December 29, 2012

VEC board wants moratorium on renewable energy mandates

Robin Smith, Staff writer | The Caledonian Record | 12/28/2012 |

JOHNSON – The board of directors of the state’s second largest utility wants a moratorium on renewable power supply mandates.

Vermont Electric Cooperative’s board voted eight to one Thursday with one abstention in support of a resolution calling for a two-year moratorium that reflects the opposition and concern about wind energy projects as well as the overall need to study impacts of other higher-cost renewable sources.

The vote came at the co-op’s Johnson headquarters with a dozen wind opponents from the Northeast Kingdom watching. The wind opponents, including Don and Shirley Nelson of Lowell and a representative from Newark, had braved the heavy snow to ask the board members for their support for a wind moratorium.

The board discussed concerns about impacts on costs and reliability from intermittent power sources like wind and higher-priced solar energy, said Elizabeth Gamache, spokesman for VEC. The board addressed grid instability and human health impacts “as Vermont moves to adopt higher levels of renewable resources.”

The VEC board also recommended that a statewide panel be formed, representing all stakeholders including utility customers, to be involved in developing a renewable energy transition plan.

VEC has joined the board of directors of Northeastern Vermont Development Association in calling for a moratorium. NVDA voted in June for a two-year moratorium on wind projects to study the impacts on health, property values and quality of life in the NEK.

The Senate voted last session against a moratorium, but senators have said they will continue to press for another vote.

Dave Hallquist, CEO of the co-op, said he was pleased with the discussion and the vote.

And he thought that the area residents who are VEC members were also satisfied. “We have been listening to their concerns,” Hallquist said.

“This resolution summarizes nearly two years of discussions that have been taking place at the board level. It reflects the sentiment of VEC members who are concerned about finding balance between rising electric rates and the adoption of a greener power portfolio,” Hallquist said.

Hallquist and the board directors discussed the concern about whether the electricity grid could accommodate renewable projects in excess of 20 percent of power supply needs in Vermont. VEC already has several large wind projects in its portfolio – Lowell and Sheffield – which supply power intermittently.

Without a cost-effective storage solution for intermittent renewable sources, VEC predicts that energy costs would increase significantly. In the resolution, VEC states that the cost could almost double.

Hallquist and representatives of VEC will now take the resolution to the Legislature.

Hallquist expects to ask to testify before the Natural Resources committees in the Legislature about the resolution.

He expects other small utilities will support the resolution but said most of the lobbying effort will be done by VEC.

“It’s our water to carry,” he said.

The board also heard about how experts are studying the noise created by the wind turbines at the Lowell wind project.

They had concerns because of complaints by neighbors during a high wind snow storm in early winter.

Hallquist said the study should answer the questions that the VEC board raised on behalf of members.

VEC buys power from the Lowell wind project at cost.

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