St. Albans Messenger, March 11, 2017
Messenger Staff Writer
SWANTON — A Public Service Board decision has forced Swanton Wind to redesign its potential power purchase agreements — but that doesn’t mean the project is going anywhere.
That decision is Public Service Board (PSB) Rule 4.100, which orders that power purchase agreements (PPAs) encompass seven-year periods. Prior to Rule 4.100, PPAs were 30-year contracts. Rule 4.100 contained several other significant amendments to the power-purchase process, significant enough to rewrite the structure of the system, and to force a number of pending energy projects to reconsider their PPAs — including Swanton Wind.
Northwest Regional Planning Commission (NRPC) attorney David Rugh said at a Feb. 22 meeting of the commission’s project review committee the changes were so significant they could force Swanton Wind’s developers “back to the drawing board” to determine if the project was even viable anymore.
A visualization of Swanton Wind as it would be seen from Fairfield Pond, created by LandWorks for the project’s Public Service Board application.
Not so fast, said Swanton Wind attorney Anthony Iarrapino.
“This is not by any means the end of the story for Swanton Wind,” Iarrapino said.
Swanton Wind delayed filing its completed PSB application by one year, which complicated its efforts to consider power purchasers under the old PSB rule. Iarrapino said the project “slowed the process to address concerns” from residents and local organizations such as the NRPC.
“The project took its time to really compile the most complete application it could,” he said. “We ended up being penalized by the board for taking the time to get it right.”
He said the project’s developers, Swanton residents Travis and Ashley Belisle, “are committed to seeing this through the Public Service Board process,” and that the Belisles are “encouraged by the wide range of purchasers who understand the urgency” of shifting to renewable energy sources.
Iarrapino said there are plenty of utilities looking to buy the project’s proposed 20-megawatt output, regardless of changes to the PSB’s rules.
“We’re very confident there is demand for renewable wind power” across the New England grid, Iarrapino said, “and it’s possible that power could still be provided to Vermont utilities.”
Swanton Wind’s representatives have said throughout the project’s history they would prefer to keep its renewable energy credits (RECs), and if possible the power itself, in Vermont. But Vermont utilities have been hesitant to purchase that power. Both Green Mountain Power and the Burlington Electric Department decided against purchasing the power; Swanton Wind’s PSB application said Vermont Electric Power Producers Inc. (VEPPI) remains a potential buyer.
Iarrapino said the project is “still evaluating possible scenarios” to keep the project’s output in Vermont. He said the project is also considering recent Requests for Proposal (RFPs) for renewable power from Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
“We’re evaluating if those are appropriate,” Iarrapino said.
The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has already expressed tentative interest in purchasing the project’s power, and Iarrapino said “municipal coalitions across the region” have reached out and expressed interesting in purchasing some or all of Swanton Wind’s output.
“There’s a lot of demand because most of New England realizes we’ve got to get moving” in transitioning to renewable energy sources, Iarrapino said.
The project’s opponents frequently question the need for the project when its energy output won’t go straight to Vermonters. But Iarrapino criticized that characterization.
“It’s important for folks to realize that where you sell power is really a matter of contract,” he said. “The electrons go wherever the nearest load is.”
Iarrapino said with that in mind, Swanton Wind could benefit the grid in the St. Albans area. He said the proposed expansion of the local Ben & Jerry’s plant could increase St. Albans’ energy need, and that Swanton Wind could pick up the slack.
As for where exactly the power would — or will — go, Iarrapino said he expected specifics to be determined before the PSB’s technical hearing regarding the project.
That hearing was scheduled for September. That was before the PSB suspended the project’s review schedule for the third time, after receiving a gargantuan number of motions to intervene — requests for formal participation by parties ranging from Swanton residents to the Vermont National Guard.
The board’s review was scheduled to run through October. A new schedule has not been issued as of press time.
Among those formal participants in the PSB process is the NRPC, the members of which voted Feb. 22 to oppose Swanton Wind’s construction. That decision was ostensibly based on Swanton Wind’s non-conformance with the NRPC’s regional energy plan, which imagines an ideal route for Franklin County to meet Vermont’s goal of relying on 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.
The NRPC plan suggests 21 megawatts of wind power, 174 megawatts of solar power and 10 megawatts of hydropower by that time. Swanton Wind’s proposed output would leave only one additional megawatt of wind power required in Franklin County to meet the state’s 2050 goal as imagined by the NRPC.
Iarrapino said he was “very interested” in the NRPC’s decision to oppose the project.
“I’m hard-pressed to understand, of all the places where there’s wind blowing, where else in Franklin County there’s a hillside near a pre-existing road, with infrastructure already in place, surrounded by business and industrial use,” Iarrapino said.
To meet the state’s energy goals, Iarrapino said, “there’s got to be wind somewhere.”