economies and reduce environmental destruction, he said.

“Is this power actually needed or are there better ways to meet our energy needs?” Bennett said. “There are better ways to produce the power closer to where it’s being used.”

Recchia said importing hydropower will not undermine renewable energy development in Vermont. Instead, he said hydropower will fill in for old generating stations set to go offline in the coming years.

“I have never seen these as being competitive in that way,” Recchia said.

Environmental push-back

Hydroelectric power relies on dams to build up the force of moving water, generating the world’s largest source of renewable energy. But environmentalists say while this energy is renewable, it should not be considered clean.

Damming rivers disrupts local fish migration patterns and saturates upstream reservoirs with mercury levels poisonous to aquatic life, floods large swaths of land previously home to carbon-absorbing forests and indigenous populations and threatens downstream aquatic habitats.

“They fundamentally alter the ecosystem,” said Bennett, of the Sierra Club Canada. He said dams in Quebec, sometimes turning rivers into reservoirs larger than Lake Champlain, cause massive environmental damage.

Gary Sutherland, a spokesman for Hydro-Québec, said the company operates 61 generating stations, the vast majority of which are hydro powered. The company is in the process of building four new hydroelectric generation stations, one of which will come online this year.

Sutherland said the company has implemented business practices designed to minimize adverse environmental impacts. This includes using one reservoir to feed multiple generators, he said.

Hydro-Québec’s power cut 16 million metric tons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere in 2012, Sutherland said.

Market push-back

The initiative also calls for an expansion of natural gas infrastructure. And it would require electric ratepayers to help pay for long-term contracts with natural gas providers, a unique financing model designed to level spot-market price spikes and attract infrastructure investments.

Some natural gas companies would like power plant owners to lock in contracts. But power plant owners enjoy low prices on the spot market nine months out of the year under the current model.

A trade group representing power plant owners is opposing the market change they say will “undercut the highly competitive marketplace” for natural gas. The New England Power Generators Association said this year in a statement: “As a radical new concept, the proposal could face tremendous legal, regulatory and cost sharing hurdles.”

The proposal is a key component to the overall six-state pact. Nonetheless, it comes as no surprise that some power plant owners would view the proposal as a potential for litigation.

“It’s definitely a new animal that could be challenged in a variety of ways,” Recchia said.

Environmental, economic, legal and regulatory concerns will pose the greatest hurdles as southern states pressure the region to adopt an unprecedented energy policy.

And despite mounting momentum to find a solution to the region’s urgent energy needs, if any project is not in any state’s interest, states can simply call it off.

“We are all reserving our right to walk away from this,” Recchia said.

John Herrick

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  • Deb Tyson

    For starters you MUST SAY NO TO Blackstone. If you chose this route you will surely regret this decision. What looks good , is not always what it seems and will cost the people more down the road.
    Secondly seems to me it would of made alot more sense to invest in the upkeep and rebuilding of a safer VY.
    Remember the grass is not always greener on the other side as you are slowly seeing.

  • Paul Richards

    Whoops! We closed down our generating plants, we are being blocked from plastering the mountains and valleys with wind generators and solar panels, we are pushing electric cars and it looks like we will not be able to run our toasters soon. Oh, and we are not sure how we are going to fix this but we need more of your tax dollars to do whatever it is we are going to do. Sounds like a typical government plan. Looks like our neighboring country to the North has found a way to capitalize on our stupidity.

  • Kerrick Johnson, Velco VP states: “ Unfortunately, we don’t think the analyses conducted to date justify the speed at which this is being pursued”. Oh boy does that ring some sort of a bell on past behavior or what?

    Mr. Johnson has got it right in questioning proper analyses. I think of it in the parlance of Yogi Berra’s “déjà vu all over again” or Vermont dives head first into an empty swimming pool of industrial renewable energy policy.

    Look at the mess we have as a result of eschewing careful analyses and rushing headlong into mountain top development of industrial wind or lining our roadways with industrial solar development.

    Look at the impact of industrial wind and solar on the environment, look at the cost, look at the technical problems, look at the aesthetics, look at the impact on and reactions of the people. The pols in Montpelier rushed ahead with little to no documented comprehensive analyses demonstrating that industrial wind or solar passed any sort of a reasonable cost vs benefit analysis.

    Here’s an early warning from the electrical industry to proceed with caution, lets hope that the pols in Montpelier are listening this time.

    • John Greenberg

      Peter, what does ““We are all reserving our right to walk away from this,” Recchia said.” mean to you?

      • John:

        I have no idea of what Commissioner Recchia means.

        As we have all previously witnessed, it’s not what the Shumlin administration says that’s important, it’s what they do or don’t do.

        So before guessing what the Commissioner means in regard to matters requiring objective analysis, you may want to ask him for the comprehensive cost/benefit analysis that the state has done relating to the use of industrial wind and solar.

        You’ll remember the comprehensive cost/benefit that you repeatedly insisted the state had done before beginning to cover our mountains with industrial wind turbines and roadways with industrial solar panels. The same analysis that you have failed to identify or proved exists despite your inflexible insistence it has been done.

        The same wind and solar cost/benefit analysis that Commissioner Recchia is also unable to produce. I personally spoke with him on this matter and he could not identify any comprehensive cost/benefit analysis for wind and solar usage.

        If Commissioner Recchia is unable to show the people of Vermont the cost/benefit analysis done for wind and solar, how in the world can anyone know what he means when is says:” We are all reserving our right to walk away from this,” Recchia said.”

        Now maybe, you can tell us what he Commissioner means.

        • John Greenberg


          First, Recchia’s meaning is actually pretty clear: he’s saying that he’s not wedded to these transmission projects, is willing to investigate them, and is willing to pull out if they don’t seem right for Vermont. That seems pretty clear to me, and also pretty sane, since so much is unknown at present.

          You’ve never defined what you mean by “comprehensive cost/benefit analysis,” but depending on your definition, either it HAS already been done for energy (repeatedly) or it probably hasn’t been done for much of anything. If you’re looking for a mathematically precise document, you’re right, it doesn’t exist. The fact of the matter is, as I’ve explained elsewhere in these columns, it can’t exist except as deceptive fiction: there are too many assumptions and too many unknowns to make such a document possible.

          Here’s an example of why that’s so. The State did a shutdown analysis for VY back in the mid-1980s which relegated the potential costs of a catastrophic nuclear accident to a footnote saying that there was no way to calculate the costs, but that they would be in the hundreds of billions of dollars. The remainder of the document presented what purported to be very precise estimates, but without a figure which would have dwarfed all of them, that precision was totally illusory.

          Notwithstanding all that, the State HAS, over decades, investigated pretty thoroughly the economic and environmental costs of various energy resources, in legislative hearings, in DPS reports, and in PSB dockets. These have resulted in an in-depth look at the available alternatives, which, as I’m sure you know, are constantly shifting and changing. On the basis of those investigations, the legislature has chosen to guide utilities towards investing in renewable energy and to provide developers certain benefits for investing in them.

          It is worth adding – since you and many others appear to ignore it – that the State actually makes very few of the actual decisions about energy: developers and utilities actually decide which projects to build, which power to buy, what contracts to sign, etc. The legislature sets the ground rules and dictates the process (Act 248, SPEED, etc.). DPS represents the interests of ratepayers in PSB dockets when actual permits are required or rate cases brought, and the PSB, on the basis of legislative enactments and of its own case law makes the actual decisions. DPS is an arm of state government and represents the views of the sitting governor. PSB is an independent, quasi-judicial agency. Its members are appointed by governors for 6-year overlapping terms precisely so that they cannot be tied to any one governor’s administration. Jim Douglas inherited PSB members appointed by Howard Dean; Peter Shumlin inherited members appointed by both Dean and Douglas and has now added an appointment of his own as well as re-appointing one of the already serving members.

          State initiated energy projects do exist (e.g. the Churchill Falls project), but they are actually rare and constitute a tiny fraction of Vermont’s actual electricity supply.

          Your “critiques” about energy all have one thing in common: they completely fail survey the field of actual choices and choose the best alternative. Instead, as many commenters here do, you take potshots at the State’s choices by comparing them to – well, actually, to nothing at all. Is wind energy perfect? No, and all but its most rapid proponents admit that. But showing its imperfections (real or imagined) and declaring victory CANNOT be the end of an intelligent energy policy discussion.

          The only realistic policy question is this: is wind energy better or worse than the alternatives to it? Is it better environmentally than other energy sources? Yes, actually it is, and there are all kinds of studies to show that (even WITHOUT climate change, by the way). The same is true for solar. Are they more expensive than some forms of power? Yes. Are there valid reasons for that higher price? I think so and so does the legislature; others may not. But THAT is where the real policy decisions lie, not in enumerating the defects of just one source and pretending that doing so constitutes a legitimate policy argument.

          Let’s get a bit more into the weeds, shall we? Solar power is clearly more expensive than Vermont Yankee power. No one disputes that. But maybe that’s not all there is to the economic question a state government should be asking.

          Solar power comes with virtually no risks to human health or to the long-term environment (if agricultural land is used, it can easily be restored to its former glory by removing the solar installation). Nuclear, on the other hand, can have almost unimaginably vast consequence for both human populations and for the environment, though the probability of such a disaster is, thankfully, quite low (but unknown, and despite repeated attempts WASH-1600 and others, not calculable). The economic consequences of such an accident are in the hundreds of billions of dollars, and would impact all of northern New England, not just Vermont. The Vermont Yankee site will cost roughly $1 billion to clean up (Entergy’s estimate) and will leave a legacy of highly radioactive fuel in dry casks for the indefinite future.

          In addition, solar (and wind) installations have an arguably positive benefit on the State (I know you and others think otherwise). Scotland actually uses its wind “farms” as a tourist attraction. Nuclear power has a demonstrably negative impact (in my days in the NEC office, I fielded numerous calls asking whether it’s safe to live near VY). When accidents or mishaps are announced – like VY’s tritium leaks or its collapsing cooling towers – their impact on the environment may be trivial, but their impact on the “Vermont brand” is clearly not.

          VY created 600 full-time jobs; solar has created about twice that in Vermont, at FAR lower levels of energy production. Nuclear jobs have a relatively low multiplier effect, because nuclear components and even hardware cannot be purchased locally (for the most part). Solar jobs have a much higher multiplier for the opposite reason.

          Over time, solar costs are in sharp decline, while VY’s costs were set to rise (as major components needed replacement).

          So how should we compare all those things? What would a cost/benefit comparison even look like, beyond this kind of enumeration?

          I’ve asked you before to share with us what YOU think the State should be doing and the silence is always deafening.

          When you provide actual alternatives – instead of merely highlighting what you see as the defects of State actions and/or the downsides of the energy sources you’ve decided to hate, then we’ll have something to discuss.

          Otherwise, your demand for “cost/benefit analysis” rhetoric is empty and really quite meaningless.

          • John:

            As expected, a lot of words but no answer.

            It reminds me of the old saying:

            Ask someone the time and he tells you how to build a clock.

            Again, you have delivered a clock and as usual it doesn’t tell the time.

          • David Dempsey

            I agree completely with Peter. I think that if the PSB issues a certificate of public good, shouldn’t they be able to give the public the details of why it is for the public good It is a simple question that deserves a strightforward answer, not the 17 paragraph diatribe in your reply to Peter that left me dazed and confused.

          • John Greenberg

            You’ve used that before.
            I DID answer you: in considerable detail. Now try responding to the actual points I raised.

            Start here. Please tell us what you mean by “comprehensive cost/benefit analysis.”

          • John Greenberg

            David Dempsey,

            Peter wasn’t talking about the PSB, so nor was I for the most part.

            There is, indeed, a simple answer to your question.

            Whenever the PSB issues a permit, it DOES provide “the details of why it is for the public good.”

            In every Board order I’ve seen, the order begins with the history of the case (recounted in detail) and the positions of each of the parties. It then explains each element of its decision and the legal and factual reasons that it reached the decision it did in considerable detail.

            It then grants or denies the permit with restrictions, if any, which have been explained by the discussion which precedes the actual order.

            You should try reading a PSB decision.

          • Justin Turco

            VY created 600 full-time jobs; solar has created about twice that in Vermont, at FAR lower levels of energy production.

            I’m a ratepayer in this state. So creating lots of jobs and not creating much power really doesn’t excite me. That drives the cost per unit up. Creating lots of jobs and making power that can be COUNTED ON when needed. I’d go for that. Might even be able to swallow being a neighbor to that power. Not joyfully mind you.

            I read your post. And Ah…I’d still like to see the studies and numbers which show why it is that our legislators have mandated the renewable energy that, as a result, our PSB MUST keep approving.

          • John:

            Your plea for a definition of what would be included in a cost/benefit analysis for wind and solar at this point is absolutely disingenuous at best.

            We have debated the lack of any comprehensive state conducted cost/benefit analysis relating to wind and solar development over the past several months. You have repeatedly told me such a study had already been done, but I was too lazy, or something to that effect, to find it.

            As part of those discussions references were made to S.30, a bill filed last year that called for and included a definition of what such an analysis would include. Industrial solar could be added to the requirements of the bill.

            Here’s a definition from S.30 in the very remote possibility that you’re not already ready aware of it:

            “(b) Assessment. Assisted by the Board and Department, the Agency shall assess and analyze:

            (1) the impacts on the environment, natural resources, and quality of life of all wind generation plants and wind meteorological stations in Vermont in existence or under construction as of the effective date of this section;
            (2) the environmental costs and benefits of wind generation plants and wind meteorological stations, including:
            (A) the value of any ecosystem services affected by such plants and towers; and
            (B) the economic efficiency of investing in wind generation plants to reduce Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions in comparison to other measures to reduce those emissions such as transportation fuel efficiency and thermal energy efficiency;
            (3) the economic costs and benefits of wind generation plants and wind meteorological stations;
            (4) the current policy and practice of selling renewable energy credits from wind generation plants to utilities in other jurisdictions and the effect of this policy and practice on reducing Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions;

          • John Greenberg


            Thanks for the text for S30. The bill sat on my computer desktop for a while, but I never got around to reading it. Then when it became clear that it wasn’t going anywhere anyway, I filed it away unread. So no, I had not read this language previously.

            Reading it now, I wonder if the drafters provided the millions dollars in research funding that would have been required to carry out all their demands (more precisely, to do so in anything but the most slipshod fashion), but I’m guessing they probably didn’t.

            My earlier comment of June 10 @ 1:02 tried to explain precisely WHY the kinds of detailed studies this asks for would be unproductive, (and incredibly expensive). I won’t repeat myself.

            I will clarify my statements from many months ago with an apology (of sorts) to you. As I noted in my comments above for which you’ve already clearly expressed your contempt, various entities in Vermont HAVE studied all of these issues informally for many decades. THAT is what I had in mind when I told you months ago that these studies had been done.

            Since it is now clear that you are demanding a level of precision and detail which is well beyond that – and, as I’ve noted – would be essentially useless in any case due to the number of unknowns and assumptions that would necessarily be entailed – I was wrong earlier to tell you that the studies you demand have already been done. What I should have said THEN is what I AM saying now: namely, that they should never be done because it would waste huge amounts of resources for absolutely no benefit whatever to the state.

            (I should have demanded THEN that you define your terms, which I now see that I misunderstood then until your latest response. So I apologize for my earlier misstatement. It was based on MY understanding of what an intelligent cost-benefit analysis in this area should be, which is clearly different from what you have in mind.)

            My fundamental point, however, has not changed at all. If, on the basis of the studies that HAVE already been done, we know which resources should be preferred as a matter of state policy – and I contend that we DO know that – then spending time and resources in a vain attempt to put a bogus set of numbers on that knowledge would be a complete waste of taxpayers’ money. It adds to the reasons why I’m quite pleased that S 30 was not enacted.

            In sum, the State has NOT done the kind of analysis you demand, nor should it. It doesn’t do it for the vast majority of its policy initiatives in most other areas either, and that too is a good thing. Doing what you require would render government totally unresponsive to actual needs while simultaneously costing taxpayers a small fortune. I’m glad Vermonters had and still have the good sense not to go that route.

          • David Dempsey

            You clearly know a lot more about the PSB than I do. Before you told me exactly how little I know about the CPG process, you said that Peter wasn’t talking about the PSB. When Peter wrote “I personally spoke with him (Commissioner Recchia) on this matter and he could not identify any comprehensive cost/benefit analysis for wind or solar usage” I took that to be a reference to the PSB and that they would do a cost/benefit analysis when making their decisions. I got your message, I’m not smart enough to reply to your posts.

          • John Greenberg

            David Dempsey,

            Mr. Recchia is the commissioner of the Department of Pubic Service, which is part of the Shumlin administration. He is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the governor, as I already explained above.

            He is NOT part of the PSB, which, again as noted above, is an independent, quasi-judicial agency.

          • John McClaughry

            “Nuclear jobs have a relatively low multiplier effect, because nuclear components and even hardware cannot be purchased locally (for the most part).”
            Yes, that’s true. But where are the solar PV panels coming from?

          • John Greenberg


            Solar panels are not currently produced in VT, but I was referring not to the panels but to everything else: wires, all the hardware, conduit, etc. For a nuclear plant, most of this stuff must be nuclear certified; for solar, it can be (and no doubt is) purchased locally for the most part.

          • Lance Hagen

            I hadn’t been following the comments to this article until this morning.

            I see Mr. Greenberg has invoked his usual ‘too complex to figure out’ with his statement on a cost/benefit analysis, “as I’ve explained elsewhere in these columns, it can’t exist except as deceptive fiction: there are too many assumptions and too many unknowns to make such a document possible”.

            This is his customary ploy when he cannot produce numbers to support his arguments!

          • John Greenberg


            I’m still waiting for the sourced and documented numbers on Price- Anderson. This is my third (or fourth) request. Apparently, YOUR standard ploy is to insist it’s possible to put valid numbers on these things, but never produce any.

            I would remind you that your first set of numbers you offered on subsidies — months ago – came from EIA with an explicit disclaimer about Price-Anderson and a general disclaimer about ALL sorts of other numbers not being included, all of which you conveniently chose to ignore.

            It’s pretty easy to come up with bogus and misleading numbers for a good many things. One regular commenter does it multiple times per day. It’s quite another to come up with credible numbers, which do not depend on hotly contested assumptions and/or simply ignored, but critical inputs, and which could form a rational basis for decision making.

            You’ve been repeatedly willing to criticize me for explaining why I think it’s virtually impossible to provide accurate, worthwhile numbers, and that is certainly fair enough. But not when you’ve totally failed to provide numbers of your own that can pass even the most minimal muster. Bring me the numbers you keep telling us are so readily available, and I’ll be happy to confess the error of my ways. Until then, your complaints ring pretty hollow, at least to these old ears.

        • A couple of points and a perspective from Maine:

          o The arguments against an underwater conduit in Lake Champlain also apply to underwater conduits to offshore wind platforms.

          o You already have a North South right of way in the Interstate highways. Running conduit down them is not only ‘cheap’ by comparison; but enables inexpensive electric vehicle recharging stations and potentially electric powered monorail transport.

          o When you say “Damming rivers disrupts local fish migration patterns and saturates upstream reservoirs with mercury levels poisonous to aquatic life, floods large swaths of land previously home to carbon-absorbing forests and indigenous populations and threatens downstream aquatic habitats” it’s really AGW hysteria.

          Maine not only has seen a major salmon decline but this winter Smelt have also disappeared, despite removing dams. Wildlife biologists finally acknowledge the problem is not the dams, most of them were in place by 1820, but far at sea.

          Mercury is sediment-ed in the bottom of dam impounds, removing the dam releases all these mercury from the bottom and sides; even expensive removal of earth doesn’t remove all the toxins and simply moves them somewhere else.

          Watersheds are nourished by flooded impounds with the result that biomass along the shores is lush and full. Removing the dam may result in more forest, just like the clear cuts for wind farms and their lengthy transmission lines; but it also eliminates the wetlands.

          Nothing threatens down stream habitats more than a raging flood. The Androscoggin’s chain of dams tamed what were once violent floods and enabled power production up and down the river; which in turn spawned industry now vitally needed.

          Ask any fisherman where the fishing is best and when, they will tell you after a heavy rain when all the stocked fish—-another dirty secret, without artificial stocking there would be few fish; get washed downstream.

          There is a new generation of technologies which enable both fish migration and power production at low head weirs….Archimedes screws can even move shad upstream and are the fav. of British environmentalists. Columbs can draw water into a penstock and fish can swim over them for Microhydro installations…see http://www.KatahdinEnergyWorks.com for references and documentation.

      • David Dempsey

        You are absolutely right. I was way wrong associating Mr. Recchi with the PSB, and I do know that the DPS people are appointed by the governor. But I still contend that both the DPS and PSB need to explain to the less informed Vermonters, like myself, why they decide that the public will benefit from projects. That is why they exist. Just because you know more than the average working Vermonter about the way they work, as you like to point out in your posts, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be kept in the loop, with clear, easy to understand press releases.

        • Richard Ratico


          As John Greenberg has ALREADY informed you, the PSB does explain it’s decisions, as public record, in great detail. All you have to do is take the time to read them.

          • An individual project evaluation made by the PSB amounts to a review of tactics. It does not amount to a strategic evaluation.

            The state’s strategy for renewable energy has never been evaluated at the comprehensive cost vs benefit level, which is what I have been saying. This is stunning in light of the billions of dollars involved and the overall impact energy policy has on the people and environment.

            To further complicate matters, over time the primary justification for renewables seems to have morphed from a need for energy independence and cost to a need to meet the dangers of climate change.

            In the 2011 Comprehensive Energy Plan or CEP, environmental concerns are secondary to energy independence and cost. As a matter of fact, the words “global warming” or “climate change” are not even mentioned in Gov. Shumlin’s and former Department of Public Service Commissioner Elizabeth Millers’ introduction to the CEP. It’s not until the seventh bullet in the description of the state’s current energy picture that the words “climate change’ are even mentioned.

            So what is the state’s primary strategic objective with energy policy? Is it energy independence and costs or reversal of global warming? What ever the primary objective may be, that objective has never been tested from a cost vs benefit prospective. The evaluation is relegated to measuring tactical efforts at the PSB level, which may or may not further strategic goals.

            John Greenberg’s recent view that it would cost millions to do such a comprehensive evaluation is short sighted and wrong. I don’t know where John got such a figure of millions of dollars to do such an analysis. Maybe he can tell us. Even if his cost is anywhere close to being correct, there are multi-billions of dollars at stake with energy policy and a comprehensive cost vs benefit analysis is warranted.

            This week the Gov. Shumlin lauded a new state government accountability program. With the introduction of the new program the Governor said:

            “Too often government tries to do what’s best but without the right data to test government’s efficacy. We rarely ask the question, as we continue to throw more money at these programs, are we getting the data-driven results that we believe we’re getting when we give you more money?”

            I would guess that the Governor’s sentiments would apply to the state’s policy on renewable energy.

          • David Dempsey

            FYI, I ALREADY know that you can read the PSB decisions and I have read several PSB decisions on issues that interest me. You can make me look stupid, I don’t mind. But my point is that the majority of Vermonters don’t know what the PSB does let alone know how to read a report that explains their decisions. That’s all I’m saying. Your comment that the PSB decisions are public records is true, but do you really think that the average working Vermonter is being informed sufficiently. If you do, you don’t know much about Vermonters.

          • Richard Ratico


            Hard working people everywhere, not only Vermonters, are challenged to find the time to keep abreast of all the issues that affect them. Many who have the time would rather spend it watching TV.

            As has been pointed out to you, the PSB is composed of members appointed by various administrations, in an attempt to keep their decisions as politically impartial as possible. Long before their decisions are reached, public hearings are held. These are announced in advance so interested parties can attend.

            The PSB’s job is to represent the OVERALL interests of Vermonters. Like all government in this country, it is designed to be representative of the people it serves.

            If an individual is interested in an issue, it is their RESPONSIBILITY as a citizen to become informed. The means to do so are available.

            What would you propose to fix the problem you perceive? Would you agree to higher taxes to pay the PSB to employ an individual to handle public relations?

          • John Greenberg


            You raise various points, which I’ll try to answer:

            1) “An individual project evaluation made by the PSB amounts to a review of tactics. It does not amount to a strategic evaluation.” If, by that, you mean that the PSB functions within parameters set by the legislature, that’s correct.

            However, the parameters the legislature sets are VERY broad, and do not require the level of detail that the kind of “cost/benefit analysis” you’re calling for would entail. The PSB, on the other hand, takes a very detailed look at the specific parameters of each project it considers, and produces a written opinion summarizing the results.

            2) “I don’t know where John got such a figure of millions of dollars to do such an analysis. Maybe he can tell us.” I’d be happy to.

            After I helped the legislature write the state’s legislation concerning “low-level” radioactive waste, I monitored both the Agency of Natural Resources and the Low-Level Radioactive Waste Authority (and to a far lesser extent, DPS and the PSB) who had to carry out what the law required.

            Both the Agency and the Authority invited me (representing the New England Coalition at the time and, as I recall, a representative of Vermont Yankee) to serve on panels with them, to review proposals for contractors for the various RFPs involved (there were quite a few of them). Doing so gave me a pretty clear idea of what it costs to do the kinds of studies you’ve asked for here.

            One example will suffice. Over objections I raised (representing the New England Coalition at the time), the legislature voted to require the characterization of the Vermont Yankee site as a possible repository, while also attempting to find suitable sites elsewhere in the site and out-of-state. I objected to the VY site because VY had already hired a contractor to do a quick and dirty study, costing roughly $30,000, which found that the site is just about everything you do NOT want for storing waste. But there were several political reasons why the legislature refused to heed my advice. So a study was commissioned, which undertook to do the work properly, at a cost of somewhat north of $1 million, and which, after many months, reached the same conclusion. The study was FAR from complete when the Authority decided that it made no sense to spend yet more money on a site which clearly wouldn’t work. It’s a safe bet that a FULL study would have cost a good deal more.

            This was a partial study of just one site, not of “the impacts on the environment, natural resources, and quality of life of ALL wind generation plants and wind meteorological stations in Vermont in existence or under construction.” In addition, “quality of life” was not included at all, and would presumably require detailed sociological inquiry.

            Still, this is just one bullet item on the list you provided from Act 30. And actually, it’s pretty straightforward. The next bullet requires the examination of “the value of any ecosystem services affected by such plants and towers. Reaching an economic valuation of natural resources is contentious and exceedingly difficult. I can only guess – and I admit it’s a guess – that such a study would be AT LEAST as expensive, and quite possibly more so, than the preceding one.

            But the really expensive item is this one: “the economic costs and benefits of wind generation plants and wind meteorological stations.” To be done properly, this requires a full comparative analysis of the costs not just of wind, but of the OTHER competing electricity resources that might be used. Some of these studies have been done elsewhere, but I doubt very much that all of them have, and in any case, it’s not clear that relying on them would be acceptable. Moreover, all of them are exceedingly contentious in any case, because they require analysts to make large numbers of assumptions about things which are both unknown and in many cases, unknowable.

            Examples: nuclear plants were originally licensed for 40 years, and the NRC is now renewing many of them for another 20. But none has lasted much past around 45 years; many have shut down far earlier than that; and many nuclear projects were never consummated at all. So what is the lifespan of a nuclear plant? The question can’t be answered on the basis of US experience, since so many of the reactors are still operating and will not get into the 40+ category for many years to come. But if you don’t have a correct answer to that question, then whatever answers you provide for capital costs per units of generation will end up being wrong.

            But even if you’re right, you’re far from done. In the last decade, US nuclear plants have averaged around 90% capacity factors. Bravo! But those same plants operated at FAR lower capacity plants in the preceding decades. Vermont Yankee, for example, had a lifetime average under 85% in the 90s, and even earlier, it was well below 80%. For most of its years, VY was an industry leader. So what is the correct capacity factor for this economic analysis of nuclear plants?

            But we’re STILL not done, because we haven’t talked about the life cycle. To produce electricity from a nuclear plant requires not just the plant itself, but uranium mining, milling, enrichment, and fuel fabrication, on the front end, and waste disposal on the back end. We still have no idea what we will do with the waste products long-term, so those costs are totally unknown and unknowable.

            And as I’ve pointed out elsewhere at some length, the value of the Price-Anderson Act is incalculable, which is precisely why it exists in the first place: insurance actuaries could not come up with an accurate figure on which to base potential premiums, so the companies refused to underwrite the risk.

            This doesn’t CONCLUDE the problematic assumptions; it’s just the beginning of a laundry list. And it’s for just ONE energy source.

            A last example. It’s well understood that coal burning plants emit a variety of pollutants – mercury, nitrous oxide, etc. – into the air, and that these emissions actually cause illness and death in the surrounding population. What’s the value of those illnesses and deaths? What’s the value of the life of a cow? A fish? They’re harmed by pollution as well. What about the “ecological services” damaged by burning coal? All of these apply to other energy sources as well, of course.

            3) My point above was simple enough. Measuring all of this stuff with the kind of precision you’re asking for is a burdensome task, full of uncertainties and quite costly. There is no doubt in my mind that the studies called for in S 30 would have cost millions and taken a LONG time to complete, if done properly.

            By contrast, simply calling in expert witnesses the way the legislature regularly does and asking the pertinent questions will often get you the answers you need WITHOUT all these studies at little or no cost, and with as much practical accuracy as needed for the purposes of making policy.

            I’ll add a point here that I didn’t mention previously. If you were to produce the studies you’re asking for, I’d be willing to guarantee you that fewer than 10, probably fewer than 5, and most likely ZERO legislators would actually have the time or inclination to read them. There are only 24 hours in a day, and legislators have MANY complex issues on their agendas, besides this one (and, of course, no staffs). Even the most conscientious among them (and in my experience, MOST of them are conscientious) do not have the time – assuming they had nothing else to do and no other jobs – to read the voluminous results such studies would produce. Before you ask, I can tell you that I know this from my experience of reading these reports – which is hardly light reading – as well as my experience of the legislative process (as described above).

            Presumably, if we’re doing these studies for energy, we’d want them done for education (at every level), for transportation and road construction, for hospitals and health care, for GMOS, and for all the other areas in which state government has a role to play.

            Once done, the question is whether, for all the energy and resources expended in these studies, you’ll have learned anything more than you would have by reading basic comparisons, listening to experts, and taking the kind of testimony that the legislature DOES take on these issues. My suggestion is that you wouldn’t, or more precisely, that the likelihood that what you would learn would actually result in different policy decisions is actually vanishingly small.

            The fact is, Peter, that you don’t like Vermont’s energy decisions because you refuse – I’ve asked you multiple times – to engage in precisely the kind of general comparative analysis on which it is based. The question is really pretty simple: since ALL energy sources are problematic in a variety of ways, which ones should get priority from a policy vantage point? Talking about wind and solar only, without comparing them to the other possibilities, is totally spurious, since electricity WILL be consumed and must therefore be produced by some means. The question is not and has never been wind and solar versus nothing at all. It’s always been wind and solar versus fossil fuels, nuclear, hydro, biomass, and other potential sources.

            I submit that once you actually DO the comparisons, the answers get pretty clear, pretty fast. (It’s hard to resist the temptation to believe that’s exactly WHY you refuse to do the comparison).

            4) If your demand were reasonable, then it should certainly apply to every enterprise undertaken in the state, either in the private sector (and it’s worth remembering that it’s the private sector which develops the vast majority of our energy resources) or by the State itself. This would, as noted above, bring the State to a total halt.

            What the governor called for is quite different: namely, an examination of EFFICACY of specific, existing programs. Some of these studies would be too difficult or expensive for similar reasons, but many can be done at reasonable cost in cases where “efficacy” can be rationally reduced to numbers as, in many cases, it can and where parameters are more intelligently established.

            5) I have objected many times to the notion that energy policy can or should be reduced to just the issue of climate change. It happens that the very same energy sources which excel generally from an environmental point of view – wind, solar, and other renewable resources – also do exceedingly well (comparatively) when it comes to climate change. But the Comprehensive Energy Plan is RIGHT not to attempt to reduce all our policy decisions to this one issue. It’s a bit strange that you don’t believe in climate change, yet you’re now complaining that climate change isn’t mentioned “until the seventh bullet in the description of the state’s current energy picture.”

            Finally, it’s at least ironic that someone who disbelieves the evidence that the overwhelming majority of the scientific community accepts concerning climate change is repeatedly demanding studies which, once completed, he surely will not believe unless they tell him precisely what he wants to hear.

          • David Dempsey

            I guess you consider me to be a complete moron. You assume that I don’t know anything about the members of the PSB and who appointed them, or what their purpose is. I’m sure it will surprise you to know that I actually know these things and none of my comments have been about who the members are or that they look out for the best interests of Vermonters. I could care less about the politics of the governors who appointed them. I do know that Governor Shumlin has appointed only one member of the board, Margaret Cheney, and he also re-appointed the chair of the PSB Jim Volz, who was also appointed chair by Governor Douglas. Your last paragraph does talk about what I have said and I’m glad that you agree that there is a problem. As you said, most of us watch tv, and many do watch at least some of the state news. This is just an idea, but what if the PSB press releases to the media were easier to understand, maybe some people, obviously not all, who watch the news at or read the newspaper might want to know more about the issues. If the legislature could be part of the process, not to make decisions, concerned residents could contact their reps to at least be heard and let the PSB know what people are saying. Most Vermonters know who their reps are, but couldn’t tell you one name of a PSB member. Ok, you can now tell me how stupid my ideas are.

          • John:

            WOW…..4.25 pages, single placed using #12 size font and we get a paper based on an array of bad assumptions. I actually printed your comments out to see what it would look like in hard copy on standard size paper. Your response has to be a vtdigger record for length.

            As for your assumptions, the worst is presented in your last paragraph where you say:

            “Finally, it’s at least ironic that someone who disbelieves the evidence that the overwhelming majority of the scientific community accepts concerning climate change….”

            John, you’re absolutely death wrong with this statement. You’re equally wrong with other assumptions made through the paper making it of marginal use, unless one wants to read about your glory days fighting nuclear power.

            The simply fact is that I do believe there is global warming and we’re facing today. I think most people do believe we face global warming, many of them battle with you each day on the vtdigger.

            Most recently Professor Hans Ohanian, a believer in global warming, joined the fray with his own commentary. As an introduction to his recent opinion piece, the vtdigger editors condensed his thinking to:

            “Most of Vermont’s energy policies are uninventive, injudicious, poorly suited to local climate conditions, and extravagantly expensive; and some do more harm than good, when all the collateral damage is considered”

            In his piece, Professor Ohanian paid note to the weaknesses of wind and solar usage in Vermont.

            I’m definitely not nearly as smart or articulate as Professor Ohanian, but what I have been saying essentially parallels his thinking on the effectiveness of wind and solar in Vermont. I think they’re a bad deal for a whole host of reasons.

            So let’s stipulate that there is global warming and man plays a role in its creation. This should put the global warming issue and name calling behind us and allow the conversation to focus on solutions.

            So what should we do? I say deciding what course to follow requires comparative analysis of energy alternatives, a point I have made to you and others in the past on this very vtdigger. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t pulled your chain if given the opportunity.

            I’ll leave the “how to” on the analysis to the experts. I believe it can be done and it won’t cost millions, even though that would be a small price to pay considering the billions at stake.

          • John Greenberg


            1) You write “You’re equally wrong with other assumptions made through the paper,” but provide no specifics. Obviously, I can’t answer a charge like that without having even a clue what you’re talking about.

            The only specific “assumption” you challenge is the implication in my paragraph that you don’t believe in anthropogenic global warming, which came from reading your statements about the issue elsewhere in Vermont Digger. If you’d really like me to dig through your various remarks to find those which certainly APPEAR to imply the opposite, I can do so. You now say you DO believe in it, so I’m happy to take your word for it.

            2) Yet again, you (of all people) talk about “name calling.” What name or names did I call you (or anyone)? I’m tired of this bogus refrain. And perhaps you’d refrain from comments like this one: “unless one wants to read about your glory days fighting nuclear power,” which is clearly intended to be offensive, but is actually just wrong: the bill I helped write was written with and supported by Vermont Yankee.

            3) “I say deciding what course to follow requires comparative analysis of energy alternatives, a point I have made to you and others in the past on this very vtdigger.” I found that statement startling, Peter. If you’ve said it before, I sure must have missed it. I’ve asked you repeatedly about alternatives, and there has never been any response.

            The point I’ve made repeatedly is this: until you provide even the crudest analysis of potential sources and choose some of them, your critiques of wind and solar will ring hollow. Vermont WILL get electricity (and other energy) from SOME source, so the only valid question is which one is best. I’ll ask again: if Vermont does NOT use wind or solar power, what SHOULD we use?

            4) If you look at the comments on Mr. Ohanian’s column, you’ll find that I’ve replied to some of his analysis, again in detail and at length. He, by the way, DOES pick a source: nuclear. I disagree with him, of course, but at least there’s something specific to discuss.

            Finally, I should have mentioned this earlier in this discussion – but frankly I’d forgotten about it: a consortium of Vermont commissioned a 2 phase comparative analysis of potential energy sources for NEW power plants in Vermont. It’s called “Technical and Cost Issues of Generation Alternatives.” Phase One is dated January 18, 2008 and the report was written by Concentric Energy Advisors (CEA).

            I got my copy from CVPS. (One part is incorporated into DPS’s testimony concerning VY and is therefore presumably available from DPS. I’ll warn you that Willem Post, in whom you appear to place great faith, has been very critical of CEA’s ASSUMPTION about the capacity factor for potential Vermont wind turbines. Whether he’s read the rest of the report or not, I can’t say. As I noted before, reports like this are ALWAYS dependent on assumptions, and this report is no exception.

  • Kathy Leonard

    This is a well-put together, informative piece.

    Our state and national conversations about energy are all be about increasing sources of supply – and rarely, if ever about reducing demand. This holds true for this article as well. Does anyone really think we can solve our climate change problems with new and more technologies while not seriously altering our economy and how we live on this planet?

    I would invite VTDigger and others to look at this other side of the equation on these pages. George Plumb is the only one I can think of who has his eye on the ball in play — how we can live on this planet with less, rather than how to fuel more, always more. Energy audits should reach far beyond our homes, and extend into our lives and our economy. In 2014, “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” should be only the beginning, with “do without” getting more attention across the media.

  • Tesla et al discovered grids are totally unnecessary. When are we going to wake up?

  • It is about time people are waking up to the fact nuclear and coal plants will be shutting down in New England.

    Where is all that base-loaded energy going to come from?

    Building out renewable energy systems would take too long in New England and it would be too expensive, and it cause enormous environmental damage to pristine ridge lines .

    It is best to build out transmission to bring about 3 to 4 thousand MW of excess hydro capacity from Quebec, New Brunswick and Labrador to New England.

    Note that private investors are already proposing exactly such transmission from the border of Canada, via Lake Champlain, to Ludlow, Vermont.

    TDI New England announced last year it plans to build a 154-mile, $1.2 billion underground transmission line to import up to 1,000 megawatts of renewable Canadian power into the grid.

    A great way to get inexpensive, renewable, steady, high quality, near-zero-CO2 emission, hydro energy from Canada into New England.

    The project, called Clean Power Link, would pass a line beneath Lake Champlain and connect with a DC to AC converter station in Ludlow.”

    Many such under-water and under-ground HVDC lines already exist in Europe.

    New England Example; proposed:

    Northern Pass, an HVDC, north-south transmission system is planned from Franklin, NH, to Deerfield, NH; 187 miles; capacity 1,200 MW; capital cost $1.4 billion; 1400/187 = $7.49 million/mile, or 1400/1200 = $1.17 million/MW.

    HVDC energy from hydro plants in sparsely-populated Quebec, New Brunswick and Labrador is fed into the system at the Canada-NH border and transmitted to southern NH, where it is fed, after conversion, into existing HVAC systems; any modifications required to the HVAC systems are not included in the cost estimate.

    The Netherlands-Norway Example; existing:

    There exists a 580 km-long (363 miles), underwater, HVDC line from the northern tip of Holland to the southern tip of Norway; capacity, 700 MW; voltage, 900,000 V; cable resistance at 50 degrees C, 29 ohm; cable losses at rated load, 2.5%; capital cost, 600 million euro ($780 million); in service 6 May 2008; 780/363 = $2.15 million/mile, or 780/700 = $1.11 million/MW; a second line is planned.

    NOTE: Comparing the above New England examples and the Netherlands-Norway example, the onshore HVDC cost/mile is about 3.4 times the offshore cost/mile.

    Note the capital cost per MW for the above three projects.

    It is about the same for all three projects, which is to be expected.

    $1.20 million/MW, proposed
    $1.17 million/MW, proposed
    $1.11 million/MW, existing


    • The rising cost of maintaining underwater conduit to off shore wind platforms is alarming government energy planners in Germany and elsewhere, and is one of the factors forcing consolidation off shore wind farms.

      • Frank,

        You are comparing apples and oranges.

        Gathering energy from hundreds of spread-out offshore wind turbines is indeed expensive, but this article talks about point to point transmission,

        Look at the examples in my comment.

        The HVDC line between the Netherlands and Norway has bee a great success. A second line, parallel to it, is planned.

  • Maurice Diette

    In the event the power is simply a pass-through to other southern New England states, how do we in Vermont get paid for the transmission that benefits others?

    • Maurice

      There are what is called transit fees.

      VELCO would be collecting them.

  • Wayne Andrews

    I say “Hogwash” to all these comments. We need to be self sustaining in this country and not solely rely on other countries be it Canada or another.
    Keep the windmills coming, hydro stateside and put those rods back into play.

    • When are we going to wake up?

    • Jeff Noordsy

      Mr. Andrews, I hope you are sitting down. I am about to sell you a secret and I don’t want you to be alarmed. That natural gas project you are constantly defending? The gas passing through those pipes will be imported from Canada, increasing our dependence upon FOREIGN energy sources and reducing our ability to create self sustainable energy. Perhaps it’s time to rethink your position.

      • Vanessa Mills

        Further point to add to Mr. Noordsy’s suggestion for Mr. Andrews: Green Mountain Power (The developer for Kingdom “Community” Wind a.k.a the Lowell Project) is owned by Gaz Metro. Connect the dots from there to Enbridge, etc. Also, Vermont Gas Systems is owned by Gaz Metro. Gaz Metro is Canadian, Mr. Andrews.

      • Jeff,

        The US will be energy independent in a few years, as cars become more efficient and gas production increases. It does not depend on the little gas imported from Canada.

        I hope the US is not so stupid as to export the gas for geo-political reasons, as it would raise gas prices in the US.

        • Jeff Noordsy

          The current government (yes, that equals YOU both Democrats and Republicans) is EXACTLY that stupid. Thank you for helping me make my point Willem.

  • Hattie Nestel

    Thank goodness for some rational, logical, well thought through statements from both John Bennett and Kathy Leonard!!!
    Wow, how can the herd get so far out there with dangerous, costly and ultimately both environmental and economic disasters which, as always, taxpayers, now and in decades to come will bare the burden. Surely, this is how we got stuck with VY !
    What will it take us not to destroy indigenous lands in Canada any further, not to destroy Lake Champlain, and not go forward with what we neither need nor will benefit from.
    Hattie Nestel

    • Hattie
      While the earths inhabitants are committing planticide,
      is it rational and prudent to ignore compelling credible evidence of ET technology, witnessed by, arguably, people who’s judgment and soundness of mind is among the most scrutinized on the planet, namely military personnel, including nuclear launch officers and personnel securing thermonuclear ICBMs?
      If you are really concerned for earth`s future, really show it. Discern information on my link. Some of us need to step away from our ego attachments.

  • Maren Vasatka

    I find it ironic that Kerrick Johnson thinks we need to slow down and analyze this project “measure twice and get this right” while his affiliate Vermont Gas wants to cram this pipeline in before anyone can blink.

    Chris Recchia seems to want to sell everyone’s land, easements etc for the Vermont coffers which no one can control. This just gives the state a blank check to spend on education and healthcare instead of creating a system that we can afford. Well I know Recchia and Shumlin are NIMBY’s because none of this is in their back yard but they are more than willing to sell ours.

    • Vanessa Mills

      “Chris Recchia seems to want to sell everyone’s land, easements etc for the Vermont coffers which no one can control. This just gives the state a blank check to spend on education and healthcare instead of creating a system that we can afford. Well I know Recchia and Shumlin are NIMBY’s because none of this is in their back yard but they are more than willing to sell ours.”

      YES, indeed, Maren Vasatka. Folks are catching on.

  • Steve Comeau

    Very informative article.

    “ISO New England estimates about 8,300 megawatts of generation to go offline by 2020, about a quarter of the region’s total energy needs.” That amount is more than 10 times the production of Vermont Yankee. Perhaps that is why the word “massive” is used four times in this article.

    The electricity needed to replace the plants going offline will need to come from somewhere. It will be interesting to see how this evolves, but I would be very surprised if none of these transmission lines are built. The need is too great and there are billions of dollars involved. Hopefully good choices will be made in the details. The choice of using renewable hydro instead of more natural gas is a good one, but a choice that requires big transmission lines. Either way, I have no doubt that they will “keep the lights on” in New England.

  • The use of the natural resources of VT should be decided, owned and controlled by the communities that are stakeholders. The decisions should not be made by largely unaccountable service boards, high and mighty officials, corporate heads or ‘the market’.

    I would guess there would have been little opposition to VT wind farms if they had been actual community projects rather than corporate projects forced upon our communities by bullying tactics. This might be true about power lines as well.

  • Don Peterson

    Resisting the passage of these mega projects helps to foster the development of just in time energy, that is generated where it is needed, with minimal transmission losses.

    Resources spent on large transmission projects should be directed towards research for on site storage of solar power– after all, three billion years of plant evolution solved the problem of what to do about sunsets, so why cant we?

  • Mike DiCenso

    The human race would survive without any of these energy choices. I notice nobody has suggested a CO2 study of the emissions in China where the rare earth metals are mined and processed. Doesn’t their ecosystem count?Climate change from heavy industry will not be lessened by increasing heavy industry.

  • walter moses

    Now I want to build some industrial windmills that are really ugly and I need a name for this project. The Really Gross and Wasteful Windmill Project? No, sounds as bad as it will look.. I got it! It will be a FARM! Yeah, a WIND FARM. Boy that sounds terrific! Everybody loves FARMS! Now, what about my solar project…….

    • My perception precisely.
      And Oxford allows you to develop an atom splitting farm.

  • Hydro-Québec is prepared to help New England meet its energy needs.

    Hydro-Québec wishes to rectify several statements made in the VT Digger special report titled “Vermont smack in the middle of crucial electricity supply and demand.”

    Hydro-Québec believes that increasing deliveries of Québec hydropower into the New England market can help the region to meet its energy challenges. These challenges are significant and include the need to increase the fuel diversity of the electricity sector, replace retiring capacity, develop flexible resources to integrate increasing levels of intermittent supply, and meet stringent requirements to decarbonize the electricity sector by using more low-carbon energy. In a single resource, Québec hydropower can contribute to all of these challenges but depends on the development of new transmission and interconnection capacity to increase exports. Hydro-Québec is currently studying two possible projects with New England:

    • The first is a new interconnection to Vermont with a capacity of approximately 425 MW, located close to the existing Highgate intertie. While there are several other projects being proposed for the state of Vermont, including the New England Clean Power Link mentioned in the VT Digger article, it is important to note that Hydro-Québec is not involved in those projects.

    • Northern Pass Transmission (NPT), 1200 MW project between the Des Cantons substation in Québec and a substation to be constructed in southern New Hampshire.

    Québec hydropower can play an important role in firming up intermittent renewable energy sources.

    Contrary to what is stated in the article, increased imports of hydropower can actually promote the growth of other renewable energy sources, many of which are of an intermittent nature. To make the most of the potential of these intermittent sources, a reliable, flexible source of baseload energy is required. Wind and solar power, for example, must be combined with other energy sources to meet demand. Some countries that are large producers of wind power, like Germany, turn to fossil fuel sources to provide baseload energy. Québec hydropower can play this role as a clean baseload energy source both in the Québec market and in New England.

    Hydropower projects in Québec are developed with respect for the environment.

    Québec has vast hydraulic resources, in the form of some 500,000 lakes and 4,500 rivers that cover 12% of its surface area. Hydro-Québec has developed 75 rivers for power generation.

    Much care is taken when developing a hydropower project to incorporate environmental measures that take into account concerns such as fish habitat protection, enhancement of prized species (salmon, sturgeon, walleye, trout), and wildlife and vegetation conservation. Some of the many extensive measures that are implemented right from the project design phase to reduce or compensate for the potential impacts of a hydropower project include:
    • To preserve fish habitats: instream flow regimes (where minimum water levels are maintained and seasonal flow patterns are reproduced), development of spawning grounds, construction of passes to facilitate fish migration
    • To enhance wildlife habitat potential: wetland development and compensation plans, animal monitoring to improve understanding of movements and behavior

    To learn more about environmental measures put in place for the recently completed Eastmain-1-A/Sarcelle/Rupert project, please view the following video:

    Hydro-Québec has developed extensive expertise on the issue of mercury in hydroelectric reservoirs.

    The claims made in the special report that hydropower development produces mercury levels poisonous to aquatic life are entirely unfounded. Fish populations are not affected by increased concentrations of mercury in their bodies. In fact, the mercury follow-up program that has been studying various fish populations at the La Grande complex over the past 35 years has demonstrated that reservoir impoundment, despite the increased mercury levels, did not prevent fish from benefiting from the enhanced nutrients in the reservoir water. The fish actually show significant increases in their degree of well-being and growth rate. Furthermore, their increased spawning rate led to the quick colonization of new water bodies, which in turn led to greater fishing yields than in natural conditions. Follow-ups on fish mercury levels in reservoirs show a return to natural levels in 10 to 35 years, depending on the fish species and the properties of the reservoir.

    The formation of methylmercury after the creation of a reservoir is a well-known and well-managed temporary phenomenon. There has never been a case reported in Québec of mercury poisoning from eating fish. All the follow-ups conducted over a period of more than 20 years among the Cree populations have found very low mercury levels that are of no concern for health and totally comparable to levels seen in the non-Aboriginal population in general.

    Hydro-Québec maintains close relations with Aboriginal communities.

    Hydro-Québec does not build a hydropower project unless it is favorably received by the communities concerned. In addition, the company takes all the necessary steps to ensure that the host communities, including Aboriginal communities, are involved in development and benefit from economic spinoffs in all stages of its projects.

    For example, Hydro-Québec worked closely with the Cree communities on the planning and construction of the Eastmain-1-A/Sarcelle/Rupert project. A special effort was made to maximize the participation of the Cree tallymen, who are responsible for managing trapline resources and harvesting activities, in developing and planning mitigation measures. Hydro-Québec entrusted the implementation of some of these measures to the tallymen, thereby generating additional economic spinoffs for the Crees. This active involvement has enabled the tallymen to resume their use of the land more quickly and to continue their traditional activities.

    Québec hydropower is one of the lowest-emission generating options per kilowatt produced.

    While the flooding of large areas of land does lead to an increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, this is a temporary phenomenon. Generally speaking, emissions from northern reservoirs return to the level observed in natural lakes within 10 years.

    A large-scale scientific study was carried out in collaboration with 80 experts from Université du Québec à Montréal, McGill University and Environnement Illimité Inc.from 2003 to 2009. Results now show that, of all generation methods, hydropower has one of the lowest levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

    The facts on GHG emissions from hydropower, using a life-cycle analysis approach over a period of 100 years, are actually quite simple. Québec hydropower emissions are:
    • similar to those from wind power
    • only a quarter of those from photovoltaic solar facilities
    • 40 times less than those from a gas-fired power plant
    • about 100 times less than those from a coal-fired plant.

    This is good news for New England. Over the last five years, thanks to Hydro-Québec’s net exports of electricity, the emission of over 62 million metric tons of GHGs in North America was avoided – that’s the equivalent of the annual emissions from about 15.5 million vehicles.
    Hydro-Québec has a long history of supporting New England’s energy needs and would like to continue to be part of the solution to the region’s challenges as it transitions from older fossil-based resources to clean energy.

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