Double Counting of RECs Faulted – Comparison to Other Sites Puts Numbers in Perspective
In a press release issued last week, Green Mountain Power (GMP) claimed that the Searsburg wind power site had “its best year ever” in 2010. Unfortunately, while it might have been a good year compared to past performance, GMP’s claims avoid addressing the actual capacity factor of the site when compared to other sites, and whether the power can truly be claimed as produced for and used by Vermonters.
Capacity factor is the wind industry’s standard way to measure the success of a wind turbine project. Capacity factor is defined as a percentage of actual production when compared to the amount of power the site would produce if it ran at its peak rated output at all times. The Renewable Energy Research Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts, for example, cites capacity factors as high as 40% for high performing sites. Similarly, the wind industry lobbying group the American Wind Energy Association typically calls for average capacity factors of US wind farms between 30% and 35%.
The statistics provided by GMP, however, demonstrate the capacity factor for the Searsburg installation in 2010 was a mere 27.8%, and has averaged a dismal 22.4% for its 13 years of operation. Searsburg then, in its best year, is below average, and in a typical year well below average.
Disappointing performance for a wind installation has major implications on the economic and environmental cost of the power. When less power is produced it has to be sold at a higher rate to recoup investment, and the project creates greater environmental impact per unit energy produced. In the case of Searsburg, it is questionable whether this project is commercially viable at all, or worth the environmental impact.
GMP has also made claims that their customers are receiving the renewable energy generated by the Searsburg project. But this directly contradicts recent GMP testimony from the Lowell wind project Public Service Board hearings. During the hearings the company acknowledged they routinely sell the project’s “Renewable Energy Credits”, or “RECs”, to out of state utilities. Once the RECs are sold, then it can no longer be claimed in any sense that the Vermonter’s are receiving the renewable energy.
Vermonters are therefore paying the extra cost of wind power, and are suffering the environmental and health impacts of wind turbine development, but are not even able to claim the renewable energy benefits. And to make matters worse, fewer renewable energy projects will be built elsewhere by the other utilities that purchase the RECs, because purchasing the RECs to offset their dirtier sources of generation is essentially a shortcut to avoid doing anything themselves.
This double counting of RECs by GMP concerns Professor of Sustainability Studies at Lyndon State College Benjamin Luce. Responding to the GMP press release and GMP’s claims of benefits to Vermont, Luce stated, “GMP’s practice of selling RECs out of state but also claiming that their customers are receiving the renewable energy is disingenuous at best. They can’t have it both ways – either the benefits are sold to others, or they aren’t.”
Luce continued, “This practice also directly distorts perceptions and undercuts support for further renewable energy development here in Vermont. Customers will feel they are already receiving the benefits of renewable energy based on GMPs claims and will therefore be less motivated to invest in their own renewable energy systems. They will likewise have a distorted impression of the cost of wind compared with other renewable energy sources, some of which are perhaps much more appropriate for Vermont’s environment. Solar power, for example, is rapidly approaching the cost of wind power. Solar may already be competitive with wind if the costs of building the new transmission lines that will be needed with significant wind power development is factored in.”
Several members of Energize Vermont have also pointed out this discrepancy from GMPs news releases, Lukas Snelling, Energize Vermont Director of Communications said, “Our members are concerned that GMP is using misleading numbers and claims to support their objective of constructing more wind development in the state. GMP needs to tell its customers the facts in context so they can judge for themselves if the environmental and health sacrifices for wind development in Vermont are worthwhile,” he concluded.
Energize Vermont was created to educate and advocate for establishing renewable energy solutions that are in harmony with the irreplaceable character of Vermont, and that contribute to the well-being of all her people. This mission is achieved by researching, collecting, and analyzing information from all sources; and disseminating it to the public, community leaders, legislators, media, and regulators for the purpose of ensuring informed decisions for long term stewardship of our communities.
Contact: Lukas B. Snelling
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