Seneca Mountain Wind project on hold as developer pulls application

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Seneca Mountain Wind project on hold as developer pulls application

Fri, 05/23/2014 - 4:02pm -- tim

by John Herrick vtdigger.org Plans for the latest industrial-scale wind project in the Northeast Kingdom have taken a step backward. Eolian Renewable Energy, a wind developer based in Portsmouth, N.H., withdrew its application to connect power from the proposed Seneca Mountain Wind project to the region’s electric grid. ISO New England, the region’s grid operator, has halted its review of the project.

Project manager John Soininen declined to comment on the decision and company CEO Jack Kenworthy did not return a phone call requesting comment Thursday.

The decision to back off the 20-turbine ridgeline wind project in Ferdinand was likely due to the cost of upgrading the transmission infrastructure needed to connect the remote wind power to the weak rural grid network.

Transmission line upgrades needed to avoid additional stress on a constrained electric grid were estimated to cost $86 million, according to David Hallquist, CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative.

“If I were running a project and I added $86 million to the cost of the project, it’s no longer economically feasible,” he said.

Because large amounts of wind power can bottleneck along rural grid networks, the region’s grid operator last year curtailed power output from Green Mountain Power’s Lowell Mountain wind farm. Adding more wind power to these remote lines could damage the already weak section of the grid.

VEC purchases power from the area’s Sheffield Wind Project. Hallquist had publicly opposed the adding new wind generation in the area because it could further limit Sheffield’s power output.

Hallquist recently changed his position when the developer was considering transmission upgrades.

Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, who chairs the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said the state is in a “breather period” where transmission upgrades will be required before more renewable power is brought online.

“We’ve had a pretty big and rapid build-out for this technology and I think we’re probably in a breather stage with the increase and the rise of renewable sources coming on the line,” he said. “Our antiquated systems need to be modernized.”

Nonetheless, he said Eolian’s decision doesn’t mark the end of big wind in the state.

“I don’t think any one or so project either going ahead or pulling out is any indication of the state and health of the fuel of the future going forward,” Klein said.

Hallquist said the developer could come back with a new proposal if federal regulators approve a plan to socialize, or share, the costs of transmission build-outs among the region.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2011 issued FERC Order 1000, a ruling that could overhaul the allocation of costs to upgrade the region’s electric infrastructure.

Working to finalize the rule, some New England states are proposing to share 70 percent of the costs of any transmission upgrades that benefit the entire region. Vermont opposes this cost-allocation ratio.

“I wonder if Eolian is pulling back and waiting,” Hallquist said. “If 70 percent gets socialized, then the project might be feasible again.”

Nonetheless, opponents of industrial wind are hailing the decision to withdraw the application.

“Withdrawing a request like this generally signals the death of a project, so we are looking forward to hearing an announcement from SMW that they will completely abandon their plan to industrialize ridgelines in the Northeast Kingdom,” said Mark Whitworth, executive director of Energize Vermont.

“The Seneca Mountain Wind project would have destroyed one of Vermont’s most ecologically valuable wildlife habitat blocks,” he said.