Energy

Swanton wind will go ahead despite PSB setback

(This story was updated March 5, 2017, at 6 p.m. with a statement from Green Mountain Power President and CEO Mary Powell.)

The Public Service Board on Thursday denied a wind-power developer’s bid to secure a contract with Green Mountain Power, but left open the possibility of a separate contract under different terms.

Swanton Wind, whose principals, Travis and Ashley Belisle, hope to put as many as seven wind turbines on their land atop Rocky Ridge outside of Swanton, lost a case before the state regulators that would have required GMP to buy power under a now-expired set of rates prescribed by a federal renewable-energy program.

Travis Belisle
Travis Belisle and his wife are proposing to put seven wind turbines on their property in Swanton. Photo by Mike Polhamus/VTDigger

The Belisles may still apply to sell their power to GMP under that program’s new pricing structure, although it offers significantly less favorable terms to small power producers, said Swanton Wind spokesperson Anthony Iarrapino.

Swanton Wind may also seek to sell the project’s electricity to other utilities inside the state, or even outside Vermont’s borders, Iarrapino said.

Either way, the project will continue moving forward, he said.

“Swanton Wind is disappointed” with the board’s decision, Iarrapino said, “but Swanton Wind is fully committed to moving forward with the [permitting] process,” he said.

“We’re done the work to determine how this meets Vermont’s environmental standards, and will contribute to the public good and the clean-energy economy in the state, and we are very optimistic about the many possibilities to sell this power, either still in Vermont or else in New England, in a fashion that’ll help the region reduce its reliance on fossil fuels, particularly natural gas,” Iarrapino said.

Green Mountain Power has no intention of purchasing any further electricity from Vermont wind-energy producers in the foreseeable future, said utility spokesperson Kristin Carlson.

New England has in recent years rapidly ramped up its reliance on natural gas as a power and heating source, and some in the industry are seeking to still further increase its use.

Green Mountain Power’s disinterest in further wind energy ought to be understood in that context, Iarrapino said.

Green Mountain Power is owned by the largest natural gas distributor in Quebec, Gaz Métro, a $7 billion firm that owns more than 6,000 miles of gas pipeline. Gaz Métro also owns Vermont Gas Systems, the subsidiary currently working to complete a controversial 41-mile natural gas pipeline into Addison County.

“It’s important to keep that in mind when assessing Green Mountain Power’s treatment of independent renewable-energy producers,” Iarrapino said.

Because wind energy threatens to displace natural gas on New England’s power grid, Iarrapino said, natural gas companies naturally oppose the technology’s expansion.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration recently forecast that by 2022, wind power will be the second-cheapest form of new energy generation in the country, second only to geothermal.

Green Mountain Power President and CEO Mary Powell said in a statement: “To be clear, GMP is currently exceeding state energy goals, increasing renewable power, while keeping costs stable for customers. Vermont utilities, including GMP, joined together to make sure the developer was not able to get a price for power that is above market and that would have cost customers millions of additional dollars. GMP’s focus is doing what’s best for customers, and not every project is the right fit for our portfolio as we balance the need for clean, affordable and reliable power. The developer is raising factually incorrect points that distract from important questions about the project, the cost to customers and its impact on the grid. GMP has been a leader in developing cost-effective renewable energy sources.”

GMP has opposed other renewable energy projects in the past year, Iarrapino said, including solar projects in Barton, Highgate Center, Sheldon, Brandon and Randolph.

Green Mountain Power opposed those because their power would be too expensive, Carlson said at the time.

Although GMP has no plans to purchase more wind power, Carlson said on Friday that the utility would buy more if it were cheap enough.

Since New England states have all committed to reducing dependence on fossil fuels, Iarrapino said, Swanton Wind is “confident” of finding another buyer other than Green Mountain Power.

The federal program under which Swanton Wind sought to sell its power was established in the 1970s by the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act. That act was meant to encourage energy conservation and to spur energy production — particularly renewable energy — within the United States.

Known as PURPA, the act requires utilities under certain circumstances to purchase power from eligible generating facilities.

Swanton Wind sought to have GMP buy power from the planned wind farm under prices established through PURPA; however, the pricing regime Swanton Wind applied under expired in September, 2016.

Green Mountain Power fought that effort, saying that Swanton Wind filed its application too late.

The Public Service Board agreed, saying that the Swanton Wind application lacked key pieces when it was initially filed, and that the new PURPA pricing regime must apply.

Iarrapino attributed much of that delay to Swanton Wind’s efforts to respond to questions raised about the project, and to demonstrate the project’s environmental, health and economic benefits.

That new pricing regime, put in place by the state of Vermont over a period between February, 2015 and September, 2016, offers PURPA contracts that last only seven years, instead of the 20-year contracts that were available previously.

This shorter contract period significantly increases the risk that small, renewable-energy power producers are exposed to, Iarrapino said.


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  • Melodie McLane

    Swanton Wind will “demonstrate the project’s environmental, health and economic benefits.”

    Please tell me how it will benefit the health of neighbors who live a mere 2,000 feet away and will suffer from sleep loss from the noise emitting from the project. That’s a benefit?

    The following is a quote from a recent Time article:
    http://time.com/4672988/the-sleep-cure-fountain-of-youth/#

    “To me, sleep is like the canary in the coal mine,” says David Schnyer, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Texas, Austin. “Changes in sleep can create systemwide changes in the organism, and all of the stages of sleep affect the entire body and brain.”
    That’s why sleep deprivation is so strongly linked to disease and premature death. One recent study even showed that sleep deprivation in mice can cause death faster than starvation can.”

    We’ve put enough neighbors’ health at risk in Georgia, Lowell and Sheffield. Let’s not make the same mistake in Swanton please.

    • bill_christian

      Will there really be neighbors 2000 feet from a wind turbine? That is hard for me to believe. (Owners of wind turbines often live MUCH closer, without any adverse medical effects.)

      • Melodie McLane

        Apparently you haven’t read Swanton’s application for a CPG or been to the informational workshop. Yes, there are neighbors who will be 2,000′ from a wind turbine and some actually closer. There is your evidence, whether you believe it or not. Now please show evidence of owners of wind turbines who live MUCH closer, without any adverse medical effects. Of course it would be difficult to admit to any adverse effects when all you hear is the sound of money.

      • Christine Lang

        Yes Bill, there really would be neighbors 2000 feet from the proposed Swanton Wind turbines. You sound surprised.
        The closest is estimated at 1800 feet. There would be approximately 10 homes within .5 miles and another 124 within 1 mile. Homes in that 2000 foot range include families with young children.
        How many people do you know live that close that are not profiting financially from the turbines?

        • bill_christian

          Thousands of farmers live right beside wind farms on their own property. Such close wind farms are noisy, but nowhere near as noisy as a dairy farm. A tractor or bellowing cow totally drowns out the sound of a wind turbine, even at 1000 feet, with measured sound power hundreds or thousands of times louder. Would a 70 dB cow cause medical problems? Maybe, who knows, maybe that’s why all the dairy farmers I know are the way they are. 🙂

          • Glenn Thompson

            “A tractor or bellowing cow totally drowns out the sound of a wind turbine,”

            I’m assuming here you know nothing about farming? I grew up on a farm. We do not operate tractors in the middle of the night when others are sleeping. Cows do not bellow during nighttime hours neither.

            Your claim of some sounds being “hundreds or thousands” of times louder is beyond absurd. FYI, 150dB which is the sound of a chainsaw is 32 times louder than something producing sound at 70db. The highest sound possible is 194Db, So where does the “thousands” claim come from?

            If your going to support wind energy, at least make arguments that don’t send readers into chuckles.

          • bill_christian

            A wind farm a mile away is in the range of 40 dB. A lawnmower is in the range of 90, which is 100,000 times the sound power. I did not grow up on a farm but I think I’ve heard a tractor or two. If you are driving a tractor, there is no way in the world you could hear a wind farm a mile away. No way in the world.

          • Christine Lang

            If a wind farm a mile away is in the range of 40 dB, what is the range for a home 2000 feet from a wind farm? I assume much louder than 40 dB. And, remember that in this case, the sound is traveling over Rocky ledge which is not going to absorb the sound.
            I can hear my neighbors lawnmowers during the day, but nobody is running a lawnmower all night long when I am trying to sleep.

          • bill_christian

            Your neighbor’s lawnmower is way louder than 40 dB, perhaps 100 times louder. And I am not seeing wind farms within 2000 feet of a home. Provide specifics to correct me on this. I am sorry, but I think wind is so much safer and cleaner than coal. Would you read the article below, in full, on coal and black lung disease, and then tell me about 40 dB sound? To me, black lung is a shocking horrifying and strangely under-reported subject. Our last election was decided by people who wanted to bring back the inefficient dangerous underground coal jobs which left long ago, mostly before Obama, replaced by the enormous open pit mines of Wyoming, which require only 15% of the workers. Miners lost their jobs to that, losing 80% of their jobs while coal output increased 25%. Obama did not take those jobs, technology did. The old mines killed thousands, mostly by slow agonizing death from black lung, not the accidents that actually do get into the news. http://www.npr.org/2016/12/15/505577680/advanced-black-lung-cases-surge-in-appalachia

          • bill_christian

            150 dB is 10 times the acoustical power of 140, 100 times the power of 130 dB, 1000 times the power of 120, 10,000 times the power of 110, 100,000 the power of 100, a million times the power of 90, 10 million times the power of 80, and a hundred million times the power of 70. Where does “32 times” come from?

      • rob pforzheimer

        Across lake Champlain in NY, “noise complaints came from residents who had been supporters of the wind farm agreement.”
        Chateaugay, Bellmont officials receive complaints about noise generated by Jericho Rise Wind Farm
        http://www.mymalonetelegram.com/mtg01/chateaugay-bellmont-officials-receive-complaints-about-noise-generated-by-jericho-rise-wind-farm-20170228

      • rob pforzheimer

        You wouldn’t know if owners of wind turbines who live MUCH closer suffer any adverse effects, because most lease holders have signed gag orders, noise easements, non-disparagement, non-disclosure agreements, etc.

      • Glenn Thompson

        Try goggle mapping the area. You might learn something.

        • bill_christian

          I googled it, and I don’t see any residences that are close (under 5000 feet or so). But I am guessing at exact location. Please post a map with home and tower locations showing closer spacing if it exists.

          • Glenn Thompson

            Locate Rocky Ridge Road off of Rt 105. which is almost opposite of Sholan Rd. Use Goggle Earth since that has a measuring tool. Then come back and tell me how many homes are within 5000′? .FYI, the distance between Rt 105 and Fairfield Pond is only 2 miles.

          • Steve Woodward

            Bill: Here is all the proof that you need. I implore you to check your emotions at the door and study this site map. The scale is on there. The houses are the black dots. The turbine locations are there. I am quite aware of how close these turbine towers will be from my home.I am only pointing out the proximity of the turbines, not engaging in a discussion of the merits of the project. You seem to be having a hard time believing that they’re proposing putting them this close to residences. Why can’t you accept this as the truth? This is the actual document filed by the developer. I would appreciate a response. http://epsb.vermont.gov/?q=downloadfile/62753/27070

          • bill_christian

            It looks like the closest home to a wind turbine is 2650 feet.

          • Christine Lang

            Bill – As I said before, my home is 2000 feet from the proposed Swanton Wind project. There are other homes as close as 1800 feet. If you want to verify that, feel free to call Martha Staskus at Vera. She has that information for the project and has provided distances to those that call and want to know how close they would be.
            Did you happen to check the closest distance to a property line? That is less than 500 feet I believe.

          • Steve Woodward

            I’m sorry Bill. You are incorrect. The representative from the developer (Martha Staskus from VERA Renewables) gave a presentation about the project, publicly stated that the nearest turbine would be 1800′ feet from the nearest home.
            Why is it so hard to wrap your head around the fact that this is the truth. If we don’t pushback on the setbacks, then they will keep building closer, and closer. You might not have a problem with that, but some of us do.

          • bill_christian

            I don’t see any homes under 2650 feet from one.

          • Steve Woodward

            Bill: I forgot to mention in my other reply that the developer didn’t include the homes along Sheldon Road (Rt. 105), or the Fairfield side of the project on those maps that I uploaded for you. The road is pictured, but not the homes. You can use the turbine map, and use the Google maps (with all the homes that ACTUALLY ! exist within the 1- 1/2 mile radius) to determine for yourself how close we will be. I also don’t want to hear that the Belisles will be living there too. With the windfall that they stand receive, they can afford to walk away, and leave their home abandoned.

  • Glenn Thompson

    From the article!

    “Swanton Wind may also seek to sell the project’s electricity to other utilities inside the state, or even outside Vermont’s borders, Iarrapino said.”

    Awesome, totally awesome! This project is by far the worst Industrial wind project proposed in the state of Vermont to date. Having it go forward and having all that power sent out of state shows the type of people we have pushing this ‘ill-advised’ project.

    Question for Vtdigger? How about digging into who the investors are for this project? Your readers would like to know?

    • Adam Maxwell

      The need to rapidly reduce GHG usage doesn’t stop at the border. It’s unfortunate that this energy may not be used in Vermont, but let’s all hope that more projects like the Belisle’s get built throughout the region to displace our use of dirty fuels that threaten the habitibiyof our planet.

      • Jim Manahan

        Can we start in Burlington harbor and proceed down through Shelburne Bay, Spear St. through Charlotte with some of these beautiful 500′ wind towers?

    • bill_christian

      It makes no difference where the electricity goes. It displaces fossil fuel, and reduces our permanent altering of the climate. And do you also worry about the milk, maple syrup, and Toyota steering columns that are “exported” from Vermont instead of being used exclusively by real Vermonters???

      • Jim Manahan

        Where is this evidence of “our permanent altering of the climate”?

        • JohnGreenberg

          Surely, you can’t be serious.

          But in case you are, try Googling “evidence of global warming” or “evidence of anthropogenic climate change.” Or you can look at the bilbiography of the latest IPCC report. There are literally tens of thousands of peer-reviewed scientific articles, as well as plenty for lay audiences as well.

  • RandyKoch4

    So are we supposed to be left with the impression that gas vs wind is a simple either/or? I thought wind requires gas as a back up for when the wind stops blowing, And don’t these backup generators need to be already turned on and using gas all the time so there is no hesitation when the wind stops blowing suddenly?

    • bill_christian

      NO! Gas generators do NOT have to run all the time and use gas whether or not the wind is blowing! That is NOT TRUE. Every gas power plant ever built has a modulating output control. Think “gas pedal”. As wind or solar cranks up, they just back off, burning less gas and producing less electricity, one-to-one. It is true. Do not believe (or repeat) that horse poop about “they have to burn gas anyway” because it is NOT TRUE. Also please note that gas power plants burn a HUGE amount of gas. Granite Ridge (southern NH) burns 125 million cubic feet of natural gas every DAY.

      • Glenn Thompson

        You may be correct on some of your points…..but you miss pointing out the important one. Those gas plants still need to be available when wind doesn’t produce power to satisfy demand. In otherwords, those gas powered plants can not be eliminated from the grid. Anyone who knows anything about Industrial Engineering and accounting understands if a plant sits idle there are still fixed and operating costs associated with that particular facility. If that plant isn’t operating near peak capacity and producing power that generates revenue, then costs rise.

        That is one of my objections of producing a high % of our power from intermittent energy sources. The overall costs to produce electricity will dramatically rise. The only viable solution is to push forward clean technology that is capable of producing reliable base load power and stop with this nonsense of filling the landscape and mountaintops with power sources incapable of producing reliable and constant power.

        • JohnGreenberg

          Glenn:

          First, your statement that when gas plants run less often “then costs rise” pertains only to plants designed to run most of the time. In this instance, if these plants are NOT running, it’s BECAUSE wind and solar plants are. Higher costs in 1 factor, for only short periods, are not reflective of the averaged costs of the whole system over the long haul. Since the ratio between gas backup and wind
          is on the order of 100 to 1, this added PLANT cost is unlikely to be reflected in the system as a whole.

          Second, peakers produce power whenever demand exceeds supply. They are always needed because neither supply nor demand is constant on
          any grid, thanks to outages, accidents, closures, peak times, weather extremes, etc.

          Third, other forms of backup have low or no costs at all, such as the HQ system’s use of hydro.

          Literally billions of dollars are going into utility-scale batteries and renewables worldwide because investors think they will make money. Are they all wrong?

          • Glenn Thompson

            John,

            On point one, you are dead wrong. Why would anyone design a plant that would only operate part of the time? That makes absolutely no sense! Again, you have both fixed costs and operating costs associated with anything that is designed and built to produce electricity, a specific product, etc. The only way to minimize costs is for a power plant or even a piece of manufacturing equipment is to run it close to maximum potential.

            Point two. Wouldn’t the supply/demand issue become more complex and expensive, as more intermittent power sources are added to a grid? Of course it will since you have already pointed out the issue of outages, accidents, closures, etc, etc

            Point three! This is the one that baffles me. Why on Earth would we spend billions to establish an infrastructure of intermittent renewables, then spend billions on an utility-scale battery infrastructure to store that power?

            And….NO! They are not making money. They are getting paid to develop this flawed energy policy by the taxpayers.

            As for utility-scale batteries! Here’s why we shouldn’t even be considering it.

            http://dailycaller.com/2017/02/02/study-batteries-for-wind-and-solar-do-more-harm-than-good-for-environment/

          • JohnGreenberg

            Glenn:

            1) NRG just built a peaker plant: power-eng.com/articles/2016/02/nrg-energy-gas-peaker-project-clears-iso-new-england-capacity-auction.html. Peakers are in place all over the country. I already explained why: neither supply nor demand is constant on any grid. Peakers fill the gaps better than many other options.

            2) Intermittent sources make the supply/demand issue more
            complicated. But, they produce far fewer emissions and are universally considered environmentally superior. Now that costs have fallen, wind is
            already the 2nd cheapest resource available; solar will soon follow.

            3) It will probably be cheaper to build out renewables and batteries than to rely on fossil fuels. If billions of dollars in externalized
            environmental and health costs are considered, it already is. Also, most of the world believes that global warming leaves no choice.

            4) US subsidies do not impact foreigners, yet they too are investing. Plenty of companies in these fields areprofitable.

          • JohnGreenberg

            Glenn:

            First, your link is about solar household batteries and is therefore irrelevant to grid-scale solutions. Utility-scale PV projects cost FAR less than small household projects, as will batteries.

            Second, lithium is not the only battery option. See pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/super-battery.html for an overview of other technologies.

            Third, there are options beyond natural gas peakers & batteries: hydro, pumped hydro, geothermal (in the right regions ), etc.

            Here are 2 more worth mentioning. Renewables can offset one another. In a large enough region, the wind may be blowing in one place but not another. The wind blows at night. Some days are sunny, but not windy. Obviously, sometimes both
            solar and wind are generating. Grid operators are learning to capitalize on these variations.

            ISO-NE already relies heavily on demand resources (DR): iso-ne.com/markets-operations/markets/demand-resources/about. Active DR supplies 800; energy efficiency supplies another 2,000 MW. iso-ne.com/about/key-stats

          • Glenn Thompson

            “First, your link is about solar household batteries and is therefore irrelevant to grid-scale solutions.”

            Why would it be irrelevant?? If you recall Hillary’s proposal to install 1/2 billion solar panels in the US. Knowing for a fact, everyday when the sun is on the other side of the planet and those countless solar panels are producing ZERO energy, that plan would call for massive storage capacity which using current technology would be astronomically expensive. Why would we do that taking into account the drawbacks of battery storage as pointed out in the article?

          • JohnGreenberg

            Glenn:

            Solar homes can either send power directly into the grid orthey can use batteries for their own consumption (and can still sell excess power into the grid.) The study your link reported prefers the former to the latter. But our question is whether the
            grid itself should build storage capacity to deal with large inputs of intermittent power, not whether a given household should do so.

            In New England, demand is highest during the day and seasonally, it’s highest on the hottest days, which also tend to be sunny. At some point we may build so much solar that supply will exceed peak demand. That day is a very long way off.

            The question is how to supply power most efficiently when the sun is not shining. Batteries are one answer; I suggested others above. It’s
            important to note that far less power is needed at night than during the day.

            Finally, 1) this discussion started with a wind
            project, although many of the same issues still pertain and 2) technology changes constantly.

          • bill_christian

            See my other post about our region’s huge pumped hydro facility, installed by the utility company because it made economic sense. It can put out 600 MW for 6 hours. It can go from zero to 600 in two minutes, or vice versa. You can put 600 MW into it or take it out. A “battery” capable of storing 1,200 hours of output from a 3 MW wind turbine. It exists, right on our southern border, close to the Hoosac Wind Farm. It could store 400 hours of Hoosac’s average output, and deliver it night or day when needed. Yes, Virginia, there IS cost-effective storage for renewable power.

        • bill_christian

          Check out the Bear Swamp Pumped Hydro Storage Facility, on our southern border. It can store all the wind produced in Vermont for two weeks, and deliver it whenever it is needed. Peak output of 600 MW, much more than VT Yankee. So much for “intermittent power”.

    • JohnGreenberg

      Randy Koch:

      “…wind requires gas as a back up.” Wind can be backed up by
      a variety of power sources. In New England, natural gas is the most commonly used.

      Here’s NREL on the remainder: “One of the misperceptions about wind power generation is that … benefits are extremely
      limited because of the need to provide backup fossil fuel generation. Some commentators have asserted that each new wind plant requires an equally large addition of backup generation from a dispatchable power plant, such as a fossil
      fuel-fired plant. However, wind integration studies contradict this view.… twomajor recent studies … indicate that the addition of 1,500 MW and 3,300 MW of wind (15% and 10%, respectively, of system peak load) increased reserve requirements
      by only 8 MW and 36 MW, respectively, to maintain the same level of reliability (under performance standards enforced by the North American Electric Reliability Council).“ (nrel.gov/docs/fy08osti/42616.pdf, p. 21 of the pdf.)

  • waltermoses38

    Love the picture of Travis Belisle. Kind of a Napoleon pose.

  • paulkenny

    Apparently Mr. Belisle, current PSB members, and pro wind advocates in Vermont are not aware that wind development is over in the United States, and this includes Vermont. First, in the latest energy auctions from February, the NE Power Grid has significant excess supply and there is no need into the foreseeable future for any more sources, renewable or not. Second, President Trump has stated he will end all renewable energy tax credits period and promote fossil fuels, like it or not. His anti-wind development position has even scared-off IBERDROLA SA, where their joint venture with AMAZON for “hundreds” of 500′ tall turbines on 22k acres in North Carolina has been cancelled. See Feb 27th WSJ-Winds of Change Hit Renewable Projects. PSB members who will pay to clean up this turbine project not “if” but when it fails? Vermonters have a right to know. Governor Scott, you need to step up here and honor your commitments to Vermont voters, too.

    • Matthew Davis

      Wind power is currently the second cheapest form of grid scale electrical energy generation available….regardless of what the nimbyists or Trump may think, it’s not going away. So expanding subsidies for fossil fuels yet ending them for renewable energy makes sense in any way shape or form?

    • JohnGreenberg

      Paul Kenny:

      Please document this claim: “His anti-wind development position has even scared-off IBERDROLA SA,
      where their joint venture with AMAZON for “hundreds” of 500′ tall
      turbines on 22k acres in North Carolina has been cancelled.”

      I can’t find any reference to the WSJ article you mention (which would be protected by a firewall anyway), but I did find this: http://www.newsobserver.com/opinion/editorials/article135328594.html, which states that the project is operational “despite recent efforts by legislative leaders to kill the $400 million project.” and that “The 500-foot turbines are a welcome sight in an area of the state that
      needs new sources of tax revenue. Leasing land for the turbines also
      increases the income productivity of farmland.” The editorial is dated Feb. 27, 2017.

    • bill_christian

      “Excess supply” from burning several billion cubic feet of natural gas each day in the Northeast. That is not a good thing. It has to stop. Conservation, solar, wind, and hydro will all be needed to the max to do this. Take away wind and it does not seem at all possible.

  • rob pforzheimer
    • bill_christian

      A turbine leaks 3 gallons, they clean it up. A pipeline or tanker or rail car or offshore rig leaks thousands or millions or even billions of gallons… they clean up a tiny percent of it. I’m just asking you to be smart. Logical. Do what is best. That’s all.