Letter
July 9, 2015

Vermont utilities continue search for power from diverse sources, seek more nuclear power from Seabrook; 80 acres of solar planned for Rutland Town, and more

By Guy Page

Just because it’s summer, that doesn’t mean Vermont has taken a holiday from energy deals and projects. Far from it! In June alone, the wheels were turning to bring more hydro, nuclear (you read correctly), natural gas, and solar power to Vermont–or in the case of hydro, at least through Vermont.

Nuclear

In June both Green Mountain Power (GMP) and Vermont Electric Co-operative (VEC) petitioned the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) to buy nuclear power from the Seabrook nuclear power plant in New Hampshire. Both deals would run from 2018 to 2034. Details are preliminary at present, but VEC’s petition calls for up to 10 megawatts of power. GMP, for its part, hopes the contract will help cover peak load needs. This will be the second GMP contract with Seabrook; the state’s largest utility entered into a baseload power contract in 2011.

Meanwhile, at Vermont Yankee (VY), the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission has given the shuttered plant permission to access the decommissioning trust fund to help pay for spent fuel management, much to the consternation of Vermont’s Department of Public Service. VY has also arranged about $150 million in private financing and has said that all spent fuel management monies will be reimbursed when the U.S. Department of Energy returns the funds set aside for the as yet unopened national spent fuel repository.

Hydropower

The Vermont Conservation Law Foundation has endorsed the construction of the TDI cable project beneath Lake Champlain, following the Quebec-based company’s decision to deliver $283 million for Lake Champlain cleanup. If built (2019 start date), the TDI project would carry hydropower south under the lake, make landfall at Benson in Rutland County, and then traverse Vermont underground. Southern New England is regarded as the priority customer for the 1,000 megawatts of TDI power. The cost is expected to be 9-10 cents per kwh, including the cost of construction, Vermont energy experts say. At least it will not suffer the fate of the Quebec high power transmission lines that were damaged from above in December, 2014, causing a power loss to almost 200,000 southern Quebec customers. Norman Dube, 53, a Quebec resident who allegedly had a labor dispute with Hydro Quebec, dropped unnamed objects on the power lines from an airplane, according to CBC coverage of his trial, which began this month.

Natural gas

The PSB held hearings June 22-23 in Montpelier on the embattled Phase One (to Middlebury) Vermont Gas Pipeline Project. It was concerned that the cost estimate had jumped by about 85% to $154 million. No decision on the project’s future was expected this week. However, supporters of New England regional fuel diversity note that the unexpected cost increases should be a cautionary tale to supporters of the “just build more gas pipeline” solution to New England’s projected energy supply shortfalls. Over-reliance on any one form of power–be it price-volatile natural gas or Quebec hydropower–is risky for both reliability and affordability.

Solar

State energy officials, speaking at a June 24 Montpelier discussion of the revised Comprehensive Energy Plan, said in-state solar development will be very heavy during the next 18 months, to take full advantage of federal tax credits for renewable energy construction before they expire Jan. 1 2017. As if to illustrate, the Rutland Herald reported the planned construction of two Cold River Road solar farms in Rutland Town totaling 55,000 panels spread out over 80 acres. One of the projects already has PSB approval but will be appealed by Rutland Town to the Vermont Supreme Court.

Guy Page is the communications director for Vermont Energy Partnership.

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