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VEC CEO: Future big wind projects costly  

Credit:  Robin Smith, Staff Writer, The Orleans Record, orleanscountyrecord.com 28 December 2011 ~~

The head of Vermont Electric Cooperative says the boom in U.S. discoveries of natural gas will keep electricity prices low and put the brakes on more large wind projects in the Northeast Kingdom.

That’s unless Vermont forces utilities to buy more renewable local electricity, says Dave Hallquist, VEC chief executive officer.

VEC already has enough renewable energy – once the Lowell wind project goes on line – to meet the 2017 goals that the state requires for Vermont utilities, he said in an interview about the current and future energy picture.

The Lowell wind project is one of the most economical because it is near existing transmission lines in VEC’s service territory and being built by Vermont utilities. Only a couple of miles of new line have to be added to bring the power generated by the 21 turbines proposed for the Lowell ridgeline down to the grid.

VEC is a partner with developer Green Mountain Power in the Lowell wind project called Kingdom Community Wind.

Other large wind projects might not be economically viable, given the low market price of electricity in New England, Hallquist said.

That’s why the co-op is asking the Shumlin administration and the Legislature not to require even more in-state renewable energy sources now because of the cost to consumers, Hallquist said. “We are going to express our concern.”

He expects other utilities to do the same about the state energy policy that, as written, would move Vermont to using 90 percent renewable energy for electricity, home heating and vehicle fuel by 2050.

The Legislature is expected to look at the plan this session.

Two of the potential sites for industrial grade wind farms in the NEK – one in Essex County and another at the southern end of the Lowell wind project – aren’t economically viable now, Hallquist said.

Dan Ouimette of Colebrook, N.H., hopes to attract a developer to install 25 industrial-grade wind turbines on his land in Brighton and Ferdinand in Essex County near Bull and Seneca mountains.

However, that property is too far away from existing transmission lines, Hallquist said.

“We actually looked at it,” he said.

VEC found that installation of 20 to 30 miles of new transmission line would make the electricity generated by the wind turbines too expensive, Hallquist said.

By comparison, the Lowell wind project only needed a couple of miles of new line, he said.

The idea for a wind project at the southern end of the Lowell mountain range, in Eden, has the same problem, Hallquist said.

A Connecticut-based company called BNE has a wind measurement tower in Eden. Several months ago, BNE asked VEC about transmission lines for wind turbines on the southern end of the Lowell Mountains, Hallquist said. BNE would not be able to connect to the Lowell wind transmission line and would have to develop its own line.

As far as Hallquist knows, the BNE project is dead on the drafting table.

Hallquist said the Lowell wind project, meanwhile, is moving quickly now that protesters stopped slowing the blasting schedule.

GMP said last week that the work on the crane path has proceeded toward both the north and south ends of the project. Turbine pads are under construction. Work is expected to continue into the New Year, if regulators allow.

Hallquist and fellow VEC official Elizabeth Gamache attended the second of two “open houses” put on by protesters on the ridgeline, one of 120 people who attended Dec. 4. They joined the protesters to hike up the east side of the ridgeline to stand near the project and see what the construction site looks like.

Hallquist has gone to other wind projects under construction and said the Lowell project looks much the same.

Hallquist said he wanted the opportunity to hear what the protesters had to say and to offer information to anyone interested in it.

“We were really there to listen to the opposition,” Hallquist said. “We work for the members [of the co-op] who support and oppose the wind project.”

He also said he wanted to talk with those at the open house about the importance of getting involved in the statewide discussion about the state’s comprehensive energy policy which is driving the move to renewable energy.

“I actually felt very welcomed,” he said of the open house. “I respect them.”

Source:  Robin Smith, Staff Writer, The Orleans Record, orleanscountyrecord.com 28 December 2011

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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