NEWARK – With an out-of-state renewable energy company looking to cut its teeth in Brighton, Ferdinand and Newark first by installing four meteorological or MET towers that are nearly 200 feet tall to collect data, and possibly later, to seek permission for a 35-turbine wind farm, residents here are on edge. They invited experts to help educate them.
Wednesday, two engineers and the vice president of external affairs from the Vermont Electric Power Company, Inc. (VELCO) in Rutland, were the guests of the town’s planning commission, at a gathering at the Newark Street School attended by about 40 townspeople.
Planning Commission Chairman Kim Fried introduced the trio from VELCO by saying, “For most of us, we hear about VELCO and we hear references to the grid, and it’s a puzzle. … We’re fortunate as a small town to have these folks interested in giving us a lesson.”
Kerrick Johnson, vice president for external affairs at VELCO, and transmission engineers Hantz PrÃ©sumÃ© and Paul Renaud, explained how private companies, such as Eolian Renwable Energy, LLC, with Nordex USA, Inc., can connect to the grid.
Johnson began, saying the men were there “to try to explain our piece of that overall grid puzzle – what we’re responsible for, what we’re not responsible for.” Johnson said there are still “many things yet to be answered.”
People in Newark learned from Johnson that the project proposed for the MET towers – now under review by the Vermont Public Service Board – is also before ISO-New England, the regional transmission organization, where a study committee has been named, and will soon begin its work.
Newark selectman Mike Channon said that was the first he and town officials in Newark had heard of the ISO study, and Johnson said it is one more step a would-be energy developer must go through in the complex, sometimes years-long process for a power generation facility. Johnson stressed that there is much analysis still to be done, and promised to share what VELCO does know about Eolian/Nordex’s quest for the towers and their plans beyond that.
VELCO was formed in 1956 and is the first transmission-only company formed in the nation and is still one of only three such power transmission organizations. It was formed by the state’s smaller utilities to have a stronger collective voice.
Johnson said VELCO has no opinion in the wind farm debate. “We’re agnostic with regards to the form of the power, whether it’s nuclear, biomass, wind or whether it’s natural gas, we don’t care, and we have federal regulations that dictate we don’t care. Our job is system reliability – first and foremost. We don’t care how you generate your electrons.
Renaud said that in the Vermont Long Range Transmission Plan produced by VELCO, “the northern part of the state has reached its capacity,” so if new generators are built, new transmission will also have to be built. The cost of building more transmission would be borne by the developer, he and the other two VELCO representatives said.
“It’s not a reliability project, it’s not funded by ratepayers,” said Johnson. “It’s on their nickel at that point.”
Mark Whitworth, a member of the town’s planning commission, asked, “Can a Seneca Mountain Wind say they’re doing reliability upgrades and that this transmission would be required to enhance reliability?” He was told the answer would be no, they could not.
A few questions were asked about there being enough power – more than enough here in the NEK.
“It’s a really difficult question,” said Johnson. “We have reserves – we have the potential for Vermont Yankee to shut down…there is a lot of pressure on these dirty thermal plants in Mass and Connecticut to shut down,” said Johnson, such as coal plants, and there are “a lot of new regulations coming in around renewable portfolio standards.”
There were grumblings from the audience about the Northeast Kingdom being asked to house more wind farms than anywhere else. “We’re not windier than Chittenden County,” said Noreen Hession, co-founder of Newark Neighbors United, a group that is mounting a fight to keep the wind farm out of Newark. “We’re not.”
The VELCO team showed that in the northern portion and southern portion of the state, adding generation would be only ‘generally beneficial,’ the most lukewarm of the four possibilities for where power generation is most needed: with a few red hot spots identified in Chittenden County and in Rutland, where it would be most beneficial.
Johnson said that for 30 years, not enough was done to meet reliability standards, and now there is work to build in more reliability, a federal mandate to transmission companies like VELCO. He said if it were on VELCO’s shoulders to plan new generation, new lines and new poles across Vermont, “I don’t know if you’d like our answer, either, frankly.”
Tonight, two more officials are scheduled to come to the same venue at 7 p.m. to address members of Newark Neighbors United. John Beling, director of public advocacy and consumer affairs of the Vermont Department of Public Service and Anne Margolis, renewable energy development manager with the Vermont Department of Public Service, will speak.
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