Energy

Power experts discuss $2.2 billion grid upgrade, planned blackouts

By Guy Page

After learning that plans to upgrade Vermont’s power grid could cost $2.2 billion, Sen. Russ Ingalls (R-Essex/Orleans) asked Vermont power experts Thursday: who pays?

The upgrades necessary to double the amount of electricity the Vermont power grid can deliver will cost $2.2 billion over the next 28 years, according to a memo by Vermont Public Power Supply official Melissa Bailey to a House committee. In the Senate Transportation Committee yesterday, Sen. Ingalls put the question to Vermont’s power grid leaders: 

“What’s the impact going to be to the ratepayers that we see when we see a big number like this?”

Ingalls represents 44 towns in the Northeast Kingdom counties of Essex and Orleans. Compared to the rest of Vermont, the homes there are older and so are the people living in them. He told the committee he doesn’t want his constituents to get “left behind” by electricity rate hikes required to pay for the upgrades.

The grid upgrade was being discussed in Senate Transportation in part because the state and federal government is seeking major upgrades in electric car chargers – including those located in the home.  

“My direct response to your question, Senator, is that this represents a once in a lifetime opportunity,  if we challeng ourselves to be creative and to not think small, given this is the one time we might get federal dollars to buy down the cost of work we know we need to do,” Kerrick Johnson, Chief Innovation Officer of Vermont Electric Company (VELCO) said. 

“That’s not normally stuff you’d see on one bill, at one time, for one short period of time,” Johnson said. “This is like 20 years or so of investments over time that would normally take place over time and could be absorbed. This is all focused, aggregated, in one big ask in the hope that the federal dollars could advance that vision.”

In particular, VELCO wants to spend a chunk of the hoped-for federal money to fix the vexing problem of “curtailed” northern Vermont wind turbines, VELCO Transmission Manager Hantz Presume said. When spinning at or near full speed, the turbines make too much power for the current grid to handle. To prevent system overloads, their output must be “curtailed.” Most of those upgrades would take place between Highgate and the Burlington area.

Rebecca Towne is the manager of Vermont Electric Co-op, which serves the state’s most rural areas. 

“I would echo Carrick’s point – some of this is about investments we were planning to make anyway,” Towne told Ingalls. “But we’re trying to accelerate them. That does have some cost pressure on rates. Federal funding can offset that cost pressure on rates. Some of what you see wouldn’t be borne by rate payers.” she said. 

Vermont Electric Co-op (VEC) wants federal money to move and improve power distribution systems to reduce outages and increase capacity. It also wants $$ to invest in ‘vegetation management’ – i.e. fight the emerald ash borer infestation that is likely to destroy many of the trees around VEC power lines. And, because it needs workers to make all of this happen, VEC wants funding to build its apprentice program. 

Because the plan would span 28 years and involves unknown amounts of federal spending, it’s impossible to project a specific Vermont electricity rate hike. Neither Johnson nor Towne offered one. Ingalls asked the committee to ask the Vermont Public Utilities Commission to examine the $2.2 billion proposal for rate estimates and potential savings. 

Threat of rolling blackouts discussed

Sen. Thomas Chittenden (D-Chittenden) asked about the threat of rolling blackouts – a warning issued recently by regional grid operator ISO-New England – as Vermont increases its use of electricity. As Vermonters become more dependent on electricity alone to stay warm, keep the lights and appliances on, and get to and from work, what steps are the state’s power planners taking to reduce the likelihood and impact of blackouts? 

“There is a set of extreme circumstances that all have to line up for this to be an issue in the first place. Let’s make that clear,” Johnson said. “But if it does happen that is an impactful event. Thankfully there’s been a whole lot of work that has been done.”

The ISO-New England announcement “led to some additional conversations – [Public Service Dept.] Commissioner June Tierney convened a great discussion. There are planning drills that are run. There is incredible collaboration. I think you’d say it’s led by VELCO but all the distribution utilities participate in very various ways, in a breadth and a depth of exchange of information I have never seen before. 

“If that [blackout conditions] starts to happen, we’ll have a long lead time. The utilities know exactly how to interact with each other. There’s drills every week that describe exactly how that would go. There’s communication that would be practiced so your constituents, yourselves, all the various stakeholders would have ample notice. It wouldn’t be something where we just throw a switch. There’d be gradations. This is starting to emerge as a concern,” he said.  

10 replies »

  1. All for a climate that is warming by natural causes and not from any additional CO2 in the atmosphere. Vermont will suffer from higher costs, less reliability, higher taxes, all the while contributing negligible effects on our world.
    What a waste of time, money and precious resources!

  2. The great reset – what utility do they control that can allow them to control you? Don’t comply with their demands – you will be cut off and shut off. This does include your EV – it will not run and it will only take you where they allow you to go. The plan is to control you and everything else.

  3. So let’s up electric rates so Vermonters of moderate means can’t afford them so that wealthy folks can buy EV’s to appease their guilt over their foreign vacations and multiple homes.

  4. Wind turbine owners should be required to install battery systems to absorb the excess production during high wind periods, to deliver that wind electricity to the grid during late-afternoon/early-evening hours, when peak demands occur.

  5. Solar system owners should be required to install battery systems to absorb the predictable midday output surge, and deliver that solar electricity during peak hours

    • Willem, can you comment on the comparison of ‘the grid’ to ‘a battery’? If a wind or solar generator produces what becomes ‘excess power’ in one section of the grid, can it not be diverted to other sections with ‘excess demand’? For example, the similar phenomenon occurred with VT Yankee. While it’s power production rate was predictably consistent, the opposite of wind and solar, when there were discrepancies between demand and supply, Yankee pumped water to a high elevation collection reservoir and used hydro generators to retrieve the power when required.

      No, the hydro storage wasn’t as efficient as some would like. But at least some of the power was retrieved. Could, for example, excess wind and solar power be used to convert water to Oxygen and Hydrogen through electrolysis, especially given that Solar panels produce the Direct Current (DC) used in electrolysis.

      And yes, this concept doesn’t address the fact that any investment in wind and solar in our area is significantly less efficient than it is in the open deserts of the west. Our New England geographic is clearly better suited to the use of hydro power. As with the American Northwest, we receive minimal sunlight and excessive rain fall (an indirect source of solar power), and with the world’s fourth largest energy producer right next door, selling hydro power at less than half the cost of wind and solar (stored or wasted), I believe our focus should be on establishing long term contracts for access to that hydro power.

  6. Message for the “wokes.” Since you want me to have a heat pump and EV, where is the “equity” to buy them for me (and all the other people of modest means)?

  7. VELCO is jumping up and down in front of “charade Committee hearings” to get its OK to donate VELCO an extra $2.2 billion to upgrade VELCO’s High Voltage grid, including very expensive battery systems, that cost at least 30c / kWh to operate, if financing, owners return on investment, and the degrading effects of aging are included in the economic evaluation, on a lifetime, A-to-Z basis. See URL

    Battery system life is 15 years or less.
    https://www.windtaskforce.org/profiles/blogs/high-costs-of-wind-sol

    $2.2 billion for Vermont’s HV grid, which takes just 5% of the NE grid load
    That HV grid “upgrading” would cost about 100%/5% x $2 billion = $40 billion for ALL OF NEW ENGLAND.

    That upgrading primarily benefits Vermont’s electric utilities, which will get a whole lot of goodies for free, so they can artificially keep down electric rates, which would help them promote heat pumps and electric vehicles, and make oodles of more money, by selling more electricity to sucked-dry, over-taxed, over-regulated ratepayers

    I have three heat pumps in my house.
    Turnkey capital cost was $24,000
    I do not use them at temps less than 15F, because the electricity cost per hour would be more, than my efficient propane furnace.

    COLD CLIMATE HEAT PUMP? MY FOOT!!!
    THAT IS JUST A PR GIMMICK

    I tested my kitchen heat pump when it was -20F in January 2022
    After about 20 minutes, all I got was luke warm air that was not sufficient to heat my kitchen!!

    TRUST BUT VERIFY
    GO BRANDON
    SHOW UP AT THE POLLS EN MASSE, AND VOTE THE RE-NUT LEGISLATORS OUT IN NOVEMBER 2022

  8. All the climate change advocates never sacrifice. Their lifestyles never get altered. They live above the need to have their thermostats at 65F during the winter months. And of course air conditioning will be abundant in their households.during the summer. Or they leave for Florida in the winter and return during the summer. Isnt it ironic that they make the rules and laws. The only thing that a climate change agenda does is crush the middle class into poverty so the arrogant good for nothing virtue signalers who already have the means to maintain their lifestyles can win the zero sum game. Less for you means more for me who can afford it.

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