December 29, 2012

Vermont utility calls for moratorium on renewable energy mandates

By Alexei Rubenstein | WCAX | Dec 28, 2012 |

Vermont Electric Cooperative is asking the Legislature to approve a moratorium on creating renewable power mandates.

VEC CEO Dave Hallquist says the utility is concerned about finding balance between rising electric rates and the adoption of a greener power portfolio.

“I don’t think we’ve really thought this out entirely. We’re kind of looking at this through different perspectives. Our perspective as the boots on the ground utility that has to carry it out says we don’t know how it can work even from a physics standpoint,” Hallquist said.

Hallquist questions the electric grid’s technological ability to accommodate renewable generation projects in excess of 20 percent because of the intermittent nature of power like wind and solar. He also says cost-effective energy storage remains a concern.

“Carbon is only 4 percent of the electricity carbon footprint of the state, so we’ve got all this emotional energy. We’ve got our communities being split and yet were focusing on really the crumbs of carbon. The real issue of carbon is in transportation and heating and cooling and it seems like if we’re going to put our energy in and we really want to reduce carbon we would put it on where the biggest contributors are,” Hallquist said.

The VEC vote comes as some lawmakers have vowed to resurrect a wind moratorium proposal that failed last session. But that will run into sharp opposition from both Gov. Peter Shumlin and House leadership.

“I think it’s about the most anti-business statement the Legislature could make,” said Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier.

“I don’t think we can move fast enough to move to renewables and I am bound and determined to continue to make the progress we are making in building renewables in Vermont,” said Shumlin, D-Vermont.

New Department of Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia says while he understands VEC’s concerns, renewables like hydro and biomass are proven base load resources and that ISO, the New England transmission organization, has said there is more room for reliable renewable capacity.

Shumlin this fall created an energy sighting commission to analyze how electricity generating projects are permitted, but they aren’t slated to finish their work until the end of the legislative session. VEC says the issue is even larger than siting when it comes to relying on the technology behind an ever increasing renewable portfolio.

VEC says until there are ways to overcome the hurdles surrounding renewables, natural gas is a good source of low carbon, base load power.

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