Vermont Energy Plan Review: Hurry Up, Renewables!

VERMONT - - The Vermont Department of Public Service DPS has issued a draft Comprehensive Energy Plan for Vermont, and they have opened it for public comment. This document covers all types of energy use in Vermont: home heating, transportation, electricity. It is the document Governor Shumlin wanted: Vermont without Vermont Yankee. Now the DPS is asking for public comments on the document.

DPS isn't hoping for too much public comment. On September 14, the Department of Public Service released the plan and the time schedule, and sent an email to that effect to selected organizations. The public comment period ends on October 10, less than a month later.

The summary volume of the CEP is 19 pages. The main volume volume 2 is 368 pages. The appendix volume is 200 pages, but seems to be a moving target. New information was added to the appendix after the original email was received.

Renewables in a Hurry

They could have more meetings of course, but that would take more time. Shumlin wants this done, and done by November. He wanted the vote on Vermont Yankee in February 2010, before the economic report was presented to the legislature. He got the vote. He wants a comprehensive energy plan for the state done with less than one month of review. He'll probably get it.

What do I think of the plan? Well, it isn't really a plan. To understand it, I basically suggest you read the summary volume 1 on this page, and an earlier presentation by Liz Miller, the DPS commissioner. I heard Ms. Miller give this presentation earlier this year, and it is an excellent summary of the problems.

An excellent summary of the problems, however, is comparatively easy. This is supposed to be the plan for curing the problems. It isn't. The first pages of the summary volume are a mixture of problem description and platitudes, and some ideas for increasing energy efficiency programs. As a member of my town's energy commission, I like many of the efficiency ideas.

The section Strategies for Electricity and Renewable Energy starts on page 9 of the 19 pages.

Later parts of the document consider transmission, and call for implementation of the smart grid, and increased Vermont advocacy within ISO-NE and FERC. page 12. Since Vermont is only 4 of the New England grid load, I am not at all sure that being stronger advocates within ISO-NE will work for us. We're not exactly the 900 pound gorilla on the local grid. ISO-NE is the New England grid operator.

Gas is the Actual Answer

The meat of the electricity plan is actually in the Home Heating Section. This section calls for increased use of natural gas for heating, and expansion of natural gas pipelines. page 13. As it says on page 13: Natural gas can address two key needs: reduce Vermonter’s reliance on overseas oil for heating and for heavy fleet transportation, and help fill a gap in electric supply. emphasis added

Wow. The home heating section is the one place where the plan admits to a gap in the electricity supply. And the cure is a longer gas pipeline from Canada.

There is No Plan

There are no quantities, dates or costs anywhere in this plan. They are not in the summary volume. I tried to find them in Volume Two 368 pages, but they aren't there, either. Volume Two is a list of Good Things We Will Do. I am glad government workers will be encouraged to carpool, but that isn't going to replace Vermont Yankee.

The trouble is that if you actually look at numbers, you see how important Vermont Yankee is. In the case of the DPS, the solution was simple. Don't look.

But There is a Plan for Electricity

Yet, in another way, the electricity plan is simple, despite the length of the documents. It has two parts:

•Add more renewables through expanding government support programs. •Bring in that natural gas pipeline to fill the gap in the electricity supply.

The president of Green Mountain Power, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Gaz Metro, organized Governor Shumlin's inaugural ball. At that time, somehow I felt that if Vermont Yankee were shut down, the electricity gap would be filled by Canadian gas. Of course, the inaugural ball and the DPS report may be completely unrelated. Perhaps it just makes sense to shut down an operating power plant in your home state, lay off all the people who work there, and buy methane from Canada instead.


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