Alternative To Wind: VEC Eyes Geothermal Energy - The Caledonian-Record - St. Johnsbury, VT
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11/14/2012 8:44:00 AM
Alternative To Wind: VEC Eyes Geothermal Energy
Dave Hallquist, CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative, talks at the Derby Planning Commission meeting last week about the energy section of the town plan.
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Dave Hallquist, CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative, talks at the Derby Planning Commission meeting last week about the energy section of the town plan.

Robin Smith
Staff Writer

A battle over wind power is raging in parts of Vermont -- a battle over a part of an energy picture that only has a small impact on the state's carbon footprint.

Dave Hallquist, CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative, says the real focus should be on the big causes of Vermont's carbon production: the reliance on oil to heat and cool homes and gasoline to run vehicles.

The VEC board of directors has asked Hallquist to focus in 2013 on how electric utilities can actually reduce that dependence on oil and gas and create a renewable energy resource at home that reduces the state's carbon footprint.

Hallquist is looking at geothermal energy, the result of tapping into the warmer rock beneath our feet.

Geothermal energy could heat and cool Vermont homes and provide electricity for hybrid cars to reduce the demand for both oil and gasoline.

Utilities, Hallquist said, would benefit from the creation of a new renewable energy source that runs homes and cars and creates a local source of renewable, reliable energy.

VEC already has enough renewable energy sources to meet current state mandates, he said. He would ask the Legislature not to demand more right now.

In the meantime, the state could tap Efficiency Vermont and other sources to create incentives for more geothermal systems and hybrid vehicles.

The price of geothermal systems are coming down, he said, and approaching the cost of home heating oil, at $3.81 per gallon according to the price of oil sold Tuesday in Derby.

"We think it's right on the edge," Hallquist said.

Wind Controversy

The battle in parts of the state over wind projects, pitting one environmentalist against another, doesn't have to happen, Hallquist said.

Electricity used in Vermont makes up only about 4 percent of the state's carbon footprint, compared to the carbon footprint from heating and cooling homes and businesses at almost 50 percent, he said.

Running vehicles on gasoline makes up more than a third of the rest of the carbon footprint generated in Vermont.

Hallquist said it just makes sense to focus on the real causes of Vermont's carbon production -- oil and gasoline -- than burn so much political energy battling over wind and solar energy.

Both are much higher in cost than the market rates for electricity today, and both carry a high cost in dividing communities that would otherwise be supportive of a less-intrusive energy source like geothermal, Hallquist said.

He has listened to anti-wind opponents and say they have some "very sound arguments" that need to be considered when talking about wind projects in Vermont. And solar is so much more expensive still, he said.

"I can't get too charged up talking about wind and solar. I can get charged up about solving heating and cooling," he said.

Everyone knows that oil and gasoline are the real sources of carbon production, he said.

"Let's work on that together," he said.

Geothermal energy is the most productive, new renewable source available, once the cost of producing it drops near the price of home heating oil, he said.

Oil and propane are reliable and efficient power sources, about 90 percent efficient in generating heat, he said.

Geothermal is more than three times as efficient as oil and gasoline, Hallquist said.

In particular, geothermal energy is capable of heating or cooling a home, recharging a hybrid or electric car, and even allowing utilities to tap into the stored electricity in a hybrid car battery to feed into the grid.

"We could actually pay you for it," he said.

If the cooperative had enough members with geothermal systems and hybrid vehicles, it would have a local and highly efficient energy source that is renewable, highly efficient and reliable, unlike solar and wind, Hallquist said.

The state could integrate its climate change goals with its electric grid goals, he said.

VEC Focus

The board of directors asked Hallquist to look at how the co-op as an electricity utility and the electric grid can be used to reduce the carbon footprint.

Hallquist said he is already studying the opportunities and will report back to the board in the new year. He then hopes to take that on to the Legislature and change the discussion in the state.

The co-op has been a leader in other utility matters, leading the way on smart grid technology.

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