By David Flemming
Vermont has reached solar saturation, creating the possibility that parts of our electric grid could malfunction and leave thousands without power for days. But some large renewable energy companies are trying to lobby our government for yet more solar.
Nearly 50 percent of Vermont’s 150 electrical power substations are at risk of “transmission ground fault overvoltage” (TGFOV) if more solar is added. As developers and homeowners use net metering to supply more solar electricity generation to our grid, the load (demand for electricity) has stayed constant with our stagnant population. This means that if homeowners add solar panels to the grid, something as common as a tree falling on a power line could send a surge of destruction back toward substation transformers.
In February, Green Mountain Power (GMP) filed with Vermont’s regulatory authority, the Public Utility Commission, to charge $75 per kilowatt for new solar projects. Since the average residential solar project is around 6 kilowatts, the average developer/homeowner would be charged $450.
A renewable energy trade group, Renewable Energy Vermont, was able to negotiate with GMP to decrease that $450 size-dependent fee to a $37 flat fee which would be used to fund the grid upgrades. Now, a 92 percent fee reduction does seem a little drastic. Did Green Mountain Power suddenly figure out how to make the grid upgrades at a tenth of the initial cost?
Still, some renewable energy magnates weren’t satisfied with this amazingly generous reduction in fees. David Blittersdorf’s solar company, All Earth Renewables, lambasted the $37 fee for still being too high: the “distribution grid of today and tomorrow must be available (read: “free to developers”) if a more electrified renewable-powered society is going to make a difference in addressing climate change.” To that point, the grid upgrades “should be borne by ratepayers — the collective beneficiaries of Vermont’s renewable energy laws and policies.”
Raise your hand if you’ve felt like a “collective beneficiary” of top-10-in-the-nation electric rates. Blittersdorf has used his political connections to grow a fledgling business dependent on subsidies into a $20 million annual revenue behemoth. Renewable companies don’t need more tax dollars. They’ve already gotten millions from Vermont.
It’s time to see if they can survive, weaned off the government teat. We’ve given them a two-decade head start. Companies that depend on taxpayers to do business don’t deserve Vermont’s corporate welfare. It’s time they learn how difficult it can be to run a business in Vermont without government assistance. If they can’t manage with that, they will never be able to manage on their own.
An electric grid that wasn’t designed with net metering in mind limits how much solar Vermont can absorb. Vermont has, quite literally, more solar generated electricity than we know what to do with. A blatant cash grab on the part of renewable companies is the only reason Vermont would invest in more solar. But it’s not a very good reason.
David Flemming is a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.