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MicroHydro for Vermonters

Originally published in the August edition of Green Energy Times

By James Perkins

February 24, 2012 was a snowy late winter morning, but the halls in the Statehouse were already filled and the Committee meeting room was packed. We at Little Green Hydro had been asked to provide testimony to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and were excited to begin. Officially, the hearing was about S148 – the “small hydro” bill. Most people know what the word “hydro” means so the phrase “small hydro” sounds good and, as a result, there were many folks in attendance to listen and speak.

But we could never have expected what happened that day!

While not yet a household word, there are quite a few people in Vermont who have heard the term “micro-hydro.” Wikipedia defines microhydro as a hydropower generator rated at less than 100 kW. “Small hydro” is defined as hydropower up to 10,000,000 (10 Million) Watts. Technically then, “small hydro” is 2,000 times larger than microhydro! Clearly then, “small hydro” is not microhydro.

As each witness spoke, it became obvious that most everyone had come to the hearing thinking it was about microhydro; they wanted to know how and why they could use this affordable, environmentallysustainable technology in Vermont.

Micro-hydro is ultra-light, installs quickly and is personal and affordable – meeting or beating utility rates in many instances (“grid parity”). Yet it can provide plenty of power to run a modern energy-efficient home, business, school or farm. It can easily and effectively be combined with a solar PV array as a robust “hybrid” renewable energy system. Hybrid systems makes for Vermont because solar insolation is high in the summer when water flows – and microhydro output – are often low. Conversely, water flows are usually good during the rest of the year while solar insolation is low – very low in the winter – making microhydro particularly valuable for our short winter days.

“Small hydro” can be helpful to Vermont. There is no doubt that some sites in Vermont could be producing renewable energy with “small hydro” and perhaps some of these sites can be responsibly developed. However, despite the name, “small hydro” means large projects requiring lots of money – even millions – and many, many people with years of consultants, engineers, lawyers and Byzantine regulatory processes. Yes, “small hydro” is smaller than its huge cousins (think Hoover Dam) but it is still massive compared to microhydro. A lingering concern is that most “small hydro” is simply a scaled-down version of conventional, legacy hydro, which creates negative impacts to the environment. For example, most “small hydro” uses impoundments (dams) such as the “Moretown #8” hydro on the Mad River which has long altered the watercourse.

In our Senate testimony, we presented “MicroHydro 101” and the benefits microhydro offers to Vermonters (you can find this at www.LittleGreenHydro. com). We urged the Senators to expand the S148 “small hydro” bill to recognize microhydro as a promising approach for Vermont and to mandate the regulators to create a citizen-friendly five-year pilot program. Thousands of homes and businesses could be benefitting from microhydro. The technology is here, it is affordable, nothing is needed from Washington; we in Vermont have the power to do this on our own.

Unfortunately, the Committee did nothing and microhydro still exists as a void in Vermont.

MicroHydro is a non-industrial-scale, distributed source providing energy independence – Vermonters affordably creating their own environmentallysustainable renewable energy. In this upcoming election cycle, let’s press our legislators to take a no-cost, no-risk step to enable the adoption of this valuable technology in Vermont.

James Perkins is co-founder of Little Green Hydro, maker of the EcoHydro System (TM). Involved with technology for over thirty years, James has started and grown seven successful entrepreneurial companies and lives in a renewables-powered home that he and his son built in Corinth, Vermont.

3 comments to MicroHydro for Vermonters

  • Pete Diminico

    is not S. 148 law today in Vt. I am not sure what act it is, correct me if I am wrong.
    I did not see any funding sources for streamlining projects 5mw and under. Dev. of small hydro projects 1/9/09, by ANR stating #4 permitting process, shifting the responsibility to the State would place a significant additional burden on the states’ resources. In 82-83, there were 70 permit apps for small hydros. From the environmental side, 2 out of 3 hydros 62/85 projects have adverse impacts to water quality and riverine ecology as well as the biota all the way up the food chain totaling 683 miles of river. I told the committee i viewed this bill with trepidation since I believe the State does not have a comprehensive enough energy plan in place, look at the Lowell project. 12% hydro generation in this State, do we need more? Does it out weigh the aesthetics and eco. tourist revenues. Vermont Water Quality Standards: sec.1- 7 …”the policy of the State to seek over the long term is to upgrade the quality of water and reduce existing risks to water quality.”

    New Haven Riverwatch founder(1993), Board member ACRW
    cofounder Bristol Conservation Commission 
    Past pres. (14) New Haven River Anglers,inaugural 3 years conserv. pl. grants review com.  
    coordinator for the Univ. Fish. Platform @ Eagle Park on the NHRiver

  • H442 is specifically for microhydro, not “small hydro” as mentioned in this comment. Microhydro absolutely can be done in an environmentally-sustainable way; no stream alterations, no water quality degradation… no dams! Microhydro offers citizens low-cost, renewable energy independence and there is simply are good scientific, technological or economic reasons not to encourage it in Vermont.

  • Thank you, James. That is a good point, and people should be aware of it.

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