Group uses computer model to analyze energy future

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(Host) With two-thirds of Vermont’s electric supply running out in the next decade, a group representing a cross-section of interests is trying to plan for the state’s energy future.

The group is developing a computer model that looks at the economic, environmental and social impacts of various energy choices.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Few subjects generate as much interest – and controversy – as energy.

Over the last few years, a high-voltage power line planned for the western side of the state angered property owners along the route.

A proposal to extend the license of the state’s only nuclear plant has rekindled debates over the safety of splitting atoms to produce electricity.

And plans to site wind turbines along ridgelines have split the environmental community and divided neighbor against neighbor.

(Sedano) “I think what we’ve learned over the many years really since the Arab oil embargo is that a lot of people have a lot to offer in these conversations and we’ve been struggling for I think years is how to have reasoned conversations.”

(Dillon) Rich Sedano is a veteran of two decades in the energy trenches. He used to head the state Department of Public Service, which represents consumers in utility issues. Now he’s with the Regulatory Assistance Project, a non-profit group that’s helping with the energy planning workshops.

The workshops are following a process called mediated modeling. It essentially uses a computer model to simulate future scenarios for energy supply and conservation.

With Vermont facing the loss of two-thirds of it energy supply in the next decade, Sedano says the model adds a measure of realism and accountability to the debate.

(Sedano) “If somebody comes up with a very narrow proposal that focuses on just one priority as opposed to a set, people will be able to come back to it and say, ‘well, wait a minute we learned in the mediated modeling process that all of these things are very important together, so we need to have a better proposal.'”

(Dillon) Marjan Vander Belt is the researcher who is guiding the discussion. She says the computer model looks at how the energy supply system will change over time.

(Vander Belt) “We’ll probably build scenarios based on different supply portfolio, one that is relying heavily on the market, one that is relying heavily on renewable resources and efficiency, and then look at the trade-offs in terms of costs, in terms of the socio-economic impacts, the multiplier impacts there. So it’s an attempt to get all those facts and ideas and perceptions on the table.”

(Dillon) The Legislature also wants to get the public more involved in deciding Vermont’s energy future. East Montpelier Representative Tony Klein says the model will help people see the energy choices more clearly.

(Klein) “We will have this visual model that when somebody from the audience poses a question about either jobs, or impact on the environment or what happens if you site wind or what happens when you site coal, you plug it into this model and hopefully it will spit out all the relevant information all at once.”

(Dillon) The planning group represents utilities, state officials, business interests and environmental groups. It’s scheduled to work through the fall.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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