Burlington (Vt.) Free Press, July 31, 2013
The decision by the region's power grid authority to favor fossil fuels over renewables to meet peak power demand shows the limits of how far Vermont can go at it alone.
The power authority's decision reflects current limits of the power grid and in one way should be interpreted as a judgment against the viability of renewable power generation, especially over the long haul.
ISO-New England told the state's largest electric utility, GreenMountain Power, to cut back on wind and fire up more diesel generators to meet peak demand during this month's heatwave.
Still, the order was a blow to one of the state's showcase wind projects, the 21-turbines built by Green Mountain Power along the ridges of the Lowell Mountains amidst much public controversy that continues. The controversy centers on the trade-off between the value of the wind farm in providing renewable power and the value of preserving an unspoiled mountain habitat and views.
Gov. Peter Shumlin showed his displeasure by firing off a letter urging ISO-New England to do more to "integrate and fully utilize renewable resources into its grid operations, including during times of peak demand where use of other more expensive and dirtier resources may be avoided."
ISO-New England says the Kingdom Community Wind project on Lowell Mountain fails to meet federal reliability standards.
The transmission system currently serving the Lowell wind project still lacks the capacity to handle all the electricity the turbines are capable of producing and the ability to smooth out the intermittent nature of wind generation.
The system wasn't ready.
ISO-New England spokeswoman Marcia Blomberg told the Free Press the need to curtail power output from Lowell should be eliminated when Green Mountain Power completes a $10 million upgrade later this year.
The lesson here is patience and, as we can see, lots of money.
Weaning the state — and the nation — from fossil fuels will take time. Replacing oil, coal and natural gas with renewable energy can only move forward when all the pieces are in place.