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GMP plans major energy shift away from nuclear power  

Green Mountain Power, the second largest electrical utility in the state with some 90,000 customers, is planning on a future in which the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Plant plays a much smaller role, company officials said Monday.

Mary Powell, who will become the company’s CEO in August, said the company will rely more on large-scale hydro (primarily from Hydro-Quebec) and more Vermont renewable projects, such as wind and biomass like wood-fired plants. It currently gets about 40 percent of its electricity from the Yankee nuclear plant.

“We are facing in our state a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” Powell said. The utility will plan for the future by “ramping down significantly our dependence on Vermont Yankee nuclear” with “aggressive deployment of Vermont renewable energy.”

Yankee has had a series of recent mishaps and is in the midst of seeking a new operating license. The plant, and its parent Entergy Nuclear, must gain federal, state regulatory and legislative approval to keep running past 2012.

By 2032 GMP, now owned by Northern New England Energy Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Gaz Métro in Quebec, hopes to reduce its use of nuclear power to 17 percent of its load, Powell said. Meanwhile the company will rely more on large-scale hydro – particularly Hydro-Quebec, she said.

Hydro will go from 48 percent of GMP’s supply to 63 percent over that time period, Powell said. Current contracts with the Canadian company expire in 2015.

Since the Quebec power grid runs on a different system than Vermont’s, getting more electricity from Hydro-Quebec may require an additional conversion station like the one now running at Highgate. Or perhaps a power line from the massive dam system could be run into Vermont, ending at a large commercial electricity user in Chittenden County, Powell said.

In exchange the Quebec company would get an advantage of being associated with Vermont’s “green” power portfolio, Powell said.

“They have long-term interest in having large scale hydro being branded green,” she said.

Powell acknowledged the environmental concerns about the giant hydro facilities run by Hydro-Quebec. But to keep power flowing to Vermont customers that is relatively cheap and does not create greenhouse gas pollution some trade-off will have to be made, Powell said.

“If we really want to combat climate change …we have to make some hard choices,” she said.

In addition GMP will encourage the state – and it will likely take legislative action – to streamline and simplify the rules to get construction permission in certain areas of the state identified as good candidates for wind towers or other renewable energy projects. Some factors – for instance economic impacts – could be given greater weight than they are now, Powell said.

There is some precedent for such a streamlining, Steve Wark of the Department of Public Service said. Permitting for internet and wireless telephone projects undertaken as part of the work of the Vermont Telecommunications Authority was recently changed to simplify approvals.

“That is something that would require a change in legislation,” he said.

Steve Costello of Central Vermont Public Service said GMP’s plan is a good framework for the discussion about where the state is going to get its electricity.

“They have done a really good job of pulling together a lot of pieces and parts that a whole bunch of people are talking about,” he said. “They have done it in a very good way. In a lot of ways we are all singing from the same hymnal.”

For instance “if Vermont Yankee is re-licensed we would expect we would reduce our load from that plant and diversity our portfolio even further,” Costello said.

Looking at the state’s permitting process is probably a good idea, he added. Working with farmers on the company’s Cow Power projects have reminded those at the utility that even if they are used to the permitting procedures it can be baffling to newcomers, Costello said.

“We are used to the permitting process as it is,” he said. “They are overwhelmed by it. To someone who is not used to the process it seems cumbersome.”

The extra connection to Hydro-Quebec is also a good idea, Costello said.

Vermont Yankee spokesman Rob Williams said the company understood GMP’s plan.

“Given that replacing baseload power is a process that can take decades, from planning to construction to licensing, it is entirely prudent for a utility to plan well in advance,” Williams said in a statement. “With our 20-year license renewal request, we look forward to doing our part in supporting the transition by supplying the utilities with reliable electricity that does not rely on fossil fuels.”

Wark said the GMP plan is interesting, but also provocative.

“We find components of this very interesting. There remains a significant amount of work to be done,” Wark said.

State regulators “would want to make sure they are not in a situation in which they are too focused on one particular source of energy,” he said.

“The Public Service Board will have ample opportunity to review the choices Green Mountain Power is making,” Wark said.

Powell said seeking power supply diversity while ignoring the promise that taking more power from Hydro-Quebec could offer would be foolish.

By Louis Porter

Vermont Press Bureau

timesargus.com

29 July 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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