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NVDA energy committee: NEK now exports electricity

NEWPORT CITY – The Northeast Kingdom now produces more electricity than its businesses and residents need, officials with the Northeastern Vermont Development Association said Thursday.

“The Northeast Kingdom is a net exporter of energy. We now produce more energy than our area uses,” said Jim Greenwood, the NVDA staff member based in Newport City.

“Do we want to be an exporter of energy in the region?” asked Ben Luce, professor at Lyndon State College.

Greenwood and Luce spoke Thursday evening before the executive committee of NVDA. They are part of a committee drafting a new energy plan for NVDA in its role as the regional planning commission.

“In the past few years, the Northeast Kingdom has hosted electricity projects that have decreased transmission losses and improved reliability,” the draft plan notes.

“The region also houses three major renewable generation facilities: the Ryegate wood-chip plant, the Coventry landfill methane-generator and the Sheffield Wind Farm, which together produce 82 percent of the region’s total electricity generation” as of 2010.

The plan also notes that the region has “a very large share of generation resources compared to other regions of the state.”

And that doesn’t include the addition of electricity from the Lowell wind project called Kingdom Community Wind, which is expected – barring successful court appeals and lawsuits – to go online by the end of this year.

That also doesn’t include the three large dams on the Connecticut River: the Comerford, McIndoe Falls and Moore dams.

Luce and Greenwood said that there is a lot to consider in the NEK.

Luce raised the question of whether the NEK would want to support more large power plants, such as biomass or even nuclear plants.

“We may want to consider a process to look at larger issues on energy development. How much biomass do you really want?” he asked.

A supporter of solar power, Luce said he had to ask whether the NEK wants unplanned solar farms to sprout across the Kingdom in an ad hoc way.

One committee member questioned whether those who live on hills want to look down on a field of solar panels any more than those in the valley want to look up at industrial-sized wind turbines.

There are issues of stormwater runoff for solar fields, Luce said.

“There doesn’t matter what source there is, there is going to be negative impacts,” said Bill Davies, committee member of Barton.