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DPS commissioner: Don’t expect more big wind projects

NEWPORT CITY – Vermont probably won’t see more large wind projects on ridgelines, the Vermont Department of Public Service commissioner said this week.

Elizabeth “Liz” Miller told Northeast Kingdom municipal and regional leaders Thursday evening that the state will have plenty of electricity generated by local wind projects once Lowell wind and the other permitted projects are built.

Asked if the state would continue to encourage developers to cover Vermont’s ridgelines with large wind turbines, she said, “I don’t think from an energy point of view we will need to do that.”

She is completing a state energy plan to take to the Legislature in January. That plan is recommending small and regional wind projects, not big projects such as those in Sheffield and Lowell.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the Northeastern Vermont Development Association, Miller said the current big wind projects once built would provide 7 percent of the state’s homegrown energy. That’s the third largest source in the state, second to biomass – the Ryegate and Burlington plants – and hydroelectric power, she said.

“That’s pretty big,” Miller said.

Joel Cope, town administrator in Brighton where a new big wind project is being studied, pressed Miller about industrial-grade wind projects.

Cope asked if there is a sense in the Gov. Peter Shumlin administration of a limit on how many mountaintop turbines the state could have.

“When will you say that’s enough?” he asked.

Miller said the department, in preparing the energy plan, received comments of concern about industrial grade wind projects. There were also concerns about solar arrays taking up too much open land, she said.

“I personally do not believe … the debate in Vermont will be on industrial-scale wind,” Miller said. “I don’t see it as a major state resource in the future.”

Cope and others in the area are reacting to recent news that there are more big wind projects being considered.

â?¢ A landowner wants to erect as many as 25 turbines on land in Brighton and Ferdinand.

â?¢ Another potential project is being studied north of Lyndonville.

â?¢ And a Connecticut company has a wind measurement tower in Eden with an idea of more turbines on the southern end of the Lowell mountain range.

None of these are in the application stage.

Cope lamented that the plan doesn’t tell utility regulators on the Vermont Public Service Board not to approve any more big wind projects.

The energy plan encourages small and regional wind projects, such as the two proposed for farmland in Derby, Miller said.

The emphasis for future projects is on delivering wind-generated electricity to Vermont consumers, not out of state, Miller said.

“Whatever you think about Lowell … it will deliver to Vermont,” she said.

Miller said her department objected to how much of the power to be generated by the Deerfield wind project in southern Vermont would be sent out of state.

The energy plan calls for all of Vermont to run on 90 percent renewable energy by 2050. Some of that, she said, would be possible because of increased energy efficiency in vehicles and thermal efficiency in homes.

Bob Walker of Brownington said the push for renewable energy, such as higher priced solar power generated here compared to relatively cheap and available electricity from Hydro Quebec, is a “form of socialism.”

Walker said that solar at 30 cents a kilowatt-hour is too expensive, compared to 6 cents for the current Hydro-Quebec contract.

And industrial-grade wind pits neighbor against neighbor, Walker said.

Wind and solar can supplement the electricity from hydro, Miller said.

The state should not put all its eggs in one basket but can buy hydropower from other sources, such as from New York and Ontario as well, she said.

John Ward Jr. of Newport City, a member of the Vermont Electric Cooperative board of directors, said that renewables such as wind and solar are intermittent and cannot be used as reliable base-load power for manufacturing. He said energy planners are in over their heads with the push to become almost 100 percent renewable.

Solar and wind would become more valuable when energy storage technology is in place, Miller said.

Plus solar is valuable right at peak demand times in southern Vermont and southern New England on hot summer days, Miller said.

The state hasn’t begun to explore how small wind projects can be used with solar by individual homeowners, she said.

And there are ways to create one-stop shopping that encourages home energy audits and then facilitates home improvement projects, she said. For example, utilities could make it easy for homeowners to pay for efficiency improvements by making loans that are paid back through the monthly utility bill.