State Releases New Draft of Energy Plan

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(Host) The draft of a new state energy plan says Vermont needs to reduce consumption and find new power supplies in the years ahead. The plan places a greater emphasis on conservation and renewable energy than an earlier version. But environmentalists say it still doesn’t go far enough.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The 20-year plan is designed to serve as a roadmap to Vermont’s energy future. But the plan points out that the road ahead is fraught with uncertainty.

The state faces the loss over the coming decade of two important energy supplies. The license for the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant expires in 2012. But the plan says that Vermont Yankee, which supplies about one third of the state’s electricity, could be forced to shut down as early as 2007 if additional storage for nuclear waste isn’t found. And contracts with Hydro-Quebec, which provides roughly another third of the state’s electricity needs, begin to expire in 2012.

Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien says filling that void is a big challenge, but it’s also an opportunity for Vermont to diversity its energy portfolio.

(O’Brien) “We definitely believe that having two-thirds of your energy come from two sources is a concern. Just like investment portfolio management, you want to diversify time, duration and risk. So we think diversification is the way to go.”

(Dillon) The plan urges Vermont utilities to work now to negotiate new contracts with Hydro-Quebec. Major electric transmission lines run through the state and connect Hydro Quebec to energy markets in southern New England. The plan says that Vermont is well situated to leverage its transmission capacity in order to increase imports to the state’s utilities.

This is the second draft of the plan released by the Douglas administration. The first was widely criticized by environmentalists. They renewed that criticism on Friday and said the plan still failed to do enough to promote conservation or clean energy sources.

Patrick Berry, policy director of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, was disappointed that the plan failed to support a renewable portfolio standard for the state’s utilities. Berry says that the standard would encourage renewable energy development by requiring that a certain percentage of the power mix in Vermont come from resources such as wind or solar power.

(Berry) “It certainly is very glaring that the notion of implementing a renewable portfolio standard is absent. Other states have taken a real lead in making sure that we get some of our energy from renewables.”

(Dillon) The plan emphasizes voluntary measures, including “green pricing” programs in which consumers often pay a premium to buy energy from renewable sources. Commissioner O’Brien says he doesn’t want to force potentially higher cost power on Vermont.

(O’Brien) “So to establish a mandate right now, independent of what the price effects are to ratepayers, to my way of thinking would be bad policy for the department to be pursuing.”

(Dillon) The state plans to hold hearings and gather public comment on the latest draft of the energy plan.

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

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