Report: Vermont Could be Major Wind Power Producer

Vermont has the most energetic onshore wind power resource in New England and a unique opportunity to develop it, according to an analysis by the New England Wind Energy Project (NEWEP).

Passumpsic, Vermont 2002-03-12 [SolarAccess.com] NEWEP estimates that 3900 46-meter diameter wind turbines can generate 9.2 billion kWh annually, two-thirds more than the 5.5 billion kWh used by Vermonters in 1999. A quarter of the 2921 MW of potential wind capacity estimated by the study could be developed commercially during the next decade, says Farrell S. Seiler, the study’s principal author. This translates into 725-750 MW of new renewable electricity generation from Vermont wind power. The privately-funded NEWEP analysis used federal, state and private wind resource data to identify 779 linear miles of Vermont ridgeline. At ridgeline elevations, typical annual wind speeds range from 7.0 meters per second (m/s) to 12 m/s. Additionally, the analysis located potential wind project sites within each of the state’s 22 municipal, investor-owned and electric coop utility service territories. The NEWEP study ranked each wind energy project according to size and closeness to transmission lines and electricity load centers. “All of Vermont’s wind energy potential will never be fully developed commercially,” says Seiler. “But the study shows that there are many sites with financially attractive wind energy profiles.” Wind energy is widely supported by Vermont public opinion, due in large part to the success of the state’s lone wind farm project. In 1997 the state’s second largest investor owned utility, Green Mountain Power Company, erected eleven 550 kW Zond/Enron wind turbines in the southern Vermont town of Searsburg. In its first four years of operation, the 6.05 MW Searsburg project has generated more than 50 million kWh. The average wind velocity from 1997 through mid-2000 was 6.9 m/s. Substantial amounts of electricity are generated between December and March, when energy demand throughout New England surges. Seiler points to the success of the Searsburg wind energy project as proof that large wind turbines can operate reliably in the mountainous and cold weather climate of Vermont. After more than four years of continuous operation, maintenance costs at the Searsburg facility average less than $0.01/kWh based on an average output of 13,000 MWh yearly. Building several 15 to 30 MW wind turbine projects each year could meet Vermont’s own electrical load growth. The Vermont Department of Public Service estimates that the state will need 100,000 megawatt hours each year during the next decade. To meet this growth, Vermont Governor Howard Dean is proposing construction of 2 MW of wind energy annually, generating 4.5 million kWh, or 4.5 percent of projected yearly growth. Two planned wind farm projects, totaling 15 MW, will generate an estimated 37 million kWh annually, more than a third of the state’s requirement. Seiler says that Vermont should start replacing much of the anticipated loss of nuclear and hydro capacity (based on contracts and operating licenses that expire in 2012 and 2015) by building utility-scale wind farm projects on ridgelines throughout the state. For Vermont’s economy, construction of wind projects would require more than US$100 million of capital investment yearly during each of the next ten years. Building wind projects in Vermont will create 400 seasonal construction jobs and 150 full-time permanent positions needed to operate and maintain the projects. “This is just the kind of stable and sustainable economic growth needed to create jobs for Vermonters while protecting its environment,” notes Seiler. The NEWEP study also sees a market opportunity for excess wind generated electricity emerging. “Vermont could become a major electricity exporter,” suggests Seiler. “Wind farm electricity could be transmitted to major load centers in New York state and southern New England.” Seiler predicts out that “constructing several wind projects like Searsburg would make the state far less dependent on out-of-state electricity suppliers and less vulnerable to natural gas price fluctuations.” Of the six New England states surveyed in the NEWEP, says Seiler, “Vermont has the best near-term opportunity to develop clusters of 15-30 MW wind energy projects.”
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