Vermont-sized renewable energy projects are in the works throughout the Northeast Kingdom.
They range from community district heating proposals run by biomass plants in Newport City and St. Johnsbury to more farm-based wind turbines in Derby. A medium-sized biomass heating plant in Orleans is being studied.
All of these, and much more, are envisioned in the state’s draft Comprehensive Energy Plan by the Vermont Department of Public Service.
“The plan calls for community-size projects,” said Liz Miller, department commissioner.
Miller spoke this week about the draft energy plan that sets out the framework and the vision for Vermont’s energy future.
And it’s not a small vision.
“We intend to set Vermont on a path to attain 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by mid-century,” according to the draft report.
“We have to start now to really be thinking 100 percent renewable,” Miller said.
Gov. Peter Shumlin tasked the Vermont Department of Public Service with creating “a visionary energy plan by this fall,” she said.
The draft plan, which is being discussed at public meetings throughout Vermont, then goes to the governor for a final review before going to the Legislature. It was drafted with input from throughout the Shumlin administration.
In the Northeast Kingdom, the energy plan will be discussed Thursday at the Danville School on Peacham Road from 7 to 9 p.m.
Miller said Vermonters are heavily dependent on fossil fuels for home heating. And the future increase and volatility of fossil fuel prices, compared to renewable energy sources, shows that the goal is an important one that can be accomplished.
In the short and medium term, the state should encourage small and community-sized renewable projects such as district heating in Newport City and St. Johnsbury or small renewable projects such as farm-based methane plants, solar farms and a third 2.2-megawatt turbine on the Letourneau farm on Derby’s windy hills near the U.S. border with Canada, Miller said.
At the same time, Vermont needs to create and fund policies that make efficiency and conservation a real goal.
“We could do more,” Miller said.
Why should the state approve construction of more transmission lines when conservation and efficiency, if done on a statewide scale, would increase the electricity available, she said.
Small renewable projects such as the Derby wind turbines have been encouraged by the pilot program called SPEED, which requires utilities to pay higher rates.
State regulators on the Public Service Board are looking into whether that program, which carries extra costs for ratepayers, should continue, and if so, in what form.
The draft energy plan encourages distributed generation, “geo-targeting” that encourage new sources of electricity in certain parts of Vermont “that relieve transmission constraints.” Other incentives would help fuel dealers assist customers in conservation and efficiencies at home.
At the same time, there is room under the plan for natural gas power plants in certain areas of Vermont where natural gas is or will be available – including in the NEK if a developer seeks to tap into nearby natural gas pipelines in Quebec.
The plan also calls for a renewable portfolio standard in Vermont, similar to what other states have.
Another recommendation is for a utility-funded mediator at hearings before the Public Service Board. Miller said the mediators work in the civil and family courts and should work very well in the regulatory arena.
The technical review process under Act 248 for energy projects in Vermont makes it very difficult for neighbors to participate – a complaint repeatedly heard during the wind project hearings in the Northeast Kingdom.
At the same time, the energy plan recommends simplified project reviews for small projects. Currently, small projects take seven to nine months of review. Miller asked why the review couldn’t be shortened to five months.
And tiny home-based renewable projects should only take a few days for approval assuming they meet all conditions, she said.
The plan promotes, with the support of the Vermont Agency of Transportation, a shift to 25 percent electric vehicles in 20 years.
Miller wants to create a list of short-term steps for the governor and for the Legislature to consider in the 2012 session – do-able even in a year when the focus will be on the cost of the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene.
The Legislature could create an energy efficiency roundtable, for example, which would not cost a lot of money but could begin looking at how to really promote efficiency and conservation in all areas across Vermont.
Longer-range policies will require public investment, the draft makes clear.
For a copy of the Comprehensive Energy Plan, go to www.vtenergyplan.vermont.gov on the Vermont Department of Public Service website.
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