BENNINGTON >> The Bennington County Regional Commission on Wednesday hosted a presentation and forum at the Bennington Museum, to discuss the future of energy production in the region.
BCRC director Jim Sullivan said the meeting was part of a collaborative project between the BCRC, the Northwest Regional Planning Commission, and the Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission, which is being funded by the Vermont Public Service Department. The goal of the project is to update regional energy plans to determine quantitative ways to meet Vermont’s energy goals, including having 90 percent of its energy demands filled by renewable sources by 2050. The project is also getting support from the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, best known as the parent company of Efficiency Vermont, and the Energy Action Network.
Sullivan said the purpose of the meeting was to get ideas and opinions from the community on ways this goal can be met, and on ways that should be avoided. He said, currently, about 25 to 30 percent of Vermont’s energy comes from renewable sources, with most of that coming from hydroelectric power that is imported from Quebec. He said it is important that Vermont attempt to reach the goals it has set forth, not just for environmental reasons, although those are a major concern, but for economic ones as well. Currently, he said, the Bennington Region (defined as Bennington County with the exception of Searsburg, which is defined as part of the Windham Region) spends $159 million annually on energy, almost all of which leaves the region to outside producers.
By investing in production in the region, he said, that money would stay in Bennington County, and create jobs.
Sullivan said the state should not rely on oil as a major energy source going forward.
“It’s not going to get any cheaper or easier to get,” he said, noting that the “low hanging fruit” had already been plucked. “Eventually, producing it is going to be so expensive, it’s not going to be practical to do. The question is, should we start planning for that inevitable future?”
Sullivan said that in addition to transitioning to renewable energy sources such as hydroelectric, solar, wind, and biomass for heating by 2050, the project is estimating that Vermont will have to cut its total energy usage by about one third. Transportation, he said, is currently the biggest user of energy.
Mickey McGlasson, regional planner and sustainable communities program manager with BCRC, said estimates show that Bennington County, in 2050, will make up about 4 percent of Vermont’s energy needs. That would mean, if Bennington were to produce 4 percent of the new renewable energy sources that the state is forecasted to need to meet its goals, it would need to produce 19 MW of wind, 4 MW of hydroelectric, and 77 MW of solar by that time. McGlasson stressed that these numbers only represent a percentage of the whole, and that the region could choose to produce more, thus profiting from selling the energy to other regions, or less. He pointed out that the Northeast Kingdom, for example, has a high capacity for wind power generation, but the residents there have shown no interest in providing energy for the rest of the state.
McGlasson explained that the project had identified land that may be suitable for each type of renewable energy, by removing areas with what were termed “Level 1 restraints,” which were considered entirely inappropriate for development. This includes floodways, federal wilderness, rare and irreplaceable natural areas, vernal pools, and class one and two wetlands. Then, Level 2 constraints – which include deer wintering areas, class 3 wetlands, agricultural soils, conserved lands, and flood hazard areas – were removed, leaving maps of what was called “prime area.”
McGlasson said that, remarkably the Bennington Region includes 4 percent of the state’s prime solar land, 4 percent of the state’s prime wind land, and 4 percent of the state’s prime woody biomass land, matching exactly their expected consumption of energy in 2015. “No other region is like that,” he said, noting that only in hydroelectric generation did the Bennington Region fall short, as there are very few opportunities for the expansion of that resource in the region. McGlasson pointed out that only a small percentage of the prime land would need to be used in order to meet the 4 percent goal. For example, the project currently estimates that Bennington Region has 15,000 acres of prime solar land, but only about 700 acres, based on current technology, would be needed to meet the 77MW goal. Rooftop solar arrays could also drastically reduce the amount of land required. The prime land, he noted, does not take factors such as land ownership into consideration, or proximity to power lines.
After the presentation, residents were asked to look at maps of prime and base (with only level 1 constraints removed) land in the region, and leave comments about whether certain land could be good or bad for producing energy. One audience member suggested that putting solar panels on raised panels could increase the amount of available land.
If you have any questions about the project, or would like to contribute ideas and opinions, contact McGlasson at email@example.com, or by phone at 802-442-0713. Copies of the maps that were available at the presentation are expected to be online shortly.
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