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Not enough, too fast

Public needs more time to digest state’s energy plan

MEREDITH ANGWIN (yesvy.blogspot.com), a familiar pro-Vermont Yankee voice in the region, is founder of the Energy Education Project at the Ethan Allen Institute. A physical chemist, writer, and energy educator, she has industry experience in renewable, combustion-based, and nuclear energy.

Wilder

Shortly after Governor Peter Shumlin took office, he said that he was very surprised that the State Energy Plan included Vermont Yankee operating past March 2012. Now his team has put together a proposal for Vermont without Vermont Yankee: the Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP).

The plan was released by the Department of Public Service (DPS) on Sept. 14. The public comment period ends Oct. 10, less than a month later.

The CEP covers electricity, heating, transmission, and transportation. It is over 600 pages long, including the appendices. The main volume is 368 pages. Less than a month does not give the public much time to review the documents.

Even a cursory review shows some serious flaws.

The CEP includes ambitious renewable goals, but little actual planning. Among other things, it doesn’t address the issue of electricity supply without Vermont Yankee in a straightforward fashion.

The electricity section of the summary document (pages 7 through 9) includes expanding the standard offer program for renewable energy, and hiring a new “renewable energy project development director” for DPS. The electricity section does not mention natural gas or acknowledge any gap in the electricity supply.

However, the home and business heating section of the summary (pages 10 through 12) does note that there might be an electricity supply gap.

On page 11, the heating section encourages the expansion of a gas pipeline into Vermont because natural gas “can address two key needs: reduce Vermonters’ reliance on overseas oil for heating....and help fill a gap in electric supply.”

Continuing with electricity concerns, the CEP contains goals such as meeting 90 percent of our energy needs by renewable sources by 2050 (page 3 of summary document). There are no numbers or dates for future construction of renewable sources, however. No statements such as “this much wind energy by this date.”

Vermonters need facts: costs, timelines, sites, hard data about proposed generation, and transmission choices.

The Institute for Energy and the Environment of Vermont Law School (VLS) announced that it had extensive input on the CEP. Indeed, the plan includes references to “process” and “stakeholders” and many proposed legislative changes. Montpelier will be busy. But there is little here that an engineer would call a plan.

* * *

Despite its lack of content, the plan has already come under fire from Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG).

VPIRG spokespeople said that Governor Shumlin should be more aggressive about building renewables than the plan indicated. However, it is unclear how VPIRG derived the numbers on proposed build-out rates for renewables. These numbers are not explicitly in the plan.

The plan’s discussion of future greenhouse gas emissions is also problematic. A chart of greenhouse emissions (volume 2, page 14) shows that greenhouse gases from the electricity sector rise after 2012.

Presumably, this rise occurs after Vermont Yankee would close — although this fact is not specified. The chart also shows aggressive and unworkable projections for lowering greenhouse emissions, along with a note that the greenhouse goals will not be met.

The state of Vermont claims that controlling greenhouse gas emissions is a major energy policy goal. The CEP chart shows that closing Vermont Yankee will lead to more greenhouse gases.

However, Shumlin’s policy is to close Vermont Yankee anyway. This makes no sense.

People in Vermont need to see more content in the plan and fewer massive inconsistencies. They need more time to review the plan.

At this point, it is hard to take this lengthy document very seriously.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #122 (Wednesday, October 12, 2011).

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