State weighs benefits, costs of renewable energy

Print More

(Host) Vermont lawmakers are considering a bill that would promote development of renewable energy. Advocates say the legislation would bring cleaner and more stable sources to Vermont’s energy mix. Others are concerned about the cost of renewable energy.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) A bill now in the House Commerce Committee would promote development of renewable energy projects. The legislation could ultimately require power companies to buy from a portfolio of renewable sources, such as wind or solar power.

Michael Dworkin is chairman of the Public Service Board, the three-member panel that regulates utilities. He says renewable energy is important not just for environmental reasons.

(Dworkin) “As we’ve seen even in recent days the run-up in natural gas prices and in fossil fuel costs can have the effect of doubling or tripling the wholesale price of electricity. That means sources that are independent of the reliance on fossil fuels have tremendous value just for stability and planning purposes. It’s really critical that as we move forward that we not rely too heavily on any single source, whether it’s renewables or nuclear or coal or fossil fuel or gas but that we pay some attention to try to get a balanced portfolio.”

(Dillon) More than a dozen states have adopted renewable portfolio standards to ensure that a minimum amount of energy comes from renewable sources. Although Vermont has a growing renewables industry, a bill that would have led to a portfolio standard failed to pass last year.

A key player in the debate is IBM, the state’s largest private employer. IBM pays $35 million a year for electricity and often complains that it can buy energy cheaper in other states. IBM lobbyist John O’Kane says his company is not opposed to the renewables. But he says IBM pays much less for power at its manufacturing plant in Fishkill, New York, than it does at its plant outside Burlington.

(O’Kane) “If we were paying what we pay in our Fishkill plant, we’d be saving about $12 or $14 million a year. So this is why we’re so concerned about cost and why we think Vermont ought to be focusing on the cost at the same that we focus on renewables. We buy renewable; we have long term contracts in a number of states. But we’re getting that power at reasonable prices and that’s what we’d like to see Vermont.”

(Dillon) IBM has an ally in the Douglas administration. Administration officials are also concerned about the cost of renewable energy.

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

Comments are closed.