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Proposed green energy requirements lean on cost-effective, controversial wind

Large scale wind projects are the most cost-effective way for utilities to meet proposed new renewable energy requirements now being considered by the Legislature, according to Statehouse testimony.

Lawmakers are looking to revamp the state law that promotes the development of renewable energy. A bill backed by the Shumlin Administration would establish what’s called a renewable portfolio standard – a legal requirement that 55 percent of a utility’s power mix come from renewable sources by 2017.

Audio from this story will be posted at approximately 11 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 29.

David Hallquist is CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative based in Johnson. He says reaching the goal will require more ridgeline wind projects.

“If you don’t have wind, we aren’t going to make it. I’ll make that very clear; there are no alternatives,” he told the House Natural Resources and Energy committee.

Hallquist says large-scale solar arrays will also be part of the mix, but wind energy costs less.

“The way to go forward and reduce your carbon at the least expensive rate is maximize your solar, do big wind on ridgelines and back it up with natural gas,” he said.

Wind energy development has proven intensely controversial. The regional planning commission serving the Northeast Kingdom is considering a moratorium on large wind projects. The area already hosts two ridgeline wind developments, in Sheffield and Lowell.

One goal of the new legislation is to align Vermont’s law with other New England states when it comes to renewable energy mandates. Vermont utilities now sell renewable energy credits to power companies in other states to meet those state’s clean energy targets.

Robert Dostis is a vice president with Green Mountain Power, the state’s largest utility. He says GMP still plans to sell those credits, including from its wind turbines in Lowell.

“Any renewable energy credits that we own – beyond meeting Vermont’s requirements – that’s still available to us to sell to other states for them to reach or meet their requirements, their renewable portfolio requirements,” he said. “And by selling those, that still provides us with revenues to help keep Vermont rates down.”

Dostis agreed that wind is the cheapest form of large scale, in-state renewable generation right now. The utility also gets to count its use of electricity from Hydro-Quebec toward the renewable mandate. Dostis points out the bill also promotes smaller projects, under 5 megawatts.

“So it will be small-scale wind, probably some hydro in there,” he said. “I see there’s a big future for on-farm methane digesters, producing electricity and heat and all the good things that come out of that.”

The natural resources committees in both the House and the Senate are working on the bill this week.