Solar to Play ‘Lead Role’ in Vermont RE Standard Compliance

New distributed generation solar power facilities of 5 MW or less likely will play a “lead role” in Green Mountain Power’s (GMP) compliance with Vermont’s new renewable energy standard (RES), according to Doug Smith, director of power planning for the utility.

“Solar right now, with the cost and performance improvements that we’ve seen, is a relatively low net cost, new renewable resource, and with some exceptions, it can be sited a lot more easily” than other renewables, Smith said during the RE2015 Conference & Expo in Burlington, Vt., on Oct. 8.

During the conference, which was hosted by Renewable Energy Vermont, Smith participated in a panel discussion on Vermont’s Act 56 – an act relating to establishing an RES.  

Passed on June 11, Act 56 requires the state’s utilities to meet a 75 percent by 2032 total renewable energy requirement, with an interim goal of 55 percent by 2017. Before passing the RES, Vermont ran a renewable goal program called Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development (SPEED). The SPEED goal, enacted in 2005, set a target of 20 percent renewables by 2017.

Under the new RES, utilities also must meet 10 percent of sales with distributed generation in 2032 and 12 percent of sales with “energy transformation projects” in 2032. Interim goals include meeting 1 percent of sales with distributed generation in 2017 and 2 percent of sales with energy transformation projects in 2017.

Smith said that while GMP sees a significant role for solar under the distributed generation requirement, the company does not “envision all solar” for that segment. In order the meet the distributed generation goal, the company would need 30 MW of new generation in 2017, and an additional 20 MW yearly through 2032, he said. GMP serves about three quarters – or 4.5 million MWh – of Vermont’s electric load.

According to Smith, GMP’s compliance with the energy transformation projects requirement will come from collaborative projects that can include space and water heating-focused pumps, weatherization, electric vehicles and biomass heating. Biomass projects that produce electricity can count toward a utility’s energy transformation requirement only if the plant produces both electricity and thermal energy from the same biomass fuel, and the majority of the energy recovered from the plant is thermal energy.

In order to determine eligibility and the application of an energy transformation project to a utility’s annual requirement, the utility must convert the net reduction in fossil fuel consumption resulting from the energy transformation project to a MWh equivalent of electric energy.

Smith said that fulfilling the energy transformation project requirement will require GMP to work with third parties to create product offerings.

“This is not a situation where GMP will take over that sector,” he said. “We don’t have all the details, but collaboration is the primary theme.”

Speaking during the Act 56 panel session, Vermont Rep. Tony Klein, sponsor of the original RES bill and chair of the Vermont House Natural Resources Committee, said that the energy transformation project requirement was the most “exciting” and “innovative” part of the RES.

“I hope it will be the key to kicking down the barriers that have existed in this state that keep more Vermonters from weatherizing their homes, weatherizing businesses, partaking in self generation, and partaking in more efficient products that heat and cool their homes and businesses,” he said.

Lead image: Compliance marked on rubber stamp. Credit: Shutterstock.

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Jennifer Delony, analyst for TransmissionHub, started her career as a B2B news editor in the local and long-distance telecommunications industries in the '90s. Jennifer began covering renewable energy issues at the local level in 2005 and covered U.S. and Canadian utility-scale wind energy as editor of North American Windpower magazine from 2006-2009. She also provides analysis for the oil and natural gas sectors as editor of Oilman Magazine.

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