The $150 million investment in the Northeast Kingdom will provide jobs and significant economic benefits, in addition to increasing the state’s renewable energy generation.
This is the most significant renewable energy project proposed in Vermont since the 50 MW McNeil wood generating plant was built in the 1980s. Green Mountain Power, Vermont Electric Cooperative and VELCO are working together on the wind garm to provide customers of the two distribution utilities stably priced, renewable energy.
"This is an important step in our mission to provide our customers with cost-effective, low carbon power," said Mary Powell, President and Chief Executive Officer of Green Mountain Power. "We have found that investing in and building utility scale renewable energy projects is a solid way to provide our customers with low cost and low carbon electricity."
"Vermont Electric Cooperative customers have indicated they want local, renewable resources, and by working together with Green Mountain Power, we are able to provide those resources at cost with little financial risk to the members of VEC," said David Hallquist, Chief Executive Officer of Vermont Electric Cooperative.
Utility ownership of renewable resources provides long-term customer value, as the utilities can continue to generate power past the point at which a contract with a developer would have expired. For example, Green Mountain Power’s hydroelectric generating plants, which were largely built by GMP in the early 1900s, are the company’s lowest cost source of power today.
The project as proposed will include up to 21 wind turbines on 3.2 miles of ridgeline on Lowell Mountain, and will generate enough electricity for 20,000 homes, or six to eight percent of Green Mountain Power’s generation needs and four percent of VEC’s generation needs. It also includes upgrades to the existing transmission infrastructure and substations in the region.
The project has been well received by the Lowell community, where 75 percent of voters agreed in March to support the project. And in Albany at a special town meeting on May 18th residents voted not to oppose the project.
"Community support is integral to this project," said Ms. Powell. "In fact, when the town of Lowell indicated it would hold a vote, we said that we would only proceed if the town as a whole supported the project."
In further recognition of the importance of community support, the utilities have proposed an innovative "Good Neighbor Fund" to ensure direct economic benefits to nearby towns, namely Albany, Westfield, Eden, Irasburg and Craftsbury. The Good Neighbor Fund does not apply to Lowell, where the project is sited, which will receive significant property tax benefits.
"While there are significant energy benefits from this project for GMP and VEC customers, as well as economic benefits to the region as a whole, we believe it is important to extend direct economic benefits to neighboring towns," said Ms. Powell.
"In addition, we view public acceptance as critical to the development of wind energy in Vermont, and we have heard from residents of neighboring towns that benefits should extend beyond the boundaries of the host town. By creating the Good Neighbor Fund, we have raised the bar for developing wind in Vermont."
The Good Neighbor Fund is consistent with the stated desire of the Northeast Vermont Development Association, as its energy plan asks the Public Service Board to consider economic benefits of projects beyond just the host town.
The Good Neighbor Fund will pay towns according to the portion of land within a five-mile radius of the project. The amount will be based on a 1 mil charge on the amount of electricity produced by the wind farm with a minimum annual payment of $10,000. The payment will be for 10 years.
Ms. Powell added, "This is a different way of developing wind power. All along, GMP and VEC have worked closely with community members, and now we have proposed a way to extend benefits beyond the host town. We have recognized that people living near the project, not just in Lowell, should benefit from the siting of this project in their region. Importantly, we were able to adjust costs in other areas so this will not increase the overall cost of the project."
The Kingdom Community Wind project would be Green Mountain Power’s second wind plant. It built a six-megawatt wind plant in Searsburg, Vermont, in 1997, which continues to generate renewable energy for Green Mountain Power customers. Green Mountain Power was recognized nationally for its leadership in researching and developing wind generation in cold climates.
The process to receive a permit, or Certificate of Public Good, includes extensive testimony before the Vermont Public Service Board, public meetings, site visits and can take many months to complete.
Green Mountain Power transmits, distributes and sells electricity and utility construction services in the State of Vermont in a service territory with approximately one quarter of Vermont’s population. It serves more than 95,000 customers.
Vermont Electric Cooperative, Inc., a member-owned Cooperative founded in 1938, is Vermont’s third largest electric utility, serving approximately 34,000 members in rural Vermont.