Commentary: Vermont Energy Plan is Basically Unworkable (July, 2015)

by Meredith Angwin

2010 Known Electric Resources from PSD
Blog post about this at ANS Nuclear Cafe

The Vermont Public Service Department (PSD)  is revising the Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan which they issued in 2011.  They want public input by July 24. Yes, the plan has been under serious discussion for about a month.  First PSD had invitation meetings (late June), now they are having public meetings (July).  Then they will issue a draft 2015 plan and request further comments later in the year. You can see local timeline here.  The 2011 plan is one of the base documents.

The Charts and the Questions

On the morning of June 30, the subject of the invitation meeting was Energy Supply Resources. Asa Hopkins is Director the Planning and Energy Resources Division of the PSD. Here is a link to his presentation. (You can see all the meeting agendas and presentations at this link.)

From Hopkin’s presentation, this is the current version of the 2010 chart:

 2015 Known Vermont Electric Sources from PSD

Yes, it looks familiar.

We’ve got the big green part at the bottom: HydroQuebec.  HydroQuebec falls off somewhat as the old contracts finish, but it is still steady.  Above it is the steady purple of Vermont and New York State hydropower, and the increased level of nuclear (medium blue) as the Seabrook contracts begin. Then there’s that huge red part, “residual mix” (aka “buying from the grid or short-term contracts”) that is supposed to diminish.  As a matter of fact, it’s supposed to go away entirely.

After all, the Vermont plan is for 90% renewables, and the chart shows that we already have a big section of nuclear (relatively new long-term contracts). Nuclear is clean-air, but the Vermont plan isn’t about clean air and low carbon, it’s about renewables and only renewables.  In other words, with the nuclear purchase in place, in order to meet the Vermont plan, we really can’t afford to buy a single electron from the grid.  We also can’t afford to expand our use of natural gas.

All that white space at the top right must be filled with renewables.

The last few slides in the presentation show the PSD grappling with this problem. A slide labelled “Question #1 background cont.” includes the following:
“Expected identified resources ….leave 46% of the electric portfolio undetermined.”

Here come the cars and heat pumps

If you look at the 2015 chart above, you will notice that the line at the top (how much electricity Vermont is projected to require) slopes up gently to the right.  On that chart, the Vermont electricity requirement number seems to hang right around 6,000,000 MWh (6 TWh) for fifteen years.

But if you look at another chart in the same viewgraph presentation, you get quite a different picture.  This is Vermont projected electricity use from the TES (Total Energy Study)  done for the PSD.  The TES study included all sectors of energy use, and predicted that Vermont can lower total energy use significantly.  However, to do this, Vermont will use considerably more electricity (electric vehicles and heat pumps). The chart below sums this up.

Future Vermont Electricity Use, from Total Energy Study and PSD presentation

In this chart, as building heat (heat pumps) and transportation (electric vehicles) kick in, the Vermont energy use goes from around 5 TWh in 2015, to around 9 TWh in 2050.

In other words, the Known Electric Resources chart ended in 2030, with just a gentle uptick in demand, as shown by the top line of the chart. For that top line, PSD  used a VELCO projection of energy use, instead of referring to their own PSD studies.  I don’t know what study they used for the “46% of the portfolio” number.

However,  if Vermont really runs all sectors on renewables and therefore electricity, we are going to need much more electricity than estimated by VELCO.  Vermont electricity use practically doubles by 2050. It looks to me as if “46% of the portfolio…. is undetermined” could be a serious underestimate of the problem.

Where will we get so many renewables?  I think that buying from Hydro Quebec seems the only realistic option. And of course, HQ will love the sight of Vermont needing to buy their power!  Talk about Vermont having no bargaining position whatsoever.

Ah well. We can always write to the PSD, and encourage them to read their own reports. 2011 Comprehensive Energy Plan.

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