Some of the state’s hallmark renewable energy policies have raised concerns for business forced to pay what they say are some of the highest electricity rates in the country, said William Driscoll, vice president of Associated Industries of Vermont.
Businesses, lawmakers and electricity providers joined Driscoll during the 93rd annual Associated Industries of Vermont meeting at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Montpelier on Tuesday. The purpose of the event was to consider new ways to bring down the cost of electricity and discuss a competitive model for Vermont’s energy future.
The state’s comprehensive energy plan to be 90 percent renewable by the year 2050 has raised concerns about the growing cost of energy for many of the businesses the association represents, Driscoll said.
John Goodrich is vice president of manufacturing for Weidmann Electrical Technology, a multinational producer of high-voltage insulation materials, components and systems with offices in St. Johnsbury.
Goodrich says through incentives for small-scale renewable energy projects and the shutdown of Vermont Yankee, utilities with renewable energy suppliers lumped into their portfolios have monopolized the options available to ratepayers.
He said the closing of Entergy’s Vermont Yankee took away an important source of affordable energy for Vermonters. Even with the plant, which will operate through the end of 2014, Goodrich said the cost of energy in the state would still be too high.
Entergy, the owner of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, was a sponsor of the event.
Backfilling the loss of Vermont Yankee with small renewable energy projects is not the solution for affordable energy in the state, said Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who addressed the association Tuesday.
Scott said politics have clouded lawmakers’ judgment on issues critical for those who depend on low-cost energy when they circumvented the authority of Public Service Board to close Vermont Yankee.
He said filling the “gaping hole in the Windham County economy” cannot be solved with small-scale renewable energy projects alone. These “pioneering” renewable energy solutions are good, but the state needs a new plan, he said.
Mary Powell, president and CEO of Green Mountain Power, which developed the 64.5-megawatt Lowell wind project, said electricity transmission, operational costs and power supply drive up the price of electricity, not small-scale renewable energy. In fact, she said, renewable energy sources are the cheapest components of GMP’s portfolio.
She said the state needs to move away from the centralized model with far-reaching and wasteful transmission lines, which she said waste about 20 percent of the energy they transport. She suggested moving forward with what many at the event considered to be the root of the current problem: a distributed, small-scale renewable energy model.
Chris Recchia, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, said centralizing utilities is misguided.
“I don’t understand somebody who says they are more competitive by wasting resources,” he said. “Wasting resources is never cost-effective and never gives you a competitive edge.”
Recchia said the power purchase price in Vermont may be higher than other parts of the country. However, that price comes with the stability ensured by a domestic energy supply.
He agreed with Powell that transmission costs are the real drivers of energy costs. The two solutions to this problem have been efficiency and distributed generation, both of which were condemned by earlier speakers.
“It’s not the renewables that are causing this tension, so I think it’s important to pay attention to facts,” Recchia said.
He replied to the assertion that the administration and select lawmakers closed Vermont Yankee for political reasons.
“We didn’t drive Entergy out of the state of Vermont,” Recchia said. “They could not sell their power into the system at a cost that was competitive.”
He closed his presentation by stating that energy planning must consider the long-term goals of the state, not just the interests of businesses.
“Sometimes, as a regulator, I do try and work with the money,” Recchia said. “There are times where I feel like sometimes I am protecting people from themselves.”
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