Flemming: Escaping the renewables hole

Wikimedia Commons/Stausifr

Northeast Vermont is capable of producing 450 MW, a large portion of which is from renewables. Demand for electricity in that part of northeast Vermont is only 35 MW, which means that 92% of generating capacity needs to be moved south at a high cost, or not produced at all.

By David Flemming

For decades, Vermont has been digging itself into a renewable energy hole. We have thrown away opportunities to provide inexpensive energy through natural gas and nuclear options, while adopting an “invest first, ask questions later” approach toward solar and wind energy. At long last, Vermont is showing signs of cutting off subsidies to renewable energy companies.

In January, Vermont’s Public Utility Commission bureaucracy denied Derby GLC Solar’s application to build a 500-kW solar net metering system because doing so would “jeopardize the reliable operation of the electrical grid” and would be against “the public good of the state.”

Now, solar developers are becoming anxious about future projects after it has become clear that utility companies in northeast Vermont do not have the capacity to handle more electricity from solar generated power. Northeast Vermont is capable of producing 450 MW, a large portion of which is from renewables. Demand for electricity in that part of northeast Vermont is only 35 MW, which means that 92% of generating capacity needs to be moved south at a high cost, or not produced at all.

A good deal of this capacity can be traced to wind energy, where wind developers in northeast Vermont are being penalized for producing too much electricity during certain times of the day. Such penalties cost the Vermont Electric Cooperative $653,000 in 2017.

This has done little to dissuade solar developers that they have the right to force even more solar energy on Vermonters. Nils Behn of Aegis Solar insists that public utilities, funded by Vermont ratepayers, should finance electric grid upgrades allowing companies like his to expand. He believes that “utilities (are) not properly planning for the modern grid.”

The lack of a “modern grid” is hardly the fault of our public utilities. A Department of Public Service report noted that Vermont’s grid was built to send centralized power out to homes and businesses.

Heedless of this fact, our government has authorized thousands of net metering generators. This is a sharp contrast to the few dozen large generators our electric grid was designed to support. At long last, Vermont’s Department of Public Service has begun telling solar developers like Aegis that they need to pay for the needed electric grid upgrades themselves if they want to continue building solar farms. While this stance is not the line in the sand that such companies need to see, it is better than giving them everything they want.

For too long, renewable companies have convinced Vermont regulators and legislators to saddle ratepayers with the the inherent risk of renewables, while they reap the benefits. After years of high electric bills, little progress reducing Vermont’s carbon emissions, and check after check being whisked away into the bank accounts of solar companies, the rejection of solar projects could be a sign that Vermont is ready to stop gambling with ratepayer money.

Last year, EAI reported on the potential for rolling blackouts during severe weather due to our dependency on solar and wind. While Vermont has done little to make this situation better, it would say a great deal if we can stop making it worse.

David Flemming is a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Harvey McDaniel and Wikimedia Commons/Stausifr
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6 thoughts on “Flemming: Escaping the renewables hole

  1. PV Solar Output Variability During Variable Cloudy Weather

    Clouds are the main reason PV solar generation experiences intermittency (excluding the normal nighttime disappearance).
    PV solar generation can rapidly decrease by 60% within seconds, due to a cloud passing over the solar panels causing a reduction in solar insolation.

    The time taken for the cloud to pass is dependent upon cloud height, sun elevation and wind speed. These factors need to be considered regarding solar power production forecasting and integrating the variable solar output into the grid.
    The graph shows PV output profiles representing relatively large regions in the western USA. See URL
    http://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/large-scale-solar-plants-require-large-scale-battery-systems

    Reaction Times

    Additional considerations are reaction times of other generators on the grid. Batteries have quick reaction times, i.e., can quickly charge and discharge electricity. Any rapid solar output decreases (downward spikes) due to clouds are quickly offset.

    Gas turbines, the workhorses that have historically provided peaking, filling in and balancing services to the grid, have much slower reaction times. If the downward spikes were only a few MW/sec, gas turbines would be adequate to maintain grid frequency within the narrow ranges specified by the grid operator.

    However, if the downward spikes were many MW/sec, such as with the above, very large capacity, FP&L solar systems, gas turbines would be unsuitable (could not keep up), but batteries could.

    Large-Scale Solar Plants Require Large-Scale Battery Systems

    The upward and downward spikes of wind output are much slower, MW/min, instead of MW/sec. Gas turbines (and hydro plants) can easily adjust their outputs to offset any wind up/down spikes.

    Till now, the solar downward spikes have been minor in most geographical ares, but as installed solar capacities increase for a given area, more and more of expensive, grid-scale, battery capacity would be needed to prevent frequently roiling the grid during variable cloudy weather.

    NOTE: This has nothing to do with the daily duck curves, which have become very evident in southern Germany and southern California, and present an additional disturbance to the grid to be managed by grid operators, mostly with existing gas turbine generators and hydro plants.

    Large-scale solar plants requiring large-scale battery systems is bad news for the future economics of solar., because significantly increased solar build-outs could not happen (they would disturb the grid too much) without also building out expensive grid-scale battery systems. That is the main reason, southern Germany and southern California, each with large capacities of solar, have been installing battery systems during the past 5 years.

    If batteries are the only source of the necessary short reaction times, then batteries are required. The only appropriate policy would be to require owners of any larger-scale solar plants to provide, at his own expense, a suitable battery system between the solar system and the grid.

    Utility energy systems engineers in southern Germany, etc., have been well aware of all this for at least 10 years, but usually were forbidden to publicly talk about it, as that would have interfered with various pro-RE mantras, such as “so many households served”, or other such nonsense, as promulgated in PR releases during the past 20 years.

    Unfortunately, the pro-RE mantras, i.e., slogans to obfuscate a gross deception, have become ingrained into the public mind. I say unfortunately, because they aim to hide the truth from reality.

    • Vermont is excessively subsidizing solar.

      “Nils Behn of Aegis Solar insists that public utilities, funded by Vermont ratepayers, should finance electric grid upgrades allowing companies like his to expand. He believes that “utilities (are) not properly planning for the modern grid.”

      Crying and whining like a baby

      The chutzpah of some developers.

      They seem to have forgotten “THE DISTURBER PAYS”

      Their 2200 kW solar systems DISTURB THE GRID during variable cloudy weather.

      Developers should be REQUIRED to put in battery systems to offset the downward spikes of solar output.

      They would get oodles of federal and state subsidies for the solar systems and the battery systems

      http://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/excessive-subsidies-for-2200-kw-field-mounted-solar-system-in

  2. How presumptuous is it to install a PV facility having no reachable market for 90%+ of its potential generation?

    They had to have known at the outset that GMP’s lines were inadequate. Expecting the ratepayers to subsidize construction/upgrade of higher capacity transmission capability is beyond ludicrous and indicates a need for increased scrutiny during the permitting process.

  3. YOU’RE A RIOT ALICE!

    A good deal of this capacity can be traced to wind energy, where wind developers in northeast Vermont are being penalized for producing too much electricity during certain times of the day. Such penalties cost the Vermont Electric Cooperative $653,000 in 2017.

    Example of the thinking / planning in VT. Penalize for not doing, then penalize for doing too much. No reality—can’t handle renewable’s!

  4. The stupidity of “sustainable” energy, North VT Solar can produce 450MW in a area
    that only uses 35MW. The stupid part being there’s no storage or ability to move
    that EXPENSIVE electricity so 95% of it’s potential is wasted…

    Leftarded thinking at it’s finest, and more ASSAULT Agenda over what’s good for
    VTer’s. I think the best thing that can happen is “the rolling blackouts” predicted (by EAI) because
    we now depend on undependable sources of power..When the richie leftards are sweating in their
    million dollar mansions they may rethink the whole “sustainable” bull crap they continue to vote for.

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