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Concern about grid constraints stall big wind projects

Concern about the existing constraints on the electricity grid in northern Vermont is affecting proposed industrial wind projects.

The Vermont Public Utilities Commission on Thursday refused to reconsider its rejection of the petition for a certificate of public good for Kidder Hill Wind, a two wind turbine project in Irasburg and/or Lowell, saying the application is incomplete without a study of how the project will impact the electric grid.

The commission used the same argument in refusing to restart an ongoing review of the petition for the Swanton Wind Project, a plan to develop up to 20 megawatts of wind power in northwestern Vermont.

Representatives of Vermont utilities, grid operators and electricity generation developers have talked about constraints to the grid in northern Vermont, in particular due to the limits of a power line between Highgate and Sheffield in what’s called the Sheffield Highgate Export Interface.

The limits cause existing generation projects, like Kingdom Community Wind and Sheffield Wind, to see power production curtailed by the New England grid operators.

Both Kidder Hill and Swanton Wind were affected this summer when the commission under new chairman Anthony Roisman cited the need for system impact studies, and lack of other details in the Kidder Hill case.

Renewable energy developer David Blittersdorf is involved in both of these projects. He owns the Kidder Hill property that straddles the town line in Irasburg and Lowell and he is a partner in the Swanton Wind project.

He also is proposing the one-turbine Dairy Air Wind Project in Holland.

Swanton Wind filed a motion to reconsider the commission’s order to halt the review schedule, calling it “unfair.”

In response on Thursday, the commission points to two critical criteria that must be met by new electrical generation projects.

“The ultimate findings would be whether the project can be interconnected without adverse effects on the electrical system and whether the project can be served economically by existing or planned transmission facilities without undue adverse effects on Vermont’s electric utilities or their customers,” the commission states.

A successful petition must show, under Vermont state statutes Section 248 (b)(3), that “The project will not adversely affect system stability or reliability.”

And under Section 248 (b)(10), it must show that “the project can be served economically by existing or planned transmission facilities without undue adverse effect on Vermont utilities or customers.”

The commission stopped short of requiring that Swanton Wind do a curtailment study before reopening the review, saying that concerns can be raised by the Vermont Department of Public Service or Green Mountain Power which Swanton Wind will have to address.

The demand for studies on the impacts of new wind projects on the grid addresses concerns raised by utilities like GMP and Vermont Electric Cooperative. VEC is opposing any new generation project larger than a 150-kilowatt rooftop or back yard solar project because of the impact on the grid. GMP is seeking to intervene and question developers in these cases.
Opponents of industrial wind projects, like Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, are pleased with the commission’s position.

“It is evident that if the Swanton Wind petition had been filed under the new commission chairman who is applying the law, it would have received the same treatment as Kidder Hill Wind and been deemed incomplete,” Smith stated.

“Both of these projects, and the Holland wind project, defy comprehension. Why put so much money into lawyers and experts in an expensive regulatory process which creates uproar in numerous communities when the grid capacity is limited and these projects would result in the curtailment of other renewable projects?” she asked.