Beware blackouts on the road to electrification, environmentalist warns Senate chair

By Guy Page

A Vermont environmental leader and 2020 candidate for governor is warning the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee that its plan to convert Vermont from fossil fuels to electricity will strain the state’s power grid.

James Ehlers is the children’s health advocate for Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE). He challenged former utility executive Christine Hallquist for the 2020 Democratic nomination for governor. In an open letter to committee chair Chris Bray (D-Addison) entitled, “Why are Vermonters asking about grid reliability, Senator Bray?,” Ehlers emphasized that the state’s energy experts have noted the following:

  1. As reliance on electricity grows, the risk of blackouts increases.
  2. Widespread retirement of backup coal and oil-powered generators have made New England increasingly dependent on natural gas power – and pipeline capacity limits the amount of natural gas available during a heating crisis.
  3. The efficacy of wind and solar power “are hampered by extreme weather conditions.” Wind turbines can ice up, solar panels can be covered by snow.
  4. New England’s existing nuclear fission and biomass power generators should be considered as alternate, low-carbon power sources while next-generation solutions such as hydrogen, etc. are being developed.

Ehlers emailed Chair Bray the following excerpts from the State of Vermont’s own Comprehensive Energy Plan:

Senate Natural Resources and nergy Chair Chris Bray (left) needs to know that the more Vermont becomes dependent on electricity, the more at risk its power grid becomes, VCE spokesperson James Ehlers said.

P. 218-219 – As reliance on electricity for essential services grows, the risk and potential impact of loss of electricity increases, and remains a primary concern in the design and operation of the grid. ISO-NE has identified the winter season as having the highest likelihood for such an event. A “severe prolonged cold snap” lasting multiple days, paired inherently with high demand for electricity, could bring about inadequacy in available generation resources such that not all electric load can be served reliably. Procurement of a portfolio of resources, and the transition to a more renewable and clean future, must consider overall reliability of the grid.

Increasingly, the New England electric system has become reliant on natural gas for power generation year-round. Available pipeline capacity limits the amount of natural gas that it is possible to procure from our neighboring regions and, during a cold snap, some natural gas plants would find their fuel supply restricted by the competing demand of residential heating. While it is possible for some generating stations to utilize liquid natural gas (LNG) in place of the gas piped in from neighboring regions, it may still be difficult for these plants to obtain fuel given supply chain challenges and competing demand from foreign markets.

Over the past years, some generating plants in New England that were fueled by coal and oil have retired, largely to be replaced by natural gas plants. This has increased reliance on the remaining coal and  oil units during cold snaps. Concerning to ISO-NE, though, are the fuel reserves of these remaining units — there may be sufficient fuel to generate electricity for a day or more, but a prolonged cold weather event, especially paired with global oil supply chain limitations due to the pandemic, could prevent delivery or utilization of additional fuel shipments.

The growth of renewable, intermittent resources in Vermont and elsewhere in the region has begun to decrease the demand for electricity from fossil fuel generators, and indications are that this essential process will continue.

However, the efficacy and availability of these resources can be severely hampered by extreme weather conditions. It is expected that, in a winter weather event, wind turbines may be shut down due to blade icing or high wind, solar panels may be covered by snow or ice, and that small-scale hydro turbines could suffer from deficient water flow. Reduction of this risk will require the diversification of renewable resources with regard to technology type and geographical location across Vermont and, expressly, across New England.

In preparation for a cold snap, it is possible to charge battery energy storage systems co-located with a generation resource or connected individually. However, at the present, most batteries are designed to output stored energy over the course of a few hours, rather than the duration of the few days that may be needed in a prolonged weather event. It is possible to stagger or ration the output of multiple batteries in concert, but to store an amount of energy fitting of the problem at hand would require the installation of many more batteries than may otherwise be economically feasible based on current market structures.

Research and development is underway for other resource types, like green hydrogen production via electrolysis and storage for later use in a fuel cell; low-impact run-of-river hydro, utilizing technology similar to tidal generators; small, modular, next-generation nuclear fission, such as could use thorium fuel; and inertial or magnetic confinement nuclear fusion. These types of generation may be able to provide services that are expected to be in increasing demand. Hydrogen fuel cells could account for the instantaneous differences in load and generation by injecting power on a sub-second basis in a process called frequency regulation, acting as a kind of spinning reserve. Fusion plants could provide reliable, sustainable baseload power.

However, it remains to be seen whether these kinds of resources will become accessible, affordable, safe, and sustainable. Until such time, and until thorough cost, safety, and environmental vetting procedures have taken place, it is premature to recommend these resources as solutions to the problems of energy supply and winter reliability in the region. Existing nuclear fission generators, like the Seabrook plant in New Hampshire, presently serve as a reliable source of carbon-free electricity and are especially important under such weather conditions as described here.

Other types of resources for generating electricity that are already connected to Vermont’s grid, such as biomass and large-scale hydro, can operate efficiently even during periods of extreme cold. It is possible to store biomass fuel like wood chips at quantities that allow several consecutive days of operation, and large hydro facilities do not incur the same fuel transport concerns of other resource types. It is important to recognize that these resources provide unique reliability advantages.

P.253 As DERs deploy, the grid is already beginning to see areas of constraint on the transmission and distribution systems, as discussed in Chapter 4 on Grid Evolution. These constraints appear in a variety of ways, such as limits to hosting capacity for new solar on certain circuits of the distribution grid,281 which limit additional deployment of systems without costly upgrades to grid infrastructure, and create transmission constraints in areas where renewable generation far exceeds local load (e.g., the Sheffield Highgate Export Interface in northern Vermont 282). The latter of these scenarios has resulted in curtailments of existing renewable generation, to maintain system reliability, that are exacerbated as new generation is added. These curtailments have cost implications for the ratepayers paying for those resources.

Other notable statements

  • Consultants for the PSD’s Rate Design Initiative estimated that electrification technologies — including EV charging and heat pump use — could increase 2040 system costs by $500 million per year
  • Eliminating fossil fuels from the regional fuel mix means there is a need to either find clean baseload alternatives, or rethink the amount of reliability risk that is acceptable to Vermont.
  • Forging ahead without due consideration of the red flags raised by grid planners and operators will lead to inefficient grid development that risks adding costs without necessarily reducing emissions

Guy Page is publisher of the Vermont Daily Chronicle. Reprinted with permission.

12 thoughts on “Beware blackouts on the road to electrification, environmentalist warns Senate chair

  1. Same thing happens in Cuba…

    Same thing happens in Venezuela.

    Must be a coincidence….

    Post the wrong words on social media, and suddenly your smart meter turns the power off, it’s all just a coincidence.

  2. I say take the golden dome off the grid and let them work in a real glow/blow environment (give them a bank of panels and a wirrly gig windmill). No working from home either, put your azz where your mouth is…

  3. Wind and Solar are Molly-Coddled up to Their Armpits
    Grossly Excessive Financial Incentives
    About 45 to 50% of the “wind, all-in LCOE” (levelized cost of energy) of wind turbine projects consists of various financial in incentives. I have the 20-y spreadsheets.
    If no financial incentives were available, Owners would have to sell their electricity at almost 2 times the price, c/kWh, they now receive, which would be very bad PR for wind.
    Wind Output is Variable Almost 100% of the Time
    I looked at the hour-to-hour wind output in New England (ISO-NE website) for an entire year, 8766 hours. I was bleary eyed.
    I found there ALWAYS was some wind output. It was NEVER zero.
    Wind output is variable almost 100% of the time
    Counteracting Variable Wind Output
    What makes wind a grid disturber, or very expensive, or very uneconomical (take your pick) is the VARIABLE output, because OTHER generators (likely gas-fired power plants) HAVE to counteract, on a less than minute-by-minute basis, the variable wind outputs, UP TO NEAR ZERO wind output, 24/7/365, year after year.
    By exporting excess electricity, such as to Quebec, via not-yet-existing HV DC lines, NE generators will do less counteracting, but Quebec generators will do more counteracting; there is no free lunch in the real engineering world.
    Cost of Counteracting Variable Wind Output
    The counteracting costs imposed on the other generators will be an addition to the “all-in LCOE” of the other generators.
    Depending on grid conditions/topology, that cost addition is:
    Less than 5% at up to 5% annual wind penetration,
    About 5% at about 10% wind penetration,
    About 10% at about 15% wind penetration, etc., as proven in Ireland at 17% wind
    That cost addition becomes very large at high levels of wind penetration, because more and more of the other generators will be operating less economically, due to:
    1) Ramping up/down, at about 75% of rated output, to counteract, on a less than minute-by-minute basis, the variable wind outputs; more Btu/kWh, more CO2/kWh, more c/kWh
    2) Being on hot, synchronous standby, and cold standby; more Btu/kWh, more CO2/kWh, more c/kWh
    3) Having much more fuel-guzzling cold start and stops; more Btu/kWh, more CO2/kWh, more c/kWh
    4) Having much more wear and tear, more Btu/kWh, more CO2/kWh, more c/kWh.
    5) Producing less, but more expensive electricity, due to inefficiently operating, at a lesser capacity factor, with wind on the grid
    NOTE: The more wind and solar on the grid, the larger the electricity quantities that need to be counteracted, and the greater the cost of the counteracting services, as proven in Germany and Ireland.
    Ignoring the Money and Environmental Impacts?

    The public not looking at the wind project spreadsheets and not being made aware of wind’s lifetime adverse environmental consequences, is exactly what “rich folks with tax-shelters and their protectors” want.
    Over the decades, those folks have set up nationwide PR structures to lie and cheat every-which-way to get their projects approved, built and paid for in Europe and the US.
    In that manner, wind is ARTIFICIALLY made to LOOK economically and socially palatable to the kept-ignorant/deluded/brainwashed ratepayers and taxpayers.
    The PR ideal is to make “skunk-wind” perceived as a “low-maintenance, perfumed beauty at a garden party”.
    To sum up, wind gets:

    1) Various federal and state financial incentives,
    2) Plus, free electric grid expansion/augmentation,
    3) Plus, free backup/standby power plant services
    4) Plus, free grid management services
    5) Plus, free hazardous waste disposal during project life, and at end of life,
    6) Plus, free legalized killing of bats and birds, including bald eagles, and killing of whales,
    7) Plus, free legalized ruining of the fishing industry,
    8) Plus, free sickening of people and animals with infrasound, which is felt, but not heard, kills whales, causes birth defects in lobsters,
    9) Plus, free visual blight all over the place
    There would be no wind, solar and battery systems without the huge, politics-inspired, financial incentives.
    Thank heavens, ISO-NE has, till now, adequate backup/standby plants, plus adequate natural gas and fuel oil storage capacity near power plants, to counteract, on a less than minute-by-minute basis, the variable outputs and absences of wind and solar, 24/7/365, year after year.

    • Thank you for your intelligent, cohesive look at this issue – everyone should read this and pay attention to it! Unfortunately, the policy makers in Vermont are (and remain) blinded by an illogical dream shored up by a minority, i.e., the rich and the burgeoning industrial complex, at the expense of everyone except them.

      • Willem has the facts but the loonies are allergic to facts because they might, and they do, contradict their hoax agenda.


    This article should be read by the Vermont Environment and Energy Committee and all Vermont legislators, so they understand the short-comings of HPs at low temperatures, when operated in houses, other than highly sealed and highly insulated houses.

    Air source HPs will not economically displace anywhere near 100% of fossil Btu in existing Vermont buildings, weatherized or not.

    The Vermont clean heating standard, CHS, modified or not, is deeply flawed. It is putting the horse behind the cart, because they are blinded by generous subsidies for HPs.

    Average Vermont House

    Based on my many years of energy systems analysis experience, I claim, the average Vermont house is totally unsuitable for HPs.

    It is down-right criminal for New England governments to cajole/browbeat/scare/force people to install HPs in such houses

    Summary of CADMUS Report

    – The annual energy cost savings were, on average, $200/y, but the annual maintenance, and annual amortizing costs (at 5.5%/y for 15 years) would turn that gain into a loss of at least $500/y.

    – On average, the HPs provided 27.6% of the annual space heat, and traditional fuels provided 72.4%. These numbers are directly from the survey data. The small percentage of displaced fossil fuel heat indicates HPs would not be effective CO2 reducers in the cold climate of Vermont, if used in average VT houses.

    – Owners started to turn off their HPs at about 28F to 30F, because their past experience showed significant increases in electricity bills, if they had not turned them off.

    – Very few owners were using their HPs at 10F and below, as shown by the decreasing kWh consumption totals on figure 14 of URL.
    – At those temperatures, the hourly cost of operating HPs exceeded the hourly cost of using a traditional heating system.
    – This statement is true for average Vermont houses, which comprise about 90% of the Vermont housing stock.

    – On average, an HP consumed 2,085 kWh during the heating season, of which:

    1) To outdoor unit (compressor, outdoor fan, controls) + indoor air handling unit (fan and supplemental electric heater, if used), to provide space heat 1,880 kWh
    2) Standby mode 76 kWh, or 100 x 76/2085 = 3.6%. The HP cycles to “heat on” to “heat off”, but the fan keeps running
    3) Defrost mode 129 kWh, or 100 x 129/2085 = 6.2%. Defrost starts at about 37F and ends at about 10F.

    The HP overhead was (2085 – 205)/1880 = 10.9%, i.e., 10.9% more electricity was fed to the HP than was converted to space heat.

    – Turnkey cost for a one-head HP system is about $4,500 (2017 pricing); almost all surveyed houses had just one HP, which would be far from sufficient to heat an entire house. See URLs.

    CADMUS Survey of Vermont Air Source HPs

    CADMUS, an energy consultant hired by the Vermont Department of Public Service in 2017, performed a survey of 77 HPs at 65 sites, in Vermont. See URL of CADMUS report

    VT-DPS was advised by the Vermont Legislature to obtain an “independent” study, because many people with HPs had complained, they did not get anywhere near the annual energy cost savings stated on websites, etc., of GMP, BED, VPIRG, VT-DPS, EAN, EFFICIENCY VERMONT, etc.,

    NOTE: The CADMUS report was written in such a confusing way, the average Vermonter, including almost all legislators, would not be informed by it, and would be more confused by it, unless they had a mechanical engineering degree, with applicable experience.
    I do have the degree and experience, so I could analyze it.

    HP Operating Data from Survey

    Figure 14 in the CADMUS report shows, the measured total electricity consumption, kWh, of all HPs was 8 kWh at 66F, then increases to a maximum of 97 kWh at 28F, then decreases to about 5 kWh at -12F. That kWh includes about

    Whereas the building heating load was increasing, because it was getting colder, the measured electricity to the HPs was decreasing!!

    That decrease could only happen, if Vermonters turned off their HPs, to save on electricity costs.
    Instead, they used their less-costly-to-operate traditional heating systems, such as oil, gas, propane and wood stoves.

    Deceptions by HP Proponents

    Vermonters operate their HPs mostly above 28F, which yields an average coefficient of performance, COP, of about 3.0. See figure 14

    HP proponents brag Vermonters get about 3.0 x 3412 = 10,200 Btu/kWh of electricity.
    However, proponents do not mention, if Vermonters had operated their HPs below 28F, the COP would become less and less
    Vermonters would get only 2.0 x 3412 = 6,824 Btu/kWh of electricity at 10F, or 1.6 x 3412 = 5,460 Btu/kWh at 0F

    The lower COPs occur while the building heating load is increasing, i.e., it is very expensive to operate an HP at low temperatures.

    Computer Program to Determine Heating Consumption

    CADMUS used a decades-old, standard, HVAC computer program that takes the hourly temperature history of one heating season (or averages, say 5 years of heating seasons).
    The temperature history is obtained from US weather data.

    The computer program allocates the frequency and duration of temperatures to two-degree temperature intervals, also called “bins”.
    See URL of CADMUS report; horizontal axis of figure 14

    The space heat to a site is calculated for each two-degree bin, say 32 F – 34 F; 34 F – 36 F; 36 F – 38 F, etc.
    The total space heat to a site is obtained by adding the space heats for all two-degree bins.

    The computer program calculated the following values, as stated in the CADMUS report:

    – Space heat to a site was 92 million Btu, of which 25.35 million from HPs (27.6%), and 66.65 million from other fuels (72.4%)
    – Space heat to all sites was 65 sites x 92 million Btu/site = 5,980 million Btu. See CADMUS URL, page 22
    – Space heat from HPs was 77 HPs x 21.4 million Btu/HP = 1,648 million Btu. See CADMUS URL, page 21
    – Traditional systems provided 5980 – 1648 = 4,332 million Btu, or 4332/5980 = 72.4% of the total space heat.
    – HPs provided only 100 – 72.4 = 27.6% of the total space heat for an average Vermont house. See table
    – Heating season average COP = 21400000 Btu/HP x 1/2085 kWh x 1 kWh/3412 Btu = 3.0

    Energy Cost Savings

    The energy cost savings averaged about $200/y, instead of the $1,200/y to $1,800/y grabbed out of the air by GMP, VT-DPS, VPIRG, etc.

    After the CADMUS report, those overblown estimates disappeared from their websites. See URLs.

    The CADMUS report data is summarized in the table

    See URL for table


    I have three Mitsubishi HPs, with 6 heads ($24,000 – $2,400 subsidy from GMP) in my well-insulated/sealed house.
    I displace only 35% of my propane Btus, based on MEASURED consumption data during 3 years.
    I do not use my HPs below 15F, because they cost more PER HOUR than my efficient propane furnace.
    I save about $200/y in energy costs.
    If I amortize the cost of the HPs over 15 years, I lose about $2,000/y

    NOTE: Due to recent increases of propane prices, I will operate my HPs down to about 10F to 15F (depending on wind conditions and passive solar gain), which means, I will:

    1) Displace a little more than 35% of fossil fuel Btus with electricity Btus,
    2) Have a greater CO2 reduction.
    3) Have a MUCH greater monthly electric bill.

    Coddling RE Businesses

    Heavily subsidized businesses selling/installing/servicing HPs, etc., will be collecting hundreds of $millions each year over the decades, while already-struggling, over-regulated, over-taxed Vermonters will be further screwed out of a decent standard of living.

    HP boosters Sens. Bray, McDonald, etc., know about those dreadful HP results in Vermont, and yet they continue shilling for HPs.

    All these expensive Vermont GWSA efforts will be having ZERO IMPACT ON GLOBAL WARMING.

  5. Wind and Solar are wonderful for households in Germany

    German Household Electricity Prices in 2022 (2nd half of year)

    Total price: 40.07 Eurocent/kWh*

    Supplier’s cost (51.5%)
    The profit margin and supplier’s cost of purchasing electricity on the wholesale market – 20.64 ct/kWh

    Grid fees (20.2%)
    Charges for the use of the power grid, set by the Federal Network Agency (BNetzA) – 8.08 ct/kWh

    Sales tax (VAT) (16%)
    The sales tax is 19 percent on the pre-tax price of electricity. It makes up 16 percent of the price after tax – 6.4 ct/kWh

    Electricity tax (5.1%)
    A tax on the consumption of power, also known as ’ecological tax‘ in Germany – 2.05 ct/kWh

    Concession levy (4.1%)
    A levy on the use of public space for power transmission lines that the utility passes on to the consumer – 1.66 ct/kWh, depending on the size of the affected area.

    Offshore liability levy (1.1%)
    Grid operators must pay damages if they fail to connect offshore wind farms in a timely manner in order to sell the power they produce. Operators can pass these costs on to consumers through this levy – 0.4 ct/kWh.

    Surcharge for combined heat and power plants (0.9%)
    Operators of combined heat and power (CHP) plants receive a guaranteed price on the electricity they sell. The difference between the guaranteed price and the actual price they receive on the market is financed through this surcharge – 0.37 ct/kWh.

    Levy for industry rebate on grid fees (1.1%)
    Large power consumers are partially or totally exempt from grid charges. These costs are distributed among consumers via this levy, amounting to 0.43 ct/kWh.
    [*Difference to 100% due to rounding. Source:BDEW 2022]

  6. I favor blackouts that go on for days in the dead of winter. Freezing the liberals and commies is the only thing that will wake them up. — Spent most of my life in power generation, and wind and solar are not going to supply the needed capacity, ever. Its a pipe dream that will fail.

    • Ed,

      The solution to blackouts is really simple, cut back on demand by increasing the cost of supply.
      When it gets to the point of $1+ /kWh and people start freezing/starving to death, do you really think any of the governing class will notice? I’m sure the legislature will just give themselves a hefty cost-of-living increase. Oh, wait.

      • Have we finally figured out how STUPID we were to dynamite our wonderful, reliable
        Vermont Nuclear power plant ?
        Can we ever be smart enough to build two nuclear power plants for Vermont, north and south
        Clean, safe, reliable, and comfortable

        • VY was past its sell-by date even as owner Entergy attempted to ditch their leaking tower-crashing dinosaur and everyone who went in or out of the building couldn’t miss the sinkholes dotting the property. And tho tritium was never the real problem it was the heavier nuclides found in the soil that showed the true condition of the plant.

          And Entergy closed it themselves bc it was no longer profitable and the cost of replacing is astonomical.

  7. The insanity of every VT Lib-Progressive is on full display….”Liberal Logik” :

    “EVs Are a Green Illusion
    EVs Aren’t Cheap
    EV Subsidies Are Gifts to the Rich
    EVs Are Vulnerable to Global Supply Chains
    EVs Aren’t Reliable”

Comments are closed.