by Mike Polhamus vtdigger.org Vermont must build future renewable power sources on a scale that fits with the character of Vermont towns, Governor Peter Shumlin said last week. Developers shouldn’t burden small towns with large energy projects, he said. Instead, smaller-scale production sources will ensure Vermonters profit most from the state’s renewable energy push, he said. Shumlin delivered his comments the day after Green Mountain Power released a map showing certain regions of the state produce renewable energy at a rate disproportionate to what they consume.
“I continue to believe that building out small renewable projects in Vermont, where you can use it on a local grid, is going to bring us a bright, affordable renewable energy policy that’s going to serve Vermonters well – serve our pocket books, serve jobs and serve the climate future that we’re facing,” Shumlin said at a news conference..
“My own view is, let’s have projects that get it in on rooftops, that get it in brownfields, build it out in smaller areas where communities through local generation can take advantage of that power – that’s the best outcome for Vermont,” he said.
Market forces alone are hoped to encourage future renewable energy development on a scale proportionate to the towns they serve, state officials say. But policy makers are also seeking to create siting regulations with the same outcome in mind.
This may come as a relief to some, as local officials in parts of the state have worried that they’re carrying more than their fair share of the burden of renewable sites.
“By my last calculation, from renewable energy, we produce currently over 13 times our electrical usage for the town,” New Haven select board member Doug Tolles said last month. “And if the ones that are proposed are actually constructed, New Haven would be producing approximately 23 times what it’s using. We’re clearly doing our share, and more.
“Between the lack of trees, the flatness and the access to power, especially, we are attractive to solar developers,” Tolles said. “Most of these solar developers absolutely do not care about where they put their solar, and they do not care in any way about how it affects the town or the looks of the town.”
Addison County and surrounding areas produce more renewable energy, in comparison to their energy demands, than other parts of the state, according to an energy-distribution map Green Mountain Power released Monday.
The map is available to the public and will be updated weekly, company representatives said.
It shows that, under current conditions, the grid, in certain areas of Vermont have already reached capacity for renewable energy production.
New developments are likely to occur closer to areas that need them most, according to Asa Hopkins, the Public Service Department’s planning and energy resources division director.
“It’s a relationship between supply and demand,” he said.
Developing solar sites in Addison County may have been relatively cheap, compared with other parts of the state, as a result of its topography, weather, land values or other factors, Hopkins said.
Had this development occurred where power demands are high – surrounding Burlington, for example – the same grid infrastructure would have had greater capacity.
Grid capacity, in other words, isn’t a fixed volume of electricity, but rather a relationship between how much power is produced and how much is consumed, he said.
Now that certain areas have reached the threshold set by how much they produce and consume, the cost of further development in those areas will increase, he said.
This is largely because developers must pay for new infrastructure to distribute energy they produce, according to Kristin Carlson, the spokeswoman for Green Mountain Power.
This is one purpose of the map, she said – “to communicate to businesses that are building solar … where in the grid might be really helpful to build solar and where might be more costly.”
The Public Service Department will further refine this information using a recent grant from the US Department of Energy, Hopkins said.
This and other technological developments are meant to discourage renewable energy projects that generate too much power for nearby residents, he said.
As the ability to plot capacity improves, Hopkins said, so, too, will his agency’s ability to ensure future development on a scale appropriate to location.
A solar powered chicken coop. GMP photo.
A state siting task force is also looking at ways to scale energy projects in proportion to local requirements, he said.
Locally sized projects will save ratepayers money that would have otherwise been needed to upgrade the state’s power grid, Shumlin said. They’ll also hinder large out-of-state developers from profiting, to the exclusion of smaller in-state firms, from the state’s push for more renewable energy, he said.
Carlson said Green Mountain Power, which provides power to 73 percent of Vermont residents, isn’t planning to expand capacity in areas where the grid is already approaching its limits.
“What we’re focused on is a grid of the future, that supports locally grown power,” Carlson said.
“We don’t want to double down,” she said, on existing power distribution schemes by merely upgrading what exists already.
“We definitely see a completely new energy future,” she said, “where poles and wires are a backup,” and where homes and businesses primarily generate their own power.
A partnership with electric car manufacturer Tesla shows Green Mountain Power’s commitment to that effort, Carlson said.
The California-based company has devised new batteries that store enough power to serve the energy needs of an entire home.
This partnership will allow Green Mountain Power customers to store energy at their homes, relieving them of dependence on the conventional power sources in use today.
“We’re moving toward a future where people can be off the grid,” she said.
VERY TOP PHOTO: Solar farm in South Burlington. Vermont Business Magazine file photo.