Forum sparks mixed opinions on energy

GMP asks about preferences on power sources

By Mal Boright

The gathering was sparse, but the opinions were strongly in favor of wind power and the environment at a Green Mountain Power-sponsored energy forum last week at Williston Central School.

“We hoped for a slightly larger crowd,” said Dottie Schnure, corporate communications manager for Green Mountain Power. “But the people who came were very thoughtful and involved.”

Some 24 individuals expressed opinions when asked such questions as which renewable sources of power should be in GMP’s future, and what local environmental issues are of primary concern.

The gathering on Thursday, May 26 was the second of the local forums — the first drew 70 people in Montpelier — and, as explained by GMP Vice President Steve Terry, are designed to draw out opinions of Vermonters because, “important judgments must be made in the next several years regarding power sources we need in the future.

“They are going to be big and momentous decisions,” he said. “We now have time to think about it and involve our customers.”

Terry explained that the company’s current mix of power sources includes 37.5 percent from hydro, 36.9 percent nuclear, 18.7 percent from market purchases, 3.9 percent wood, 2.5 percent from natural gas and oil and 0.5 percent from wind generation.

He said that by 2012, “our current sources of supply will start to fade out” as the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon license expires that year while in 2016 the company’s power purchase contract with Quebec Hydro expires.

“Then the questions becomes, what sources do we have and what prices will we pay,” Terry said.

He pointed out current customer surveys show Vermonter’s No. 1 concern is reliability, while price “is a concern but further down on the list.”

Terry said Vermonters also want clean energy with the primary concern being “what goes into the air” rather than “what come from the ground or nuclear waste.”

The audience responses to some of the questions asked were:

Most important issue: 70 percent, the environment; 17 percent cost; 13 percent reliability.

Second most important issue: 45 percent reliability; 32 percent cost; 18 percent environment.

Local environmental issues of concern: 52 percent air emissions; 32 percent nuclear waste storage; 8 percent wind turbines on ridgelines; 4 percent wind turbines’ effects on birds and other wildlife.

What renewable power sources should Vermont utilities pursue: 64 percent wind generation; 16 percent solar; 12 percent small hydro; 8 percent biomass such as wood.

The hydro alternative as a future source was described by Terry as somewhat uncertain once the current contract with Hydro-Quebec expires.

He said the Canadians have increasing power demands in their own country to take care of as a first priority. As for additional small hydro projects in Vermont, there seems to be limited possibilities,

“I do hope we have more wind generation,” Terry said. “Wind will work in Vermont. It just has to be in the right place.”

“In principle I agree with wind turbines,” said Hinesburg resident Joe Donegan. “But in principle I also like locally produced power. A home should generate its own power which would eliminate big corporations and issues of power control.”

Doug Smith, technical director for the Boston-based La Capra consulting firm, responded that economies of scale are not good for the installation of home power systems.

Looking ahead to 2015, Terry forecast that by then, “more people will have home-based technologies and there will be more conservation.”

To express your opinion on what energy source Vermont should use more of in the future, go to Green Mountain Power’s Web site,

The Green Mountain Power road show will take the summer off and then continue this fall starting in Vergennes.