Experts says replacing energy contracts will require changes in supply mix

05/22/08 7:34AM By Jane Lindholm
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(Host) Vermont utilities rely on Hydro Quebec and Vermont Yankee for two-thirds of their power. But contracts for that electricity begin to expire in four years.

Energy experts say replacing those contracts will force the state to consider some big changes in its mix of power supplies.

VPR's Jane Lindholm reports.

(Lindholm) Vermont has been challenged to supply electricity to its population nearly from the first days of power transmission.

Being small and rural, the state had to struggle just to persuade power companies to string lines to every home and business.

Chris Graff, a Vermont historian and former journalist, says even back in the 1930s George Aiken helped to give the state a central role in the power business.

(Graff) "He made his rallying cry as he went forward trying to bring electricity through co-ops to the rural reaches of the state. And you saw this throughout his entire career. In the 1950s, he was the champion of the St. Lawrence Seaway hydroelectric project, which allowed us to really get a lot of that project's benefits.''

(Lindholm) A contract for power from that St. Lawrence project set the standard for the future. Vermont came to rely heavily on big generators for a significant part of its power.

Today, it's Hydro Quebec and Vermont Yankee. But with those contracts set to expire in the next few years, utilities have to negotiate new deals or find replacements.

Michael Dworkin is a Vermont Law School professor and former chairman of the Public Service Board. He says renewable energy has emerged as a viable economic alternative.

(Dworkin) "So what used to be on the horizon is getting near the front steps already.''

(Lindholm) But Dworkin says while it's necessary to generate electricity, it's just as important to use it efficiently.

(Dworkin) "The progress we've made with Efficiency Vermont has saved us hundreds of millions by now over the last ten years. And it's put us on a path which is easing the pain that everybody is going to suffer and putting us in a better place.''

(Lindholm) The state's major utilities are in talks for future power supplies.

Central Vermont Public Service President Bob Young believes big changes could be coming.

(Young) "I could see a scenario where you have a lot more small community generation, hooking up residential communities, where there's an awful lot more micro-turbine generation, a lot more solar. So the dependence on a big transmission distribution grid is significantly different than what it is today.''

(Lindholm) But Young says it could be 20 years before that becomes reality.

Meanwhile, utilities are expected to have power available anytime somebody flips a light switch.

So they're looking throughout the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada to keep the power flowing. And that will likely mean the electricity will have to come from a large power plant.

For VPR News, I'm Jane Lindholm.

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