Heat wave creates record demand for power

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(Host) The heat wave that has settled on the region is creating record demands for power.

ISO New England, which manages the electric grid, says a peak demand of 28,030 megawatts is expected tomorrow.

That would eclipse the previous demand of 27,395 megawatts set last month.

People are being urged to set air conditioners above 74 degrees, turn off unneeded lights and delay using dishwashers and electric dryers until later in the day or this evening.

The situation has prompted some advocates to question whether the state is doing enough to support renewable generation projects.

VPR’s John Dillon explains.

(Dillon) This week, the Douglas Administration came out preliminarily against a large-scale wind project in Sheffield.

Matt Rubin is not surprised. He’s the developer of a much smaller, four-turbine wind project planned for East Haven in Essex County. The Public Service Board denied the project a permit after the Agency of Natural Resources recommended against it.

As he sits in his not very cool air-conditioned office, Rubin points to a chart on his computer that shows Vermont’s electricity demand growing by 2.3% a year.

(Rubin) “That additional electricity came from burning natural gas in power plants in southern New England and the electricity was shipped to Vermont. That is Vermont’s policy.”

(Dillon) Rubin says there are several problems with meeting the new demand with natural gas generators. First, the price of gas is extremely volatile and has more than doubled in the last few years. And, he says while the power flows in, the money goes out of state.

(Rubin) “So we’re exporting capital and jobs. We’re not getting any tax revenues from having generation.”

(Dillon) Governor Jim Douglas says he’s against large-scale wind projects on Vermont’s ridgelines. His administration has recommended an increase in funding for energy efficiency. But critics say the level is roughly half what the state’s own consultant said would be cost-effective.

James Moore is an energy policy specialist with the Vermont Public Interest research Group.

(Moore) “This administration has not supported fully aggressive efficiency measures, and just recently came out in preliminary opposition to the Sheffield wind project. We need to meet our own needs, and take responsibility for our electricity choices here in Vermont.”

(Dillon) Steve Wark is director of consumer affairs at the Department of Public Service. He says the state spends more per-capita on efficiency programs than any state in the country.

(Wark) “It’s not surprising sometimes that certain groups would look at this with a raised eyebrow and with skepticism and would hope for more, and that’s the role of advocacy. But we’re real proud of the steps and we think this recommendation is consistent with where we need to be going.”

(Dillon) Wark says the state also supports local generation. But the large-scale generators are out-of-state and Wark says Vermont gains from being part of the regional energy market.

(Wark) “We actually do see in-state generation as a piece of the future and the portfolio for the future. But we do right now rely on out-of-state energy and we think that this has been overall a net positive for the state. For instance, during these times of peak demand utilities will purchase power on the market. Vermont is not an island, we’re part of the system and we benefit from the stability of that system.”

(Dillon) As the temperature rises in his office, wind energy developer Matt Rubin says the Douglas Administration is in denial about the impacts of its energy policy.

(Rubin) “What we have is an increasing consumption of fossil fuel, at an increasing price, and an increasing dependence on out of state generation over which we have no control. And that’s where we’re headed. And we’re not headed there in 2012. We’re headed there in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. We’re headed there on a monthly, not to say daily basis.”

(Dillon) Rubin has asked the Public Service Board to reconsider its decision to reject a permit for the East Have wind project.

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

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