The excellent editorial of Nov. 12 concerning Vermont’s electric utilities made several points that people need to hear, frequently. Vermont Yankee and Hydro Quebec have been and, I assume, will continue to be reliable and clean power sources available to Vermont. They are also more cost-effective than other sources.
The editorial, however, misstated information about the capacity of wind generators. A wind generator has what is called a nameplate or rated capacity, for example, 2 MW. But in terms of actual output, wind generators produce only about 20 to 25 percent of their rated capacity (look at the record for Searsburg), and even that production is intermittent (not only when the wind blows, but at what speed). It is not that they generate power about 35 percent of the time, as the editorial states, but that they generate, on average, only 20 to 25 percent of their rated capacity (0.4 to 0.5 MW), and even that is at unpredictable times and therefore unreliable. What is predictable is that when we need power most, they will generate very little.
The editor’s analogy of the 1200 400-foot wind generators that would be required “to replace the Vernon nuclear power plant” is too simplified. First, that arithmetic is based on a 35 percent capacity factor. At the more likely 25 or 20 percent, the number of generators would be closer to 2000. However, the reality of wind power is not so straightforward as that. Since wind power cannot provide the reliability of either base or peak power, other sources (e.g., nuclear or gas) must be available all the time. No number of wind generators can ever replace Vermont Yankee.
Finally, the editorial rightly decries the $334,000 of taxpayer money spent on a poll to assess what Vermonters prefer as energy choices and suggests that the money could have been saved by taking a good look at what we already have. I applaud that idea. But between the series of workshops held around the state ($146,000) and the “deliberative polling,” the cost (according to the Burlington Free Press) was closer to $500,000. What a waste! Nor should public opinion replace informed public policy decision-making.
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