Grid operators: Vermont electric grid reaching saturation point in the north

Regional electric utility and grid operators say they are being forced to curtail power sources and that new development may not be possible due to energy grid saturation in northern Vermont.

“During periods of a high generation or low consumer demand, ISO New England must curtail some resources in order to maintain safety and comply with reliability standards,” Matthew Kakley, ISO-NE spokesman told True North Reports on Wednesday. “These curtailments are meant to ensure that transmission lines are not overloaded beyond their physical capacity.”

TOO MUCH SUN?: Vermont’s power grid, designed to deliver power from large coal and nuclear plants, is getting pushed to the limits by aggressive development of solar and wind projects.

Managing the power grid in the age of unpredictable wind and sunshine adds a new challenge for the energy supply side. On the demand side, increased efficiency for heating and other appliances also poses a challenge.

“You need some balance — you want the generation of electricity to match the demand of the energy. You don’t want it to be out of sync,” said Andrea Cohen, manager of Government Affairs for the Vermont Electric Cooperative. “More and more generation and not that much demand, that’s not good for the system.”

According to the Vermont Electric Power Company’s (VELCO) overview of the Sheffield-Highgate export interface (a power-saturated portion of the northern grid), curtailment is already unavoidable.

“Seeking to prevent generation curtailment at all times would lead to disproportionately costly projects compared to the marginal benefit that can be achieved,” the document states.

According to VELCO’s grid document, curtailment usually happens during the mid-day, during periods of high generation, or at planned maintenance outages, and coinciding with periods of lowest demand. Such periods often occur at the same time as high wind and hydro generation, leading to waste.

Vermont Electric Co-op CEO Christine Hallquist says efforts in Vermont to increase energy efficiency, while looking good on paper, have an unintended negative effect.

“It’s not so simple anymore,” Hallquist said. “With distributed generation, sometimes increased efficiency can go against our goals. We actually need more demand. The more demand we can get, the more generation we can put out. Generation kind of pushes out on the wire and demand pulls it in.”

Hallquist said there might be some opportunity for better grid efficiency during nighttime hours when around just 10 percent of the energy available is actually used. For instance, this might be a good time for electric car batteries to recharge or for electric heat-pumps to warm up homes, all with energy which otherwise goes to waste.

ISO-NE is working hard to make grid upgrades. Since 2003, the region has invested more than $8 billion in transmission upgrades to ensure reliability, with another $4 billion in reliability upgrades expected in the coming years. These upgrades have provided the region with improved reliability.

“While these upgrades were designed to address weaknesses in the transmission system and to shore up reliability, they’ve eased the flow of power around the region, enabling lower-cost, more efficient generators to be used more,” Kakley said.

Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said there are projects pending by Vermont renewable energy developer David Blittersdorf that need more scrutiny for grid impact.

“He’s proposing projects all in grid-constrained areas,” Smith said.

“The Swanton Project is not in the Highgate-Sheffield constrained area, but it’s in a different area that would perhaps curtail Georgia Mountain (Wind) and McNeil Biomass (an incinerator in Burlington). That’s why the utilities are opposing that one, especially Burlington Electric,” she said.

Smith added that the Holland and Irasburg wind turbine proposals would most likely curtail existing Sheffield and Lowell turbines.

“The big question is, why does Blittersdorf keep trying to do things in that grid-constrained area?” she said. “There is capacity in other places. I just don’t get it.”

Hallquist says the over-saturation means new energy projects simply have to look elsewhere.

“Any developers that want to build new projects up there, well now we’ve reached the limits of the system, now the answer is to move it to other areas of Vermont where there’s capacity available,” Hallquist said.

Hallquist reaffirmed VEC’s commitment to Vermont’s renewable energy goals, including 90 percent renewable energy use by 2050.

“We are going to continue to have these public policy debates around what does it take for Vermont to reach its long-term renewable goals that are defined in the Comprehensive Energy Plan,” Hallquist said. “That’s something that Vermont wants, we’re here to serve, and we’re here to help Vermont achieve those goals.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at bielawski82@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorth82X.

7 thoughts on “Grid operators: Vermont electric grid reaching saturation point in the north

  1. Yes, I work in the wind industry, so you can discount my remarks if you wish. But it is not correct to say, as this article does, that wind is “unpredictable”. Vermont has actually done incredible work on forecasting and modeling and reports that the wind is 91% predictable, and as a part of an overall system that includes these predictive analytics, can essentially be considered as a dispatchable resource in Vermont.

  2. Eliminate the subsidies and let the market determine whether noisy, bird killing windmills and ugly solar panels are viable. Also, where is Act 250 when it could really do its job? I guess the simple answer is “money talks”, especially when its other peoples’ hard earned tax dollars.

  3. [Hallquist says the over-saturation means new energy projects simply have to look elsewhere.
    “Any developers that want to build new projects up there, well now we’ve reached the limits of the system, now the answer is to move it to other areas of Vermont where there’s capacity available,” Hallquist said.]
    WOW! Too much electricity for the power lines to safely handle, destroying our habitat in order to get it, forcing families out of their homes, and subsidizing it by penalizing those not on the “grid”. How about a new plan of removing the behemoths, repairing the damages, and making whole the people who have been hurt by this boondoggle?

  4. Smith wonders why David Blittersdorf keeps promoting big wind in constrained grid areas. It’s because the combination of Production Tax Credit, fast depreciation. REC sales, and Renewable Portfolio Standard mean Big Profits – whether or not the market would make good and efficient use of the product. If Blittersdorf’s wind farm simply heated a huge tank of water with resistance heating he would probably still get big profits even without the RPS (there may be a PTC condition that the power be delivered to a grid, which would queer the deal.) Big Wind is a money machine – thanks to government rigging the deal. Find a mountain ridge with no opposition, and… ka-ching.

  5. To say nothing of the fact that we are plastering our meadows and fields with the ugliness of solar displays that are destroying the beauty of our once pristine vistas. This in a state where the environmentalists recoiled in horror lest we put up a sign directing folks to our now deserted shopping mall. WATCH MR. BLITTERSDORF AND FOLLOW THE MONEY!!!

  6. The problem in a nutshell is that during times of peak production (mid-day), there is minimal demand, just the reverse of the urban/suburban model. I formerly belonged to the only rural electric co-op in NJ. Twenty five years ago, the co-op , faced with high daytime demand from electric baseboard heat on top of a growing baseload, started marketing electric thermal storage heating. At the night time low demand period, the heaters would kick on and heat a mass of firebrick to nearly 1000*, all at an off-peak rate of $0.06/kWh instead of the daytime 10 cents. During the day, only a small electric fan would operate when the thermostat demanded it. They’ve been used in Europe for years. However, here in VT there is NO push for off peak metering to balance the load / demand problem (easy to do since GMP put in smart meters)from either the state BPU or the utilities. Gotta wonder why. You can go to the website of Sussex Rural Electric Co-op to see how they do it.

    • I have seen this in Europe and it does make good sense. I think the trick in VT however is that we are a consumer of electricity and import over 50%. If more generation were occurring this would make sense to do to reduce the need to transmit power in and out of the local grid.

      The issue being reported on here, though not very effectively as is typical of true north, is that essentially the wires and fuses are not big enough in the NEK. This will change, especially if more power will be brought in from Quebec, and ISO-NE has been studying this and upgrading. This is why energy developers and utilities are still proposing projects for the future. Additionally, how much curtailment is actually occurring in the meantime is minimal. And utilities are getting better at managing constraints.

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