Picking Up the Pace to Reach 20% Renewables by 2020 – Part Two
Vermont’s current statewide comprehensive energy plan calls for 90% of our total energy to come from renewable energy sources by the year 2050. At the Renewable Energy Vermont conference in Burlington last October, REV leadership publicly announced the need for immediate progress toward the next step along that path: a more modest goal of 20% renewable energy by 2020*. (Remember that our statewide figure for total energy use includes all electricity and fuels, including those used for heating and transportation.) In my last column, I outlined the specific roles that energy efficiency, conservation and solar energy would need to play over the next seven years for Vermont to meet its 2020 energy goals. Those three areas alone would enable us to realize 74% of our 2020 target amount. Here, I’d like to look at developing other systems and resources over the next half-decade to account for the remaining 26% of energy required to fully meet the 2020 goals. That smaller share breaks down to wind energy at 15%, biofuels at 10%, and in-state hydropower at 1%.
Wind Energy. We will need to build another 225 MW or 68 MW average** of wind energy capacity. To date, we have about 120 MW (36 MWavg) of wind power capacity installed in Vermont. Four wind farms are currently operating across the state: Searsburg (6MW, commissioned in 1997), Sheffield (40 MW, 2012), Lowell (63 MW, 2012) and Georgia (10 MW, 2012), along with approximately 1 MW of small wind turbines at homes, schools and businesses. Out-of-state wind energy has been purchased by Green Mountain Power (54 MW), and the Burlington Electric Dept. is contracting for about 13 MW. Assuming that our Vermont utilities may contract for another 38 MW of out-of-state wind energy, we will need to permit and build another 120 MW of wind in VT by 2020. That is an amount equal to the 120 MW we built over the last 20 years. There are wind projects currently in the measurement and permitting phases (Seneca, Grafton, Deerfield) that could fulfill the majority of this 120 MW goal. Additionally, multiple smaller five-to-ten MW community-scale wind farms could be built. These local projects could leverage local ownership and financing, and potentially use group net metering to allow Vermonters near the turbines to benefit directly from the fixed-price electricity. (This is common in Denmark and other Scandinavian countries that have pioneered successful and economically equitable community-scale wind.) We need to expand net metering up to at least 5 MW for renewables, so that local people can buy electricity produced via local wind energy.
Biofuels. Most of the biofuels we will be able to harvest sustainably in Vermont will come from biomass, mainly wood. To get to 45 MWavg of energy from biofuels, we will increase the use of wood pellets and wood chips. In order to meet our efficiency goals, any electricity from biomass will need to come from combined-heat-and-power district heating systems, where waste heat from burning fuels for electricity is captured to heat a town or neighborhood. Other biofuels such as biodiesel will be small contributors to our heating and transportation needs. I am not a big supporter of burning stuff or trying to use farmland to promote continued use of the automobile — but deployed wisely, biofuels have the potential to be a key part of our energy plan, both in the near future and more long-term. Infrastructure investment will be required to move toward the combined-heat-and-power model.
Hydro. The State of Vermont lost the chance in 2005 to purchase the large hydro dams on the Connecticut River – those are now owned by out-of-state interests selling the power to markets to the south, and cannot be counted toward Vermont’s hydropower production. That said, we still have the near-term potential of about 4 MWavg, or 10 MW of new hydropower capacity. This new capacity would be realized as electricity- production increases gained by upgrading existing hydro facilities, and also by installing new run-of-the-river, low-head hydro generation. There are hundreds of old, abandoned small dam sites in Vermont that can be brought back to life. New low-impact, fish-friendly technologies such as the Archimedes Screw hydro turbine could bring online 2MW of water power. However, in order for this to happen, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources will need to standardize requirements and streamline permitting for small hydro. A process that currently takes many years should ideally take months.
Time is critical. The year 2020 is not as far off as it sounds. We must move a lot more quickly than we have to date in order to implement clean energy solutions that will benefit everyone in Vermont, and leave the state well-positioned to weather future instabilities in fossil-fuel energy sources. Let’s put a price on carbon, and put the funds generated from a carbon tax into renewable energy investments now.
*REV’s guide to 20% by 2020: Vermont’s Energy Future
**MWaverage is the average continuous production of power.
David Blittersdorf is the President/CEO of AllEarth Renewables in Williston, VT — a company that specializes in the design and manufacture of the grid-connected AllSun Tracker solar energy system. He founded NRG Systems in Hinesburg, VT, and is the managing partner of Georgia Mountain Community Wind.