Wind and solar power projects large and small in northeastern Vermont are facing delays while Vermont utility regulators look at their impact on the regional electric grid and electricity costs for area consumers.
The Vermont Utilities Commission has delayed review or tightened scrutiny of plans for a single large wind turbine on Dairy Air Farm in Holland and 500-kilowatt solar projects in Bloomfield, Brighton, Derby and Eden.
These relatively small solar projects were on a fast track review until utilities raised concerns. For Dairy Air Wind, utilities successfully got the commission to focus first on the grid constraints – a problem that could derail the project outright before anything else is considered.
Vermont Electric Cooperative (VEC), Green Mountain Power (GMP) and Washington Electric Cooperative have argued, in filings before the commission, that new renewable generators would further constrain the output of electricity from existing renewable generators like the 21 wind turbines on the Lowell ridgeline.
Both VEC and GMP say their customers and members are facing higher electric costs because of the constraints within this part of the grid, called the Sheffield Highgate Export Interface (SHEI).
VEC, in recent arguments, is experiencing “economic harm” from curtailments that “has already led to substantial costs to VEC and its ratepayers. VEC maintains that adding more generation to the SHEI would worsen this financial problem for VEC.”
This area is generating more power than the local customers or members can use and the transmission lines are not capable of moving the excess electricity elsewhere in the region, prompting constraints by the grid operator, ISO-New England, according
to filings before the commission.
On June 14, the commission announced that it will hold evidentiary hearings on how Derby Green Lantern Solar, a net-metered solar project planned for a gravel pit off Route 5 near Derby Center, would impact the grid and VEC’s customers.
“We have now decided that it is appropriate for the full commission to conduct the evidentiary hearing because this case concerns, in part, issues connected to the Sheffield Highgate Export Interface,” the commission stated.
“These SHEI issues are important and complex, and, due to the limited number of other contested issues, this case provides us with an opportunity to examine the SHEI issues in detail.”
The commission will hold the Derby GLC Solar hearing on July 10 and 11.
VEC and the other utilities argued the same concerns in the cases of the Bloomfield, Brighton and Eden solar projects. The commission has allowed the utilities to intervene over this issue.
The commission will also look at whether these solar projects would meet the state’s comprehensive energy plan to reach a nearly complete renewable energy future in three decades or impede it because of the constraints they might cause.
The Bloomfield project has to face a full review because of the concerns.
The Brighton and Eden projects are on hold.
VEC asked the commission to merge the review of the grid impacts by all three solar projects but the commission declined because of geographic differences.
Meanwhile, the commission delayed full hearings on the Dairy Air Wind Project’s single 500-foot-tall turbine to focus on the grid impact first.