BARTON – Vermont Electric Cooperative will oppose any large new wind project in northern Vermont, including Seneca Mountain Wind, CEO David Hallquist says.
That’s because existing wind projects have introduced instability in the grid, prompting grid operator ISO-New England to order existing wind projects in Vermont and New Hampshire to cut back or “curtail” electricity output, Hallquist said Thursday.
“You are going to see us come out fighting against Seneca Wind,” he said of the project that was initially proposed for Brighton, Ferdinand and Newark but now may be centered in Ferdinand alone.
Wind farm turbines are not being allowed to operate at capacity, Hallquist said. “The more we put on, the more trouble we are going to have.”
VEC and its partner Green Mountain Power, which own the Lowell wind project called Kingdom Community Wind, have lost an estimated $1 million in electricity sales because of curtailment this winter, Hallquist said.
Hallquist said they are counting on every dollar Lowell wind can generate to make it cost effective. “We want every megawatt out of there,” he said.
Grid operators across the nation are experiencing problems handling large intermittent renewable projects like wind and solar. VEC is advocating a three-year moratorium to study these problems and find out how to introduce renewable green electricity into the existing grid, Hallquist said.
The state’s goal of more renewable energy is not achievable without new ways to store that energy, he said.
Hallquist spoke Wednesday to a committee formed by Northeastern Vermont Development Association to study the impacts of big wind projects on health, the economy, property values, the transmission grid and electricity rates. NVDA officials Dave Snedeker and Jim Greenwood said they have about a year to complete their study.
NVDA adopted a regional plan that calls for the state to suspend approval of new wind projects for three years to allow for studies like this.
NVDA wants to determine if industrial-sized wind projects are an appropriate resource for the NEK, Snedeker said, noting that they are divisive and that there are transmission constraints.
The committee spent two hours with Hallquist talking about how the grid works and why intermittent renewable power plants cause instability in the transmission grid.
The conversation was about facts and questions about renewable energy and not about the emotions surrounding ridgeline wind projects, a conversation that Hallquist said the state as a whole should have.
He would like the Legislature to sponsor a roundtable discussion about how the grid works and how to transition to a “greener” future.
“Renewables in the right place can be helpful, in the wrong place can be hurtful,” Hallquist said.
He pointed to VEC’s plan for a solar project in Grand Isle. It will work there because they have a summer peak demand, right when solar is at its highest capacity, he said.
Without cost-effective electricity storage for intermittent renewable projects, Hallquist said they will continue to cause stability problems in the grid.
John Morley, president of NVDA’s board, runs Orleans Electric and is a member of the NVDA study committee. He said that he would like to see a poll that asks people to talk about what they value most when it comes to electricity.
Both Morley and Hallquist said the members of their non-profit utilities will say that cost and reliability are more important than using renewable energy.
“I would be fired if I didn’t worry about costs,” Hallquist said.
Vermont should stop forcing utilities to add new renewable energy projects because the price of energy today is so low. “The real reason you can’t build now is you can’t compete with natural gas.”
The company that manages the state’s transmission lines, VELCO, has announced that the lines in north-central and northeast Vermont are at capacity, Hallquist said.
That’s another reason why the NEK cannot host another big wind project, he said.
Seneca Mountain Wind officials are in talks with Lyndonville Electric Department over possible plans for the project to connect to the grid at a facility LED owns in Lyndon.
Eolian Renewable Energy of Portsmouth, N.H., and Nordex, USA of Chicago initially talked about a 90-megawatt Seneca Mountain Wind in Brighton, Ferdinand and Newark. However, Brighton and Newark are opposed to the project and now officials talk of a smaller project in Ferdinand.
Hallquist said he does not know why they want to connect at LED.
Editor’s note: This article is by Robin Smith, staff writer at the Calendonian-Record, where it was first published Friday, April 5, 2013.