Energy Plan Sets Town-by-Town Targets

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Front Page / Aug. 11, 2016 9:12am EDT

TRORC Considers Solar, Wind, Hydro
By Katie Jickling


Source: Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission Source: Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission A draft regional energy plan released last month identifies town-by-town contributions necessary to meet the state’s longterm renewable energy goals.

The Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission (TRORC) found that its 30-town region must produce at least 135 MW of solar (about 675 acres) and 34 MW of wind if Vermont is going to reach its goal of 90% renewable energy by 2050. Targets range from an ambitious 25 to 29 MW of solar in Hartford to as little as 1 MW in Hancock, Granville, and Pittsfield.

The report is not a mandate nor a template for growth of the renewable sector going forward, clarified Peter Gregory, executive director of TRORC.

Towns “can use our maps as guidelines, if they choose to go into energy planning in a big way,” he said.

The report aims to provide a “sense of scale and a basis for discussion,” according to the document.

The plan was commissioned by the state in 2011. Three of the Vermont’s 11 regional planning commissions—Bennington Regional Planning Commission and Northwest Regional Planning Commission, as well as TRORC—received funds to do a pilot project to provide a region-by-region approach to enact Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan.

The energy plan sets optimistic goals for the state. Starting in 2017, 55% of each electric utility’s energy must be met by renewables. The energy plan also calls for the state to reduce total energy consumption per capita by 15% by 2025.

TRORC completed the current draft of the report in July, and will receive comments from the Public Service Department later this week, said Gregory.

Two Rivers will also hold public comment periods across the region during September, with the hope of finalizing the plan by the end of the year.

Specific Targets

For each town, TRORC used GIS mapping technology to find land fitting for solar installations, away from wetlands, flood plains, and prime agricultural land. Prime sites for potential wind and hydro projects were also identified.

The plan sets a production target for wind and solar for each town. The target amount varies, based on town-specific factors such as population, energy demand, and open, available land.

Within Braintree, for example, TRORC identified 963 acres suitable for solar, 386 of which are within a mile of existing “three-phase power,” and could be used for larger solar energy generation. The town also has 3,904 acres with prime wind potential, most of which are located along Northfield Ridge.

Mark Bannon, a Braintree engineer who also serves on the planning commission, is Braintree’s representative to TRORC. He called the project a “broad stroke look at the region, and what resources are available.”

He hasn’t yet formulated an opinion on renewable energy within Braintree or within the region generally, he noted.

From Bannon’s point of view, the plan won’t lead to concrete changes to energy approach or projects in Braintree.

“It starts a conversation. It could lead to sensible planning or address some of the issues,” he said. “Practically speaking, though, I don’t think people really act until they have the project in front of them.”

Roof-top Solar Not Enough

Often, the draft TRORC report noted, roof-top solar is suggested as the most viable option for renewable sector growth. However, it went on to say that “even using extremely optimistic projections, roof-top solar might only generate 42 MW of solar”—30% of the projected solar production needed in the region by 2050.

The majority of the new solar power in the TRORC region will be generated at a commercial scale, the report concluded.

The report noted that the work of the TRORC does not represent a prescriptive plan for the area, but rather provides one possibility for local renewable generation.

Going forward, TRORC will provide towns a renewable energy siting guide with maps to identify areas most ideal for renewable energy projects, Gregory said.

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