Five proposed 20-megawatt solar projects would boost the amount of renewable power generated in Vermont, but the credit for the solar power is worth far more in other states, a recent analysis found.
That means that the power generated by Ranger Solar in Vermont likely won’t count toward Vermont’s renewable energy goals because the renewable energy credits, or RECs, will be sold elsewhere.
Companies which sell RECs pass savings onto customers, but can’t claim to provide green energy to them.
Adam Cohen, president of Ranger Solar, said he wants to sell the renewable energy credits in Vermont despite the lower price here. He said the closing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant – with a 604-megawatt renewable energy capacity – and other facilities creates an energy demand which Ranger is poised to fill.
Demand for electricity is separate from renewable energy credit demand. Electricity goes into the grid and is difficult to track, but RECs are traceable and are measuring sticks linked to a state’s renewable goals.
By selling renewable credits, the right to claim the renewable energy is sold as well. The more renewable credits a utility purchases, the more renewable energy they can claim to meet the state’s renewable quota.
“The REC itself we’ll have and we want to sell to Vermont utilities. … We know they need a lot more RECs, so we hope utilities buy them,” Cohen said.
Kevin Jones, professor of energy technology and policy at Vermont Law School, said he doubts Ranger’s RECs will be sold in Vermont.
It’s a matter of profit, he said.
“Very clearly, the market for renewable energy credits is out of state,” Jones said. “Almost all the large-scale solar … are selling RECs.”
Ranger’s 20-megawatt proposals in Ludlow, Brandon, Barton, Highgate and Sheldon would be the five largest in the state, by far. Currently, Vermont’s largest solar field is about 5 megawatts.
Each Ranger site would require about 100 acres of land and create a tax revenue source and new jobs for construction and operation.
A study published by Synapse Energy Economics in November said Ranger Solar will “almost certainly” sell its RECs for “out-of-state” energy goals in places like Massachusetts and Connecticut because of higher selling prices there.
The study – commissioned by Ranger Solar – delved into one of the 20-megawatt proposals in Ludlow, called the Coolidge Solar Project, and concluded with overall support.
The study said the demand for renewable energy in Vermont and New England is on the rise, and the Ranger projects would introduce powerful infrastructure in Vermont to improve electricity production and capacity for decades to come.
“Vermont and every other New England state have set challenging targets for procuring … renewable energy and efficiency,” the study said. “The resulting policies ensure strong and annually increasing demand for renewable energy certificates for the foreseeable future.”
According to the Synapse study, the value of a REC in Connecticut is $55 and $67 in Massachusetts. In Vermont, the same REC is worth $10, the study said.
With Vermont’s lower selling price, outsourcing of renewable credits leaves Vermonters to rely more on fossil-fuel power sources that don’t have RECs attached to them, according to Department of Public Service documents.
The DPS also said renewable energy such as hydropower accounted for 61 percent of the state’s electricity supply in 2014. Solar power accounted for 1 percent.
But when the out-of-state REC sales are accounted for, the percentage of renewable energy in the Vermont electric energy supply drops to 45 percent – 44 percent from hydropower, 1 percent from wood and zero from solar.
Some state officials, including Gov. Peter Shumlin, have voiced serious skepticism about Ranger, saying its projects are too big for Vermont.
Chris Recchia, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, said it seems likely Ranger will sell RECs outside Vermont “in my understanding.”
The project won’t contribute to Vermont’s energy goals, he said.
“We haven’t received applications yet, and when we do we will review those based on public benefit,” Recchia said.
“The public benefit to Vermont usually depends on, first and foremost, if we’re using the electricity from those projects or whether it’s being sold to others,” he added. “Similarly, right on the heels of that, is whether the renewable energy attributes of those projects are being kept in Vermont or sold elsewhere.”
Kristin Carlson, spokeswoman for Green Mountain Power, said the state’s largest utility company would pay a premium price for power generated at Ranger sites and wants to restructure Ranger’s operation.
“What Ranger has filed for … is something called PURPA pricing,” Carlson said, referring to the Public Utility Regulatory Polices Act. “It forces all utilities to buy the power at an expensive price that is above market.”
GMP tried to block Ranger’s permits at the Public Service Board because of the PURPA arrangement and Carlson said GMP wants what is called a power-purchase agreement.
A PPA is a contract with pre-determined rates between an electricity buyer like GMP and an electricity seller like Ranger Solar. Negotiating a PPA would also give GMP rights to the renewable credits, Carlson said, which is something the company wants to expand in the future.
“You will see more renewable power (from GMP),” Carlson said. “Right now we’re trying to figure out what the fit is.”
In contrast to Ranger’s mega-developments, some smaller community solar companies have been accused of marketing deceptions.
Last month, the Vermont attorney heneral’s office issued a warning and marketing guidelines to community companies like SunCommon and GMP. Those companies, according to Attorney General William Sorrell, inappropriately told customers their solar projects were generating renewable energy for their personal use when the RECs were actually being sold out of state.
“Public statements, including those on websites or in print material, that solar energy is ‘clean’ or ‘renewable’ can be deceptive if the RECs are sold and there is no adequate disclosure about it,” the guidelines state.
The warning says “deceptive statements about the renewable attributes of a solar project where the RECs are sold would violate the Vermont Consumer Protection Act … Violations of the Act are subject to injunctive relief and civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation.”
Jones said, “It’s like trying to sell someone organic vegetables that have been sprayed with pesticides.”
He said Rutland’s mission to become the nation’s “solar capital” might have unintended consequences.
Instead of Vermonters gaining access to clean energy, Jones said, Vermonters are being tapped to generate clean energy for sale elsewhere.
“Rutland might be the capital – as far as housing solar,” he said.