By Guy Page
Beginning next January, carbon-free power produced by dams 200 megawatts or larger will become 10% less “renewable” every year for state energy standard purposes, according to a bill introduced Tuesday in the Vermont House of Representatives.
H557 is an effort to make Big Hydro — mostly from New York and Canada — less available as an option to meet the Renewable Energy Standard (RES) mandate the Legislature gave utilities in 2017.
Under the RES, Vermont’s utilities must procure a defined percentage of their total retail electric sales from renewable energy. The requirement started at 55% in 2017, increasing 4% annually until reaching 75% in 2032.
Hydro-electric power is indisputably renewable energy, as defined by state law: “energy produced using a technology that relies on a resource that is being consumed at a harvest rate at or below its natural regeneration rate.” Snow melts, rain falls, rivers flow, turbines spin.
Contracts with Hydro-Quebec [HQ] and upstate New York generators provide about 20% of the state’s electricity. The state’s 84 tiny power dams, by contrast, together have a generating capacity of less than 200 megawatts. They aren’t threatened by H557.
Canadian hydro power is the target, bill co-sponsor Jim Masland (D-Thetford) told Vermont Daily Chronicle on Thursday.
“If we’re going to ‘plug in more and burn less’ we’ll need more renewable energy,” Masland wrote. “If we’re honest with ourselves we should recognize that HQ power comes from methane producing dam construction and flooding that destroys the Quebec landscape and displaces the indigenous population that has lived there for millennia. If we think that HQ won’t expand further we’re fooling ourselves.”
Masland is at least partially correct: the construction of a hydro power dam is extremely carbon-intensive. Trees rotting in reservoirs do emit methane.
However, wind turbines and solar panels also are carbon-intensive in their manufacture and installation. Nevertheless, wind, hydro and solar power are all considered “carbon-free” because of their low carbon output during the entire ‘life cycle’ of construction, operation, and decommissioning.
Canadian hydro power is considered a godsend by many southern New England utilities and states. Demand for power is growing. Fossil fuel and nuclear plants are closing. Every year the renewable energy standard demand grows. Solar and wind power have not fulfilled their promise of producing the lion’s share of the region’s electricity.
Yet just north of the border, huge amounts of carbon-free, renewable power are for sale. Transmission capacity is a problem. Several more power lines running through Northern New England have been proposed, only to be shot down by alliances of concerned neighbors and supporters of Atlantic ocean off-shore wind projects.
The sponsors of H557 are Masland, Jim McCullough (D-Williston), Peter Anthony (D-Barre), Mollie Burke (Brattleboro), Michael Mrowicki (D-Putney), Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (P-Burlington), and Trevor Squirrell (D-Underhill).
Guy Page is publisher of the Vermont Daily Chronicle. Reprinted with permission.
9 thoughts on “Bill targets ‘renewable’ status of Big Hydro”
First, they came for the Nukes clean reliable cheap power. Once destroyed they moved on to the Hydo clean reliable cheap power.. next on the chopping block will
be Natural gas boogie man.. how soon before we start having to burn the furniture????
GMP REFUSING TO BUY ADDITIONAL HYDRO ENERGY FROM HYDRO-QUEBEC
With Scott as governor, additional wind turbine power plants on Vermont pristine ridgelines would be unlikely for at least the next 6 years. But, the VT Comprehensive Energy Plan, CEP, projections show:
– Increasing wind energy consumption (bought by GMP at about 9 – 10 c/kWh from owners, reduced by about 50% due to subsidies and cost shifting) and
– Decreasing hydro energy consumption (bought from Hydro-Quebec at about 5.7 c/kWh, unsubsidized), under a 20-y supply contract. Realistically:
– Increased wind energy consumption could happen, if wind energy were purchased from out-of-state.
– Increased hydro energy consumption could happen, if additional hydro energy were purchased from H-Q. See URLs
Approved 1000 MW HVDC Line: GMP could lower costs for Vermonters, but refuses to do so. According to Donald Jessome, CEO and president of TDI New England, 200 MW of the recently approved, 1000 MW, HVDC line, owned by Blackstone, is reserved for Vermont. “Vermont has the option to purchase up to 200 MW, but Jessome said he doesn’t expect the state to take advantage of that option.”
Apparently, Green Mountain Power prefers to buy much higher-cost wind and solar energy from a variety of local suppliers. The 200 MW could provide about 1.3 million MWh/y, replacing most of what Vermont lost when Vermont Yankee was shut down in 2014. Construction is scheduled to start in 2018. See URLs.
Table 2 w/subsidies, w/cost shifting No subsidies, no cost shifting
Paid to owners
Ridgeline wind, medium-scale 9.0 About 18.8
Offshore wind, large scale 9.0 About 18.8
Utility-scale, field-mounted, solar 11.8 About 23.5
Residential roof top, small-scale 18.0 + 3.5, fee to GMP About 25.0
H-Q hydro, per latest GMP contract 5.7 No VT and fed subsidies required
NOTE: Lowell production = 63 MW x 8766 x 0.30 CF = 165,677 MWh/y, about 2.72% of the supply to Vermont utilities of 6,100,000 MWh/y. The 200 MW could provide about 1.3 million MWh/y, about 7.85 Lowells, which would require destroying about 55 miles of ridgelines, plus many miles for access roads. The hydro plants are already built in Canada, the water is spilling over the spillways, there would be no additional environment damage in Canada AND Vermont, plus the price is much lower than wind and solar, plus HQ electricity is a no-particulate, very low-CO2, steady, 24/7/365, year-round supply.
But Vermont utilities have shown little interest in the 200 MW, because of the Comprehensive Energy Plan politically inspired penchant for much higher cost wind and solar electricity, so-called “local, small-scale, distributed generation”. In fact, Vermont utilities, i.e., primarily GMP, have steadily reduced future HQ electricity supplies, as contracts expired.
From GMP’s viewpoint, it is understandable not to go with the 200 MW, because it does very little for GMP’s asset base, on which GMP earns about 9%/y. Instead, GMP prefers to own/lease to ratepayers heat pumps (made in Japan), solar systems (PV panels made in China with dirty coal plants) and Tesla Powerwall 2.0 batteries (made in Nevada), because that adds to GMP’s asset base on which it earns 9%/y, and helps GMP collect cash grants, tax credits and subsidies, and have fast write offs, to minimize paying federal and state taxes, and increase its net profit. Buying power from other producers, such as H-Q, does none of that. It has nothing to do with saving the world. That is just window dressing.
That means, the Vermont economy, and already-struggling households and businesses, have to do additional suffering, because GMP, for business reasons, prefers more expensive local wind and solar energy, and futuristic “islanding” and “micro-grids”, instead of low-cost hydro energy from H-Q. The recently decreased market prices of Renewable Energy Certificates, RECs, from about 5 c/kWh to about 2 c/kWh, will increase utility costs of purchased energy, and likely would require increased electric rates for Vermont’s households and businesses.
NOTE: Washington Electric Cooperative will file a request with the PSB to increase rates by about 6%, because of decreasing prices of renewable energy certificates, RECs. The REC smoke and mirrors charade appears to be ending. Vermonters get to enjoy ruined ridgelines and ruined fertile meadows, and higher electric rates, but receive no credit to its RE goals, if RECs are sold to out-of-state entities.
Having more, low-cost*, steady, near-CO2-free, hydro energy from Hydro-Quebec would be the best way to get ALL the sectors of the Vermont economy moving again, not just the subsidy-favored RE sector.
* About 6 cents/kWh, plus 1.0 c/kWh for transmission, adjusted based on NE wholesale prices, which have been about 5 c/kWh since 2009, due to low-cost gas generation (50%) and low-cost nuclear generation (27%).
The HVDC line likely will be in operation about 2018 – 2019. The line will run from Canada, under the bottom of Lake Champlain, to a new DC-to-AC converter station near Ludlow, VT, and feed into an area of the high voltage grid that used to be fed by Vermont Yankee.
The 200 MW could provide about 1.3 million MWh/y* hydro energy from H-Q. This would be in addition to the existing H-Q Power Purchase Agreement, PPA, of about 1.25 million MWh/y, for a total of 2.55 million MWh/y, or about 28% of projected utility purchases of about 9.07 million MWh in 2050. With additional, privately owned, HVDC lines, the 28% could be increased to at least 40%.
* That energy is equivalent to (7.85) 63 MW Lowell-type plants; capital cost about $1.14 billion; energy cost about 9.8 c/kWh, subsidized; 15 c/kWh, unsubsidized. Further destruction of Vermont’s pristine ridgelines would be avoided.
Even though the money would go out of state, it would be much better than buying subsidized, homegrown wind and solar energy at 2-5 times NE wholesale prices. Vermonters could make better use of the money savings by spending it on increased energy efficiency.
That hydro energy is steady (unlike wind and solar), has grid-supporting, synchronous rotational inertia (unlike wind and solar which typically detract from grid stability), and is renewable, with near-zero CO2 (less than wind and solar), and low-cost (less than wind and solar). It would help achieve Vermont’s RE goal.
That energy would be available much sooner, and at near-zero subsidies, and at near-zero capital cost, and zero environmental damage to ridgelines and meadows, and zero social unrest, than the energy of an equivalent capacity of subsidized wind and solar systems. The world would be “saved” much sooner, and at a lower cost!
However, under the RE mantra of “transitioning away from a few large PPAs towards smaller and more diverse sources”, it appears GMP has no intention to significantly increase its purchases of hydro energy from H-Q. Hydro RECs being less valuable than solar and wind RECs may have something to do with it.
The PSB should demand GMP buy additional H-Q hydro energy, instead of swallowing GMP’s ISP, which has wording in many paragraphs that, in a carefully nuanced manner, echo much of the lexicons and mantras of EAN members.
H-Q Excess Hydro Plant Capacity: H-Q has about 5000 MW of excess hydro plant capacity, which could deliver at least 5000 x 8766 x 0.55 = 24,106,500 MWh/y, about 4 times current annual energy purchases of Vermont utilities. In addition, H-Q is planning to build 5000 MW of additional hydro plant capacity during the next 10 years.
H-Q Hydro Energy Better for Vermont: For Vermont to build-out solar systems in fertile meadows, and IWT systems on pristine ridgelines, etc., which would produce expensive energy, is beneficial to multi-millionaires who own such systems, but it is shortsighted/wrongheaded economic policy, as their high energy costs would become an additional major headwind for the near-zero, real-growth Vermont economy. As an alternative, it would be much better for Vermont’s economy to have more energy from H-Q, which:
– Would be lower in cost/kWh, much less costly than wind and solar,
– Would reduce more CO2/kWh than wind and solar,
– Would require no federal and state subsidies,
– Would not require a carbon tax to subsidize RE system build-outs,
– Would require minimal capital costs by Vermont,
– Would not be grid disturbing, unlike wind and solar,
– Would not be variable and intermittent, unlike wind and solar,
– Would provide grid-stabilizing synchronous rotational inertia, unlike wind and solar
– Would not ruin pristine ridgelines and fertile meadows,
– Would not kill birds and bats, and harm other animals,
– Would not cause social unrest among nearby people,
– Would not lower the property values of nearby people,
– Would not harm the health of nearby people and animals.
MORE ENERGY FROM HYDRO-QUEBEC IS BEST FOR VERMONT AND NEW ENGLAND
Five years ago, Gov. Shumlin declared Vermont’s energy goal to be “90% renewable energy by 2050”. The General Assembly has never enacted this declaration, but it did establish a Renewable Portfolio Standard, RPS, requiring 55% of retail electricity sales to be from renewable sources by 2017; 75% by 2032, per Act 56.
Renewable Portfolio Standards: Renewable portfolio standards require utilities to have a percentage of their electricity supply from renewable sources. Two states, Hawaii and Vermont, require much higher percentages of renewable energy than any other state in the nation. As usual, Vermont, a poorer state, is setting excessively high RE goals that are too expensive to achieve.
Unlike Vermont, Hawaii is much closer to the equator, has steady trade winds and much sunshine, and has the highest electric rates in the United States. The Hawaii goal is reasonable, but the Vermont goal is economically unwise. See URLs and Table 3.
Table 3; RPS Goals
State Goal Year Goal Year Goal Year Goal Year
% % % %
CT 27.0 2020
RI 14.5 2019 38.5 2035
ME 40.0 2017
NH 24.8 2025
MA* 15.0 2020
VT 55.0 2017 75 2032
HI 30.0 2020 40 2030 70 2040 100 2045
* MA percent to increase by 1%/y after 2020; the ME and VT goals are higher because of hydro being counted as renewable.
RE Electricity Supply to Vermont Utilities: The RE supply to Vermont utilities was about 50% of total retail electricity sales in 2016, mainly Hydro-Quebec (HQ). But strangely, the 2016 Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan, CEP, projects increasing wind energy and decreasing HQ energy consumption over the next six years, even though (heavily subsidized) wind electricity costs about 10 c/kWh hour, much more than (unsubsidized) hydro electricity at about 7 cents/kWh.
Vermont utilities could satisfy the 75% RPS mandate within a few years (well before 2032) by buying more electricity from Hydro-Quebec. It would require no subsidies and would have near-zero capital costs, because private corporations would design, build, own and operate the high voltage transmission lines from Quebec to Vermont. Vermont utilities could satisfy a future 100% RPS mandate by buying more electricity from HQ.
The supply of wind electricity to Vermont utilities likely would not increase while Scott is Governor, unless it is bought from out-of-state wind turbine plant owners. Solar electricity likely would continue to expand as suitable sites are found and any local opposition is dealt with.
HQ has about 5000 megawatt of underutilized hydro plant capacity, which could produce over four times the present electricity supply to Vermont utilities. HQ is planning and building about 5000 MW of additional hydro plant capacity over the next ten years.
An approved 1000 MW high voltage direct current transmission, HVDC, line will run from Quebec, under Lake Champlain, to a DC-AC converter station at Ludlow, VT; most of that electricity would go to southern New England. As part of the agreement with Vermont, TDI-New England has reserved 200 MW of the line’s capacity for Vermont, replacing most of what Vermont lost when Vermont Yankee was shut down in 2014.
But Vermont utilities are not using the 200 MW, because of the CEP penchant for higher cost wind and solar energy, described as “small-scale, distributed generation, combined with islanding”. In fact, Vermont utilities have steadily reduced HQ electricity supplies as contracts expired to “make room” for Vermont generated renewable electricity.
GMP prefers, for business reasons, to own and lease to ratepayers Japanese-made heat pumps and Tesla wall-hung batteries, because they would add to the GMP asset base, on which GMP earns about 9%/y, whereas purchasing more energy from HQ would add nothing to its asset base.
HQ energy has the following advantages:
1) Requires no subsidies, and costs less than two-thirds the cost of wind and solar
2) Is dispatchable 24/7/365, unlike variable and weather-dependent wind and solar
3) Would not destabilize the grid, as would wind and solar when their contribution rises to around 5 – 10 percent of the grid supply
4) Would not ruin ridgelines and meadows with 500-foot towers and acres of solar panels
5) Would not cause adverse health effects and diminish nearby property values
6) Would undermine the flimsy case for the VPIRG carbon tax that Gov. Scott, who actually listened to voters over the past six months, has pledged to veto.
INCREASED CANADIAN HYDRO ENERGY TO GROW THE NEW ENGLAND ECONOMY
The main purpose of this article is to show a large quantity of hydro energy can be obtained from Canada at much less cost and environmental damage to the New England economy and environment than building out wind energy on ridgelines. In this article, I assumed the ISO-NE energy from wind would be either 100% on shore, or 50% offshore and 50% onshore.
Most New England coal, oil, and nuclear plants likely would be phased out over the next 20 – 30 years. Those 3 sources were 38% of total NE energy in 2014 (pg. 14). Eventually, even gas energy may become a lesser percentage.
That means something major, and low in cost/kWh, would have to replace the 38%, and solar, biomass, small hydro, etc., would likely not be major enough, would take tens of billions of dollars and several decades to build out, and would produce high-cost energy as well, all to the long-term detriment of the New England economy, which already has average electric rates of 20+ c/kWh, including all taxes, fees, surcharges, about 7 c/kWh greater than the US average.
It likely would take about 20 – 30 years to phase in about 40% wind energy, equivalent to the energy from about 22,046 MW of wind turbines, equivalent to (7,349) 3 MW turbines.
Regarding gas, ISO-NE had about 50% gas energy on its system in 2016 (see URL), up from 20% in 2000. A future of 55% – 60% gas energy is entirely reasonable.
ISO-NE: “With plentiful, inexpensive supply from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and New York right at New England’s doorstep, natural gas continues to be the fuel of choice for new power plant construction in the region.” (pg. 12).
New England Generated Electricity, by Source: In 2016, NE generated electricity fed into the high voltage grid was:
Source NE Production NE Generation Comment
All 105571 100.00
Gas 52061 49.30
Nuclear 32745 31.00
Refuse 3316 3.10
Wood 3200 3.00
Wind 2519 2.40 After 10 years of subsidies
Solar* 657 0.60 After 10 years of subsidies
Landfill Gas 496 0.50
Methane 42 0.04
Total RE 10230 9.70
Hydro 7463 7.10
Coal 2555 2.40
NOTE: NE Imports: 20711 GWh, or 20711/124323 x 100 = 16.7% of NE consumption
Non-Hydro RE Systems and Household Energy Costs: The below URL has a graph of household electricity cost, c/kWh, versus installed wind + solar capacity, watt/capita, for 18 European countries. The graph shows the more wind + and solar capacity/capita, the higher a country’s household energy cost/kWh!! The graph is based on BP-2015 and Eurostat data.
RE aficionados have been claiming RE system capital costs, $/MW, and renewable energy costs, c/kWh, would be coming down, because of efficiencies, but the graph shows that, despite those efficiencies, OTHER RE-related costs increase, such as for balancing the variable wind energy, grid build-outs and storage systems. Those costs are mostly charged to household electricity rates by means of taxes, fees and surcharges, c/kWh, which likely resulted in higher costs of other goods and services as well.
This should give pause regarding proceeding with decades-long, heavily subsidized, RE build-outs in New England, such as wind turbines, when another RE alternative, i.e., low-cost, near-zero-CO2-emitting hydro energy from Canada, is available in 2018 (after the planned 1000 MW, New England Clean Power Link is in service), at much less capital cost, much lower energy cost, and much less environmental impact, as is clearly shown in this article. See URL, Euan Mearns’ comment, August 6, 2015, at 5:39 pm.
Canadian Energy, Low Capital Cost, Low Energy Cost, Requires No Subsidies: According to ISO-NE Projections, RE, other than hydro, increased from about 5% in 2004 to 9.7% in 2016, after at least 10 years of subsidies, and would increase to 14.3% in 2022, after another 8 years of subsidies. Very slow growth indeed, if one is on a mission to “save the planet”!!
Total RE could be 35% by 2022 with additional hydro from Canada. See below table.
Year 2004 2016 2022 2022
Source ISO-NE projection More Hydro from Canada
RE 5.0 9.7 14.3 14.3
Hydro 6.7 7.1 7.1 20.7
Total RE 13.6 16.8 21.4 35.0
Brooke, its important that you have raised the issue of Burlington’s McNeil bio-mass plant……Rep. Masland, other sponsors of H. 557 and members of the Climate Council’s Just Transitions Subcommittee are apparently unaware of its existence and the incredible damage it does to air quality, the environment and particularly marginalized groups. Why the focus on wild and remote Quebec when wholesale air pollution is occurring everyday in Burlington, Vermont’s largest city?
A couple of goodies about McNeil: It burns about 76 tons of wood chip per hour when operating at full capacity and is located about 500 feet from Burlington neighborhoods. The Burlington area has the highest BIPOC population concentration in the State and they’re being disproportionally subjected to McNeil’s pollution…….Where’s the Climate Just Transitions Subcommittee on this one?
Middlebury College also has a massive bio-mass plant belching green house gases into the air…….This is the very same Middlebury College where Bill McKibben teaches……..Is Mr. McKibben aware that his employer is poisoning the environment?
There may be issues with clean energy capacity in Vermont, but no shortage of hypocrisy on the part of too many of our legislators and activists.
“Take Me to the River”!
Before these fools start to discount the renewability of “Big Hydro” they should completely discount biomass generation since it generates more pollution than any other electric generation source including fossil fuel ! Of course, by doing so Burlington would lose there 100% renewable bragging rights !
Let’s eliminate the biggest hidden polluter first before we discount the least polluting and most environmentally friendly energy source. I smell political and insider trading mischief and the smell is really offensive !
“Air Pollution From Biomass Energy”
Despite the frequent depiction of biomass as “clean” energy, data from air permit applications and real smokestack tests demonstrate quite clearly that biomass is a heavily polluting technology.
Burning wood and other biological materials for energy emits much more pollution than burning fossil fuels, including coal.
Burning biomass emits large amounts of pollutants, just like burning other solid fuels such as coal. Burning organic material emits particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur dioxide (SO2), lead, mercury, and other hazardous air pollutants (HAPs).
The HAPs emitted in the greatest quantities by burning biomass include the organic HAPs styrene, acrolein, and formaldehyde, and the acid gases hydrofluoric acid and hydrochloric acid,. Biomass burners commonly emit ten tons or more of the acid gases and from one to five tons of organics each year. Even “clean wood” – that is, forestry-derived wood, as opposed to construction and demolition debris – emits these chemicals when burned. Burning clean wood also emits non-negligible amounts of heavy metals. Burning “urban wood” – a deceptive term for construction and demolition debris (CDD) – significantly increases emissions of arsenic, chromium, copper, lead, and mercury, as well as dioxins/furans and pentachlorophenol (PCPs).
This is really dumb. You can’t get much more emission-free and renewable than hydro power.
Oh, concrete emits CO2.
Solar panels don’t use much energy to produce, assemble, ship, commission and decommission. Maybe more than they produce in their working lives, but hey, it’s the thought that counts! They need those jobs in chiner.
Is this a joke?
I suspect Mr. Masland just invested in a solar array cooperative of one sort or another and intends to profit from his proposed legislative poppycock, as will, I suspect further, the people who elected him. Clearly, whenever Mr. Masland, like the rest of us, speaks or attends to his daily bodily functions, he creates more CO2 and Methane on a per BTU generated basis than does Hydro-Quebec – the fourth largest energy producer in the world providing electricity for less than half the cost of solar or wind power.
Mr. Masland, and all legislators for that matter, should be required to divest themselves of any ownership or affiliation with energy production (public or private) before passing any bills affecting their investments or associations. Masland probably just purchased his own personal solar array and now wants to accelerate the ROI (Return on Investment) from the 10-year break-even point return typical with the process.
“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” C. S. Lewis
It’s a shame, is it not, that C. S. Lewis’s characterization of this behavior, as exercised by people like Masland, has become relevant every other week or so these days? God help us.
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