The message below is a response to Green Mountain Power’s recent press release.
It is unfortunate that Green Mountain Power (GMP) has responded to our recent comments about renewable energy credits (RECs) and capacity factors with a negative and at times personal attack. We appreciate much of GMP’s work on renewable energy, and are particularly supportive of their efforts with solar technology.
Unfortunately though, we continue to believe the company has been misleading and overzealous with some of its long standing claims made to Vermonters, many of which have been made to further the development of utility-scale wind in Vermont. Energize Vermont was founded to help Vermonters be the best stewards of our energy future and as part of that mission we believe it is helpful to point out when corporate interests may be trumping the interests of our communities.
The issue of how a utility uses RECs to support the costs of the renewable power they generate is complex. However, the industry agrees (as GMP did in their response) that if they sell the RECs associated with a project, they cannot then claim that those who receive the electricity locally are receiving renewable energy. GMP has routinely implied with both its Searsburg project and its proposed Lowell project that the renewable energy from the projects would be produced and consumed locally. They have made no attempt to make it clear that only those customers who specifically pay extra for that renewable electricity can be deemed to be receiving renewable energy, as opposed to generic, grid-tied energy.
GMP’s communications also do not mention that some portion of the RECs created by its projects are or will be sold out of state. This practice does indeed distort the public’s understanding of the actual costs of wind power, and does undermine the integrity of the RECs being sold out-of-state. Even if GMP retires the RECs associated with their “GreenerGMP” program power sales in Vermont, it is doubtful that the general public understands the subtleties involved here, and GMP takes advantage of this in many of its advertisements.
For example, in a flyer sent to residents of Lowell urging them to support its proposed Kingdom Community Wind Project, GMP wrote: “Local Power for Local People! All the energy will go to local VEC and GMP customers.“ There is no qualification here at all to explain that the people receiving this energy might not be receiving renewable energy. Any non-expert who reads this will conclude that the “locals” involved would be receiving renewable energy from the project, because it is power from a wind project, and because the ad does not clarify that the renewable energy credits can be separated. In reality, unless the RECs from the proposed Lowell project are completely retired for local GMP customers, VEC and GMP customers will not be receiving renewable energy from the Kingdom Community Wind project.
As another example, in their original press release lauding the recent performance of the Searsburg project, GMP stated that, “At six cents per kilowatt-hour, GMP Searsburg wind has been a cost-effective way for us to provide our customers with renewable energy.” This unqualified statement also clearly implies to any casual reader that the renewable output of Searsburg is consumed entirely by GMP customers. An accurate statement would have been “GMP’s Searsburg wind has been a cost-effective way for us to provide our GreenerGMP customers and those to whom we sell renewable energy credits with renewable energy and renewable energy offsets.” GMP’s statement will in fact lead GMP customers to feel much more strongly that “they are covered” when it comes to renewable energy, such that they do not have to pay more or invest in other renewable energy generation.
Capacity factor is a concept used to determine how successful a project is compared to its total potential – a higher percentage is considered better. In GMP’s most recent response, they claim higher capacity factors for the Searsburg project than we calculated. Capacity factor is determined by taking the total amount of power the site produced and dividing it by the total potential capacity if the site ran at all times. In this case the math for the 6 megawatt Searsburg site in 2010 would be the following:
GMP has claimed the site achieved a capacity factor of 30.59% in this past year. Our calculations were a full percentage point below GMP’s for the previous years’ average as well. We look forward to understanding why our numbers are different from GMP’s, but it may be possible that GMP is not counting the downtime of one of the turbines that collapsed in 2008 and its replacement has not yet started to operate. If this is true, then this would be a misrepresentation of the performance of the project. Mountaintop environments are tough environments for wind generation, and it can and should be expected that there will always be a number of ongoing mechanical problems with wind generation in these types of sites. Downtime of all kinds should either be included to provide an accurate overall picture of how the technology has actually performed (which is what GMP’s original press release implied was being reported), or its omission should be explicitly noted.
In its response GMP also claimed that the Searsburg’s project’s capacity factor of 23.4% indicated a successful project by stating that, “According to the Renewable Energy Research Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts, typical capacity factor for wind ranges from 20% to 40%.” Although the citation to the Renewable Energy Research Laboratory is correct, this does not imply that a capacity factor in the low twenties can be interpreted as indicating a successful commercial wind project. When compared against five of its peers in New England, Hull II, Mars Hill, Beaver Ridge, Lempster, and Stetson, from 2007-2009, Searsburg had the lowest average capacity factor. No matter how you judge Searsburg, the site is an underperformer.
As GMP noted, we are proponents of solar PV technology for electricity generation in Vermont. Although today solar technology has a lower overall efficiency rating than utility-scale scale wind, the benefit of solar for Vermont is that the generation infrastructure needed is small, and can be placed nearly anywhere with substantially less impact than utility-scale wind turbines. Solar is improving consistently on both cost and efficiency. New technology is pushing solar efficiency higher, now nearing 40% with some technologies. The price of solar production is dropping radically and now is projected to be equal with retail power rates in the next 5 years. Additionally, the solar resource in Vermont is about 620 times greater than our total wind resource, and is very large in the many other Eastern states that lack significant wind resources, making solar prevalent and nearly universal. For a unique place like Vermont, with character and natural resources worth protecting, solar makes more sense than utility scale wind.
We have proactively reached out to GMP and are in the process of scheduling a meeting to ensure we are on the same page with them on these two issues and several others. It is our hope that the discussion will remain constructive, and will serve to educate Vermonters about our energy future while encouraging us to ask questions of our regulated utilities. Asking these questions, and requesting transparency from our utilities, is necessary to ensure we have all the information we need to be the best stewards of our communities and natural resources while utilizing renewable energy.
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.
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