Northern Vt. electric grid reaching saturation point

By Michael Bielawski, True North Reports

New electric utility development in northern Vermont may not be possible due to energy grid saturation.

“During periods of a high generation or low consumer demand, ISO New England must curtail some resources in order to maintain safety and comply with reliability standards,” Matthew Kakley, ISO-NE spokesman told True North Reports on Wednesday. “These curtailments are meant to ensure that transmission lines are not overloaded beyond their physical capacity.”

Managing the power grid in the age of unpredictable wind and sunshine adds a new challenge for the energy supply side. On the demand side, increased efficiency for heating and other appliances also poses a challenge.

“You need some balance – you want the generation of electricity to match the demand of the energy. You don’t want it to be out of sync,” said Andrea Cohen, manager of government affairs for the Vermont Electric Cooperative. “More and more generation and not that much demand, that’s not good for the system.”

  Vermont Electric Co-op CEO Christine Hallquist says efforts in Vermont to increase energy efficiency, while looking good on paper, have an unintended negative effect.

“It’s not so simple anymore,” Hallquist said. “With distributed generation, sometimes increased efficiency can go against our goals. We actually need more demand. The more demand we can get, the more generation we can put out. Generation kind of pushes out on the wire and demand pulls it in.”

Hallquist said there might be some opportunity for better grid efficiency during nighttime hours when around just 10 percent of the energy available is actually used. For instance, this might be a good time for electric car batteries to recharge or for electric heat pumps to warm up homes, all with energy which otherwise goes to waste.

Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said there are projects pending by Vermont renewable energy developer David Blittersdorf that need more scrutiny for grid impact. “He’s proposing projects all in grid-constrained areas,” Smith said.

“The Swanton Project is not in the Highgate-Sheffield constrained area, but it’s in a different area that would perhaps curtail Georgia Mountain [Wind] and McNeil Biomass [an incinerator in Burlington]. That’s why the utilities are opposing that one, especially Burlington Electric,” she said.

Hallquist says the over-saturation means new energy projects simply have to look elsewhere.  “Any developers that want to build new projects up there, well now we’ve reached the limits of the system, now the answer is to move it to other areas of Vermont where there’s capacity available,” Hallquist said.

Hallquist reaffirmed VEC’s commitment to Vermont’s renewable energy goals, including 90 percent renewable energy use by 2050.  “We are going to continue to have these public policy debates around what does it take for Vermont to reach its long-term renewable goals that are defined in the Comprehensive Energy Plan,” Hallquist said. “That’s something that Vermont wants, we’re here to serve, and we’re here to help Vermont achieve those goals.


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