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Searsburg Wind Distortions: Truths & Facts

PRESS RELEASE                                                                      March 23, 2011

Response to Energize Vermont
At Green Mountain Power, renewable energy is part of our DNA.  Whether it’s wind, solar or hydro, we’re always exploring new technologies to deliver low-cost, low-carbon energy to our customers.  We understand that renewable power generation can stir debate and we welcome a robust dialogue on the pros and cons of what works best for Vermonters.

However, these debates must be based on the facts – and not on assumptions, distortions and unfounded accusations.  That’s why we were deeply disappointed to read a recent press release by Energize Vermont, a group that is rigidly opposed to larger renewable wind energy projects, including our Kingdom Community Wind project in Lowell, Vermont.  In its release, the group assailed the performance of our Searsburg wind farm – a successful renewable project generating green energy since 1997 – but its criticism completely missed the mark. The release contained misinformation about the economics of wind power, the use of renewable energy credits, and about the plant’s capacity factor.

Commercial Viability of Searsburg
In its rush to judgment, Energize Vermont questioned the viability of the Searsburg wind farm. The cost per kilowatthour (kWh) for Searsburg wind was 6.3 cents in 2010 prior to selling Renewable Energy Credits (RECs).   At that price, Searsburg wind is more affordable than almost any other form of in-state renewable generation. Green Mountain Power’s overall rates for electricity are the lowest of New England’s major utilities, and the company’s portfolio intentionally includes a mix of generation sources, intended to keep its power supply low cost, low carbon and reliable. The Searsburg wind project is an important part of that mix.

Searsburg was the first large wind installation in the northeastern US, and has been an important source of information on the operation of wind facilities in harsh climates. Studies conducted at the site have contributed to improved designs and higher performance in wind facilities built more recently.

Capacity Factor
The capacity factor of a generation facility refers to the amount of electricity it produces compared to what it would produce if it operated at peak output 100% of the time. Searsburg’s capacity factor in 2010, based on 10 operating turbines, was 30.59%, and over the lifetime of the plant, the average capacity factor has been 23.4%.  According to the Renewable Energy Research Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts, typical capacity factor for wind ranges from 20% to 40%.

As a comparison, photovoltaic solar energy – one of the technologies strongly promoted by Energize Vermont – has a capacity factor of 12-15%, much lower than large scale wind.

In 2010, the Searsburg facility had its best year ever, producing 14.7 million kilowatthours, enough electricity to supply more than 2,000 homes. The plant’s lifetime average annual electricity production is 11.8 million kilowatthours – within the range projected when the plant was permitted in 1995.

Renewable Energy Credits
Energize Vermont was quick to accuse GMP of double counting the RECs from our renewable generators. This is just plain untrue.  Any source for which the RECs have been sold is described as market power, and not as renewable generation.

Green Mountain Power does not sell all of the RECs from Searsburg or other renewable energy sources. RECs are retained on behalf of customers who choose to purchase them through the GreenerGMP program. The more customers who sign up for renewable energy, the more RECs are retained. Currently more than 1100 customers are participating in GreenerGMP.

Energize Vermont claims that the practice of selling RECs undercuts support for further renewable energy development here in Vermont.  There is no evidence to support this statement.  Based on the number of applications filed with the Vermont Public Service Board for renewable energy projects, interest in developing renewable generation has never been higher.

In addition to its wind projects, Green Mountain Power is a leader in the development of solar generation in Vermont, including both customer-owned and utility owned. The SolarGMP program offers financial incentives for customers to install solar, which has resulted in a 400% increase in the number of GMP customers installing solar panels since 2007.  In the past two years, Green Mountain Power has also developed or partnered in the development of some of Vermont’s largest solar projects, such as the solar farms in Westminster, Berlin, Shelburne, and Montpelier.

In short, there is no substance to Energize Vermont’s claims against Green Mountain Power. While we welcome a spirited debate about the role of wind power in Vermont, we ask Energize Vermont to wage its campaign against wind based on factual information as part of a respectful dialogue on our state’s energy future.

Green Energy Times (TM) recently received a newsletter that raised concerns which differed from our understanding and knowledge about the Searsburg Wind Farm. We feel this information is of high value to share with our readers.  Green Mountain Power respectfully responded to our questions and the accusations that have misinformed the public.  We want to help clarify them for the future of our state and it’s involvement with Wind power to help to meet our energy future with affordable, clean energy for ourselves, our children and our planet.
We would like to thank Green Mountain Power’s Dorothy Shure for her diligence to help with our understanding. You can contact Dorothy at: 802.655.8418 for further information.
We welcome your comments here..

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