More Energy From Hydro-Quebec is Best For The Vermont Economy

By Willem Post

Five years ago, Gov. Shumlin declared Vermont’s energy goal to be “90% renewable energy by 2050”. The General Assembly has never enacted this declaration, but it did establish a Renewable Portfolio Standard, RPS, requiring 55% of retail electricity sales to be from renewable sources by 2017; 75% by 2032, per Act 56.

No other New England State has anywhere near these goals and mandates. Rhode Island’s RPS requires 14.5% renewable by 2020 and 40% by 2040. The only state ahead of Vermont is Hawaii, which requires 30% by 2020, 40% by 2030, and 100% by 2045. Hawaii currently obtains 86% of its electricity from imported oil and coal.

The renewable energy supply to Vermont utilities was about 50% of total retail electricity sales in 2016, mainly Hydro-Quebec (HQ). But strangely, the 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan projects increasing wind energy and decreasing HQ energy consumption over the next six years, even though (heavily subsidized) wind electricity costs about 10 c/kWh hour, much more than (unsubsidized) hydro electricity at about 7 cents/kWh.

Vermont utilities could satisfy the 75% RPS mandate within a few years (well before 2032) by buying more electricity from Hydro-Quebec. It would require no subsidies and would have near-zero capital costs, because private corporations would own and operate the high voltage transmission lines from Quebec to Vermont. Vermont utilities could satisfy a future 100% RPS mandate by buying more electricity from HQ.

The supply of wind electricity to Vermont utilities likely would not increase while Scott is Governor, unless it is bought from out-of-state wind turbine plant owners. Solar electricity likely would continue to expand as suitable sites are found and any local opposition is dealt with.

Hydro Quebec  has about 5000 MW of underutilized hydro plant capacity, which could produce over four times Vermont’s total annual electricity purchases. HQ is planning and building about 5000 MW of additional hydro plant capacity over the next ten years.

An approved 1000 MW high voltage direct current transmission line will run from Quebec, under Lake Champlain, to a DC-AC converter station at Ludlow, VT; most of that electricity would go to southern New England. As part of the agreement with Vermont, TDI-New England has reserved 200 MW of the line’s capacity for Vermont, replacing most of what Vermont lost when Vermont Yankee was shut down in 2014.

But Vermont utilities are not using the 200 MW, because of the Comprehensive Energy Plan penchant for higher cost wind and solar energy, described as “small-scale, distributed generation”. In fact, Vermont utilities have steadily reduced HQ electricity supplies as contracts expired to “make room” for Vermont generated electricity.

GMP prefers, for business reasons, to own and lease to ratepayers Japanese-made heat pumps and Tesla wall-hung batteries, because they would add to the GMP asset base (on which GMP earns about 10%/y), whereas purchasing energy from HQ adds nothing to its asset base.

HQ energy has the following advantages: 1) Requires no subsidies, and costs less than two-thirds the cost of wind and solar; 2) Is dispatchable 24/7/365, unlike variable and weather-dependent wind and solar; 3) Would not destabilize the grid, as would wind and solar when their contribution rises to around 5 – 10 percent of the grid supply; 4) Would not ruin ridge lines and meadows with 500-foot towers and acres of solar panels; Would not cause adverse health effects and diminish nearby property values; 5) Would undermine the flimsy case for the VPIRG carbon tax, that Gov. Scott, who actually listened to voters over the past six months, has pledged to veto.

Willem Post

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Chuck Johnson January 31, 2017 at 4:18 pm

Not fair! Bringing common sense to an emotional issue is frowned upon in Vermont, nowadays. The legislature is certainly not interested in fixing a problem, just tilting at the windmills it subsidizes…. Unless the current renewable goals are made into law (they are trying) Vermont will always be an importing state- for energy, food, manufactured goods. Unless the legislature realizes this fact and acts accordingly, we will always be debating these schemes, and paying dearly…..

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Willem Post February 2, 2017 at 3:03 am

Chuck,

If the “90% RE of ALL Energy by 2050” were made into law, Vermont would need to invest about $1 billion per year from 2017-2050 to implement the Comprehensive Enegy Plan, per the ENERGY ACTION NETWORK, EAN, estimate in its annual report.

Go to their website, view their 2015 annual report. It is on page 3, if my memory is correct.

It would be far less costly to go the Hydro- Quebec route, and it would be much less destructive of Vermont’s environment.

Reply

Michael Bielawski February 1, 2017 at 3:44 am

As an energy reporter for over a year now in Vermont, I think this is one of the most sensible and important posts on energy policy I’ve seen in some time. Great points!

Reply

Willem Post February 2, 2017 at 3:05 am

Thank you, Mike

I have much more information. Just ask.

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