On November 29, 2023

Moving energy is the key to Vermont’s 100% renewable energy future

 

By Peter Sterling

Editor’s note: Peter Sterling is the executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont.

There’s good news ahead in the fight against climate change. Utilities, business owners and energy experts now acknowledge there’s an affordable path to achieving what was once just a dream for environmentalists — a 100% renewable energy future for Vermont. This future includes more energy storage and conservation, weatherizing of our homes and a switch off of fossil fuels and onto hydro, solar and wind power for all of our electricity.

This renewable energy future starts with the political leadership to change our laws at home — updating our 2015 Renewable Energy Standard to require utilities to get to 100% renewables by 2030. Once a leader in New England in the energy transition off of fossil fuels, Vermont is now the only state in the region to not have updated its renewables requirement in the last eight years as the reality of the economic, environmental and social costs of the climate crisis have sunk in.

For decades, passing such a law would have been impossible because no one could answer the fundamental question of how to provide affordable, reliable energy for millions of people when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. 

But the answer has now been given to us by a recent decision by the Biden Administration to support the Twin States Clean Energy Link.  Twin States is a proposed renewable energy transmission project in Vermont and New Hampshire that will provide bi-directional capacity with Quebec to deliver an abundant source of existing, affordable and dependable clean energy to New England. 

Historically people have thought of power lines as moving energy one way from point A to B whenever it is needed. Makes sense in a world of gas and coal plants and not a lot of intermittent renewables. However, as more and more wind and solar has come on line, we now need to think of using or storing as much renewable energy as we can when the wind is blowing and the sun is shining and drawing down other clean power when we need it. 

This is where the bi-directional capacity of Twin States comes in. We in New England are good at generating solar and wind power while Quebec possesses enormous hydropower reserves. If we send our excess wind and solar north to Canada for their use, it preserves their hydro reserves which we in New England can then tap into when we need renewables most — at night when the sun isn’t shining or on calm summer days when the wind isn’t blowing hard. 

The added benefit of two way “energy sharing” with Quebec is that it will greatly incentivize the deployment of new wind and solar which will not only bring the price of power down but help eliminate one of the great environmental injustices of our time — the 81 natural gas plants currently operating primarily in lower income areas of New England (none of which are in Vermont for those of you keeping score at home).  

While we have a long way to go to curb all the impacts of climate change, a two way energy connection to Canada puts a 100% renewable energy future for Vermont and all of New England well within our sights.

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