By Guy Page
As governor, former energy executive Christine Hallquist would prefer Midwestern plains wind power over Vermont ridgeline development, WCAX reported October 17:
“Now I’m not necessarily about putting wind on ridgelines because we can get that wind from the midwest at a significantly lower price than in Vermont,” she said. “We’ll let Vermonters decide [whether to build more wind turbines]…..all the communities within a viewshed should make the decision. I suspect that Vermonters aren’t going to support additional wind turbines in Vermont.”
At Vermont Electric Co-operative, Hallquist had a good eye for low-cost, low-carbon power. Intrigued by her statement, Headliners examined Midwestern wind power as a possible contributor to Vermont’s renewable power portfolio.
UPSIDE: It’s cheap. Media reports say wind power generated on the wide open, windy Midwestern plains sells wholesale for $20 per megawatt-hour – comparable to ultra-low natural gas prices in New England and half the $40 megawatt-hour Vermont utilities enjoyed from Vermont Yankee in the early 21st century. By contrast, subsidized Vermont solar power costs utilities about $180 per megawatt-hour.
DOWNSIDE: it’s not cheap or easy to get the power to Vermont. The Vermont – Midwestern grid connection is flawed by transmission congestion, regulatory turf and tariffs. One glance at this map of 243 separate investor-owned U.S. utilities looks at first glance like the decentralization of pre-Columbus America circa 1400 A.D., or perhaps the city/states of the Holy Roman Empire at the same time. There is no four-lane energy superhighway moving east from Iowa to Vermont. Instead, it’s a transmission equivalent of endless narrow town highways, expensive toll roads, and speed traps. Utilities have to wonder if it’s worth the trip.
For the record, Gov. Phil Scott remains firmly opposed to ridgeline wind development.
GMP keeping promise to return Trump tax cut to ratepayers
Green Mountain Power, Vermont’s largest utility, next year will offer home energy-saving programs, buy renewable power, AND charge less overall next year. As explained in an April, 2018 document to the Vermont Public Utilities Commission, they can offer more for less because of the 2017 Trump tax cut:
“For the 2019 rate period, we are requesting a base rate increase of 5.45% and proposing to more than offset this base rate increase with a bill credit for the 2019 rate period of $27.4 million which is approximately 6% of current base rates. This significant bill credit is driven by our commitment to pass to customers as quickly as possible more savings from the federal income tax changes… rather than slowly distributing those tax savings over a number of years. In this context, Green Mountain Power once again will try to set an example for utility peers all across the country.”
To translate, GMP is saying: “Trump gave us a tax break. We’re giving it all to our customers. So never mind that our (GMP’s) expenses are rising. Starting in January, customers’ bills will go down.” Good news for consumers, huh?
PUC denies opponents’ request to reject Dairy Air wind project
The PUC October 24 refused opponents’ request to deny approval to Dairy Air Wind, a 2.2 megawatt wind turbine project on the Canadian border in the Northeast Kingdom town of Holland.
The Town of Holland and a regional development organization say Dairy Air’s case for a certificate of public good fails to address public safety and sound level concerns and thus should be summarily denied. But hearing officer said more information is needed before the PUC issues its final decision.
Really glad state treasurer didn’t divest pension fund
The state’s 32,000 public employee pensioners have good reason this week to thank Vermont Treasurer Beth Pearce for saying no two years ago when Gov. Peter Shumlin and some legislators insisted she divest the state pension fund of blue-chip energy investments. Such a move would have weakened the earning power of the fund, which for many years has faced heavy long-term liability. This week, Moody’s stripped the State of Vermont of its Triple A bond rating in part because the $4.5 billion pension fund is so underfunded and overcommitted.
The bond rating downgrade means the State must pay higher interest (estimated $400,000) on planned borrowing of $61 million. Our aging population and slow economic growth also led to the downgrade.
The Legislature can’t stop the graying of its citizens or even keep campaign promises to create good jobs. But it can refrain from ineffective meddling with pension fund value. Here’s hoping lawmakers get the message: stop endangering retirees’ security with symbolic gestures that don’t reduce real carbon emissions, but do reduce our influence at shareholder meetings of large fossil-fuel energy companies.
Public Utilities Commission may not decide on NorthStar case by Oct. 31
A PUC Oct. 24 order says “it will seek to issue a decision resolving this case in a timely manner” but will not commit to decide by Oct. 31.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Oct. 12 approved the license transfer from current owner Entergy to NorthStar. Following federal approval, project supporters sought a prompt decision by the Vermont PUC, making formal renewal of a nine-party decommissioning agreement unnecessary. However, state and regional signers of the agreement remain committed. A deadline extension – if necessary – shouldn’t be a problem.
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.