PV no Substitute for VY

by Willem Post

The March 6th, 2011, Sunday Valley News article “Is Home Solar Market Dimming” describes that the future of PV solar looked bright until about 2008. Then the Great Recession began to bite and many households in the top 5% of income, who had been benefitting the most from the generous PV solar subsidies, decided to be less green as there was less of the green stuff in their financial accounts.

Vermont had a substantial amount of funds in the Clean Energy Development Fund, but it was decided to rapidly spent most of it (lest legislators would raid that kitty for other “worthwhile” state programs) on subsidies of up to $250,000 per project for wind turbine and PV solar systems. The politically well-connected received most of the subsidies for commercial projects (groSolar recently sold its residential division), leaving not enough for no-political-clout households.

The CEDF has about $800,000 left. Vermont Yankee had been required to kick in about $6 million per year since about 2002, but with the prospect of it closing that source of funds will disappear.

Example: a $250,000 subsidy to the Bolton Valley Ski Area so it could install a 100 kW, Vermont-made, wind turbine for $750,000; it has not been not operating for at least a week, even though there was plenty of wind.

According to Bolton Valley’s website, it generated 204,296 kWh from October 2009 to-date, about 17 months. Capacity factor is (204,296 kWh/1.4 years)/(8,760 hr/yr x 100 kW) = 0.17.

This wind turbine was sold to Bolton Valley on the basis it would produce 300,000 kWh/yr, for a CF of 300,000 kWh/yr/(8,760 hr/yr x 100 kW) = 0.34. It is somewhat like selling a car and telling the new owner it will do 34 mpg, whereas it actually does only 17 mpg.


It is a travesty to waste scarce taxpayer money on projects of dubious value considering the many low-income households “living, i.e., freezing their toes off”, in leaky, drafty, under-insulated single and doublewide housing all over the Vermont.

There are icicles hanging off almost ALL roofs in Vermont, meaning the heat rises through the openings in the ceiling and through the poor insulation into the attic, warms the roof, melts the snow to water which runs down to the colder eaves where it refreezes and forms an ice dam. Then the water backs up, forms a puddle, goes under the shingles and into one’s living space. How about a 30% subsidy for insulating houses, instead of the comparatively measly PACE program where households that borrow money to install energy systems have to pay back the loans with interest?

So what is Rep. Margeret Cheney, member of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, and cohorts cooking up to bring subsidy predictability back?

The Committee is considering flat fee of 55 cents per month for households and a higher fee for businesses; note the fee for businesses is not specified. Will it be on kWh consumption? Will funds raised from households be allocated to households and funds raised from businesses be allocated to business? The idea is to start the fee low and jack it up later, as was done with the Efficiency Vermont fee (a quasi-state agency reporting to the Public Service Board, head count well over 175) which started at about 2% and is now about 5% of monthly electric bills, or $60/yr.

Cheney looks forward to the day Vermont becomes independent from out-of-state energy sources, such as Hydro Quebec which supplies about 30% of Vermont’s power and she looks forward to closing Vermont Yankee which supplies about 35% of Vermont’s power; both reliably provide low-cost, CO2-free, 24/7/365, steady power.

I think Cheney should forward to the day Vermont is really serious about energy efficiency.

Energy efficiency will have a much bigger role in the near future, as energy system analysts come to realize that tens of trillions of dollars will be required to reduce CO2 from all sources and that energy efficiency will reduce CO2 at a lesser cost and more effectively.

Energy efficiency projects:

– will make the US more competitive, increase exports and reduce the trade balance.

– usually have simple payback periods of 6 months to 5 years.

– reduce the need for expensive and highly visible transmission and distribution systems.

– reduce two to five times the energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions and create two to three times more jobs than renewables per dollar invested; no studies, research, demonstration and pilot plants will be required.

– have minimal or no pollution, are invisible and quiet, something people really like.

– are by far the cleanest energy development anyone can engage in; they often are quick, cheap and easy.

– have a capacity factor = 1.0 and are available 24/7/365.

– use materials, such as for taping, sealing, caulking, insulation, windows, doors, refrigerators, water heaters, furnaces, fans, air conditioners, etc., that are almost entirely made in the US. They represent about 30% of a project cost, the rest is mostly labor. About 70% of the materials cost of expensive renewables, such as PV solar, is imported (panels from China, inverters from Germany), the rest of the materials cost is miscellaneous electrical items and brackets.

– will quickly reduce CO2 at the lowest cost per dollar invested AND make the economy more efficient in many areas which will raise living standards, or prevent them from falling further.

– if done before renewables, will reduce the future capacities and capital costs of renewables.


Willem Post – BSME New Jersey Institute of Technology, MSME Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, MBA, University of Connecticut. P.E. Connecticut. Consulting Engineer and Project Manager. Performed feasibility studies, wrote master plans, and evaluated designs for air pollution control systems, power plants, and integrated energy systems for campus-style building complexes. Currently specializing in energy efficiency in buildings. He is a founding member of the Coalition for Energy Solutions.