by Guy Page
In order to have a prosperous future and to reduce carbon and other toxic emissions, Vermont needs a bold 20-year energy plan. Indications are that the plan the Department of Public Service will unveil this fall may be severely flawed for two reasons.
First, the plan is predicated on closing Vermont Yankee, which now provides a third of the state’s electricity. Without the plant, Vermont is likely to be too reliant on unstably-priced, high-polluting fossil fuels, especially in the next few years.
Second, indications are the plan will require Vermont to depend too much on other states and Canada for our electricity. Most states produce most or all the electricity they need. This provides the benefits of jobs and related economic activity, reduces costs, and improves reliability as power has less distance to travel on transmission lines.
Independent-minded Vermont today imports half of our electricity. If Vermont Yankee closes, this will decline to about 20 percent in 2012. Furthermore, our two largest utilities, serving 70 percent of Vermont, are expected to be under Canadian ownership soon.
The focus of Vermont’s plan should be to produce all the electricity that we need in state, to consistently anticipate and meet growing demands, and to improve the environment. We need to think boldly, broadly, and positively. We simply cannot stand pat on electricity production and hope that through efficiency, as important as that is, we will meet supply and demand challenges. Additional electricity will be necessary to accommodate economic and population growth. Vermont should also encourage the expanded use of electric cars, which will also bolster electricity demand.
According to the Electric Power Research Institute, an electric car is cheaper to operate than a gasoline car whenever gasoline is above 75 cents a gallon. The transition to electric cars will reduce cash outflows from Vermont to pay for imported oil.
Dr. Howard Axelrod, a respected energy consultant, has found that if Vermont Yankee is retired in 2012 and replaced with fossil fuel generation, the potential increase in greenhouse gases would be two million tons annually, or the equivalent of adding to our roads more than 330,000 cars (about the same amount we have now).
By keeping Vermont Yankee and adding clean sources, we will have the infrastructure to go in the right direction, economically and environmentally.
Hydro-Québec and its clean baseload power should continue to be part of our long-term portfolio. However, it already provides a third of our power. For reasons of risk management and diversification this level should not rise.
In the meantime, Vermont’s renewable energy industry, which is sputtering at best, needs a jump-start. A report by the Vermont Energy Partnership determined that at best we can rely on only 90 megawatts of new, in-state renewable power over the next five years. This figure takes into account the fact that wind and solar are intermittent and only work about a third of the time, or less. Biomass power generation has strong supporters, but also strong opponents, and its toehold on the Vermont beachhead is not assured.
Our energy blueprint should follow the 2010 recommendations of the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office. Its bottom line: Vermont Yankee’s continued operation, combined with the growth of in-state renewables is best for the state fiscally, economically, and environmentally.
Let’s pursue this path – and soon.
Guy Page is communications director of the Vermont Energy Partnership. VTEP membership includes more than 90 business organizations, labor unions, and individuals, including Entergy, owner of Vermont Yankee.