Study finds fault with VPIRG report

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BRATTLEBORO -- It could cost between $4 billion and $8 billion to supply Vermont’s electric needs from renewable sources, according to a report issued by the Coalition for Energy Solutions, a loosely associated group of energy professionals who study and evaluate energy options.

The report was an evaluation of a study released by the Vermont Public Interest Group, which stated renewable energy sources and energy efficiencies could make unnecessary the continued operation of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon past its original license expiration date of 2012.

"Our Evaluation makes the same assumptions about total electric demand, total purchases from the grid, and complete use of renewables (no extensive gas-fired back-up) as (VPIRG’s) Repowering Vermont (report)," wrote Howard Shaffer and Meredith Angwin, the authors of "Vermont Electric Power in Transition."

While both studies assume power from Yankee won’t be available after 2012 and both take into consideration solar, biomass, wind, cow power, hydro and landfill methane as replacement sources, Shaffer and Angwin wrote that their report "also considers the engineering realities of cost, location, and environmental impact" and includes capacity factors and "the best cost data it could find ..."

But in contrast to VPIRG’s report, "Vermont Electric Power in Transition" actually cites its sources and presents hard data to support its conclusions, they wrote.

VPIRG also gets it wrong when it comes to how long renewable energy projects could go online, wrote Shaffer and Angwin, meaning "the most likely solution would be even more purchases from the grid and installation of gas turbines in Vermont."

"We are flattered that they took the time and energy to read our report," said James Moore, VPIRG’s clean energy program director.

"Their analysis, if you can call it that, is disingenuous," he said. "It’s a Vermont Yankee support group manipulating the numbers to paint the picture that they want."

Shaffer and Angwin were assisted by Steve Fox, Willem Post, Peter Roth and Robert Hargraves.

While the evaluation by Coalition for Energy Solutions does not discuss Yankee’s role in Vermont’s future electric needs, "The general opinion of the Coalition members, favor extending VY’s license while building renewables at an achievable pace."

Many things could get in the way of developing alternative sources of energy in Vermont, wrote Shaffer and Angwin.

Those include the delay of installing wind turbines on Vermont’s ridgelines due to a number of concerns, mainly aesthetic and environmental.

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And how long can Vermont continue to offer subsidies for home solar and home wind turbines? they asked.

Burning wood could also be problematic, they wrote.

"What if nearly doubling the output of Vermont’s forests is analyzed and found to be a poor forest-management choice for sustainability?"

While there are many options for power supply, they wrote, all of them have environmental effects and monetary costs. Environmental issues could include the effects on forests, roads, views and air quality, wrote Shaffer and Angwin.

"Deciding what is acceptable among the various impacts of the different supply choices is a matter of judgment, not science, or engineering, and will be done by our political process," they wrote.

Both the Coalition for Energy Solutions and VPIRG agree that energy efficiency and conservation are the most important areas for improvement despite what measures are taken to supply the state with electricity.

"This is true because of society’s history of inefficient use of inexpensive energy believed to be unlimited, coupled with unlimited exploitation of the environment," wrote Shaffer and Angwin.

Many assumptions made in the VPIRG report about advances in renewable technology could be unrealistic, wrote Shaffer and Angwin.

"It is reasonable to expect that technologies will improve and prices will fall, because that is our experience," they stated. "However, when it comes to planning for the future, it is not prudent to plan on technology improvements and price decreases on a schedule."

Shaffer and Angwin also wrote that the VPRIG report "does not calculate the cost per kilowatt-hour for any of the individual technologies, making it impossible to understand the basis for the cost of the entire mix" and doesn’t take into consideration the costs of environmental impacts.

The complete evaluation is available at www.coalitionforenergysolutions.org.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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