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Vermont's 90% Renewable Energy Goal to Cost $33 Billion by 2050


Almost immediately after the funds of the American Recovery and Reconstruction Act, ARRA, became available, many states, including Vermont, distributed some of the funds to a number of government and private renewable energy entities. Government programs with federal and state subsidies were created to attract in-state and out-of-state investments in renewable energy projects to create jobs and boost the economy.

In Vermont, the media were enlisted to build up an image of Vermont as a “renewable energy leader”. Well-known foreign renewable energy leaders were invited to Vermont to give lectures about their renewable energy achievements.

A 520-page report of the Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan, CEP, was created, which states an aspirational goal of “90% Renewable Energy of All Primary Energy by 2050”; electrical energy is only about 35% of all primary energy.

NOTE: No nation in the world, except Denmark, has such an extreme goal, however, Denmark is a special case, because of its proximity to Norway’s hydro plants to balance its wind energy. In the real world, almost all political entities have much lower RE goals for primary energy than Vermont. Relatively few political entities have high RE goals for electrical energy.

NOTE: The German Energiewende goal is at least 80% of electricity production and 60% of primary energy from RE by 2050, which is much less extreme than Vermont’s 90%.

Denmark and German Household Electric Rates: Denmark and Germany implementing higher renewable energy percentages has led to higher household electric rates. The same would happen in Vermont. The below graph shows German household electric rates are the second highest in Europe, about 28.69 eurocent/kWh in 2015; Denmark is the leader with about 30 eurocent/kWh, Ireland is at 25 c/kWh, Spain 24 c/kWh, France, about 80% nuclear generation, 17 c/kWh.

From Aspirational Goal to Mandate: Senator Bray introduced Bill S.51, titled “Consolidated Clean Energy Planning and Economic Opportunity Act” The bill proposes: to establish a statutory goal (a mandate), that, by 2050, 90 percent of Vermont’s total energy consumption be from renewable energy. It also proposes to establish additional supporting goals and to require State plans that affect energy to recommend measures to achieve these goals.

State and local bureaucrats would exhort Vermonters to spend $33.3 billion on various government-directed measures and programs that would cause their energy consumption to decrease, but the cost of their remaining energy consumption likely would be about 2 – 3 times present costs.

An Easy Task for Utilities: It would be an easy task for Vermont utilities to achieve a Renewable Portfolio Standard, RPS, of “90% RE of their electricity supply”. They merely would have additional contracts to buy RE from in-state and out-of-state producers, and pass any costs onto ratepayers, per VT-Public Service Board, PSB, approval.

An Expensive Task for Vermonters: It would be extremely expensive for Vermonters to achieve “90% RE of All Primary Energy by 2050”, as that would require a significant transformation of the Vermont economy. Vermonters would have to make investments of about $33.3 billion* during the 2017 – 2050 period, as estimated by the Vermont Energy Action Network. Vermont’s stakeholders prefer the renewable energy to be from mostly in-state sources, as that would maximize their revenues and profits. Federal subsidies for wind, solar, and other renewable sources likely would be decreasing in future years.

* If the US were to adopt Vermont’s 90% RE goal, the capital cost would be: US 325 million people/Vermont 0.625 million x 33.3 = $17,316 billion, which is in the same ballpark as the US national debt.

Reducing the 90% Goal to 40% is an Economic Necessity: Reducing the 90% goal to 40% would be more affordable, and it could be implemented by means of:

– Significantly increased efficiency of buildings (such as net zero energy buildings) and of transportation (such as by adherence to federal CAFE standards), which would be much better for Vermont, as it would decrease the energy bills for already-struggling households and businesses, and would decrease CO2.

– Significantly increased purchases of low-cost, low-CO2 emitting hydro energy from Hydro Quebec.

Both measures would be the lowest-cost and quickest way to reduce CO2, and would have minimal impact on the Vermont environment. They would be much better for Vermont, instead of additional, subsidized wind turbine systems on more than 200 miles of pristine ridgelines and solar systems in thousands of acres of fertile meadows, which produce energy, that is variable, intermittent, grid disturbing, health damaging, property value-lowering, environment-damaging, social-discord-creating, and expensive at 3 – 5 times NE wholesale prices of 5 c/kWh.

The 40% goal would be more in line with other New England states and much less costly. See Table 2. There would be no need for a regressive carbon tax. With the 40% goal, source energy would be reduced, similar to the 90% goal, by getting more, low-cost, near CO2-free, hydro energy from Hydro-Quebec*.

*About 200 MW of a 1000 MW HVDC line, under construction, is reserved for Vermont, which could provide about 1.3 million MWh/y from H-Q in addition to the present H-Q supply, equivalent to 7 Lowell wind turbine plants. Future HVDC lines, in various planning and approval stages, could provide more hydro electricity.

Source Energy Factors: The ratio of the energy from well, mine, forest, etc., to user is defined as the source energy factor. The source factors of hydro is 1.0, NE grid energy 2.63, nuclear 3.08, and biomass 3.33*. Whereas the source factors of variable wind and solar are 1.0, they require grid-connected generators for balancing, as in Germany and Denmark. The source energy would also be reduced by significantly increased efficiency of buildings and transportation.

* McNeil and Ryegate wood-fired power plants have source factors of 4.2, because of their poor efficiency. Closing them would significantly reduce Vermont’s source energy (3.2 out of 4.2 trees are wasted), and toxic pollution, and CO2 emissions (which are not counted, because burning trees is “declared” CO2-neutral within about 50 to 100 years).

NOTE: Vermont Public Issues Research Group, VPIRG, mostly financed by RE stakeholders, commissioned a study by REMI, a consultant, which provided VPIRG, legislators, et al, with a report with pretty photographs, a rosy pro-carbon tax rationale, and various talking points, to bamboozle voters regarding the merits of the proposed carbon tax.

NOTE: In 2011, the electricity supplied to Vermont utilities was 6119.1 GWh, or 20.88 TBtu. That electricity required about 50.8 TBtu of primary energy, for an average conversion factor of 20.88/50.8 = 0.41, per the VT-Department of Public Service 2013 Utility Facts Report. Vermont’s 2010 total primary energy was 147.6 TBtu, thus electricity was 50.8/147.6 = 34.4% of total primary energy.

NOTE: “The Department of Public Service, DPS, in conjunction with other State agencies designated by the Governor, shall prepare a State Comprehensive Energy Plan covering at least a 20-year period”, per Vermont statute $202b. DPS, et al, arbitrarily selected the goal of “90% RE of All Primary Energy by 2050”, without any feasibility and cost analysis. DPS correctly stated during a public information hearing: “It does not matter what Vermont does, because it would not make any difference regarding climate change and global warming”.

Thus far, after waiting for years, Vermonters have not received any rational explanation of why that goal was selected. That goal is greatly in excess of what other New England states have as their goals.

Huge Capital Requirements: Vermont’s goal of attaining 90% of its energy from renewables by 2050 would require capital investments of at least $33.3 billion during the 2017-2050 period, about $1 billion per year, according to Vermont Energy Action Network’s 2015 annual report. That’s not counting interest and finance charges and replacements and refurbishments due to wear and tear. See Page 6 of annual report. That burden is far in excess of what the near zero, real-growth Vermont economy could afford.

It took at least $900 million to go from 11.53% total renewable energy (EAN number) in 2010 to about 15% in 2016. That includes electricity, transportation energy and heating and cooling. This was made easier because it was highly subsidized. That level of subsidies will be less going forward, because wind, solar and other subsidies are being reduced.

Most of that spending affected the electrical part. As a result, Vermont utilities likely will meet 55% RE of their electricity supply by 2017, and 75% by 2032.

It would require a minimum of about $950 million per year between 2017 and 2050 to meet the 90% renewable goal. See Table 1, which is based on estimates by EAN, a consultant for Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, VEIC, and DPS. See URL.

Table 1; 90% RE Goal

EAN Source energy* Reduction RE RE Cost Total
TBtu % TBtu % $billion $billion
2010 148.40 13.76 11.53
2016 141.30 21.20 15.00 0.9 0.9
2020 136.62 7.9 27.32 20 3.8 4.70
2030 116.61 21.4 46.64 40 9.5 14.20
2040 93.32 37.1 63.46 68 9.5 23.70
2050 94.37 36.4 84.84 90 9.5 33.20

*EAN uses source energy (from mine or well to as delivered to user) and DPS uses primary energy (as delivered to user), which is slightly less than source energy. Year 2016 obtained by interpolation.

Where would the many billions of additional money come from for the remaining electrical part, plus the much more expensive thermal and transportation parts?

Vermont is a relatively poor state with a stagnant population; a growing population of elderly and dependent people; state budget deficits year after year; a near zero, real-growth economy; and a very poor business climate. The last thing Vermont households and businesses need is a doubling or tripling of energy prices to make the Vermont economy even less competitive.

If we were to reduce the goal to 40% renewable by 2050, it would still be a formidable task. That goal would require a minimum of about $420 million per year between 2017 and 2050. See Table 2.

Table 2; 40% RE Goal

EAN Source energy Reduction RE RE Cost Total
TBtu % TBtu % $billion $billion
2010 148.40 13.76 11.53
2016 141.30 21.20 15.00 0.9 0.9
2020 136.62 7.9 25.96 19 1.7 2.59
2030 116.61 21.4 30.32 26 4.2 6.81
2040 93.32 37.1 30.80 33 4.2 11.03
2050 94.37 36.4 37.75 40 4.2 15.26

Renewable Portfolio Standards: Renewable portfolio standards require utilities to have a percentage of their electricity supply from renewable sources. Two states, Hawaii and Vermont, require much higher percentages of renewable energy than any other state in the nation. Hawaii requires 30% by 2020, 40% by 2030, 70% by 2040, and 100% by 2045.

Unlike Vermont, Hawaii is much closer to the equator, has steady trade winds and much sunshine, and has the highest electric rates in the United States. The Hawaii goal is reasonable, but the Vermont goal is economically unwise. See URLs and Table 3.

Table 3 RPS Goals

State Goal Year Goal Year Goal Year Goal Year
% % % %
CT 27.0 2020
RI 14.5 2019 38.5 2035
ME 40.0 2017
NH 24.8 2025
MA* 15.0 2020
VT 55.0 2017 75 2032
HI 30.0 2020 40 2030 70 2040 100 2045

*MA percent to increase by 1%/y after 2020; the ME and VT goals are higher because of hydro being counted as renewable.

Vermont utilities could satisfy the 75% requirement within a few years (well before 2032) by buying more hydro energy from Hydro-Quebec. That would require no subsidies and near-zero capital costs, because private corporations would design, build, own and operate the high voltage transmission lines from Quebec to Vermont.

However, Green Mountain Power, which controls 77% of Vermont’s electricity market, refuses to buy more hydro energy for business reasons, i.e., it would not increase its asset base on which it earns about 9% per year.

Photo Credit: Cuksis via Flickr

Willem Post's picture

Thank Willem for the Post!

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Jarmo Mikkonen's picture
Jarmo Mikkonen on Feb 17, 2017 6:19 am GMT

Willem, you may be interested in this:–epjp–i2016-1...

Study on a hypothetical replacement of nuclear electricity by
wind power in Sweden

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Feb 17, 2017 10:50 am GMT

… extremely expensive for Vermonters to achieve “90% RE of All Primary Energy by 2050” …“????
– Vermont’s position; far more sun than Denmark; less population; lot of hydro nearby.
– other countries such as Denmark (higher latitude hence little sun) that have more ambitious goals (100% renewable electricity in 2040; 100% renewable regarding to all energy in 2050)*);
that 90% goal is hardly ambitious.

And Denmark has about the happiest population in the world (UN statistics) while moving towards their ambitious renewable goals…
E.g. All new buildings there have to show that they are energy neutral, etc.

Neither is it very expensive.
Just read the reports of French govt institute ADEME.
*) Your remark about nearby hydro for Denmark not only counts also for Vermont, but it’s hardly relevant for the adaptation of the economy regarding non-electricity.

Helmut Frik's picture
Helmut Frik on Feb 17, 2017 11:53 am GMT

How much does Vermont spend on Energy every year today, if you thing spending 1 billion per year is too much for the future?

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Feb 17, 2017 2:56 pm GMT

The study you linked, target to show that such replacement wouldn’t be possible. It didn’t consider Power to Gas, etc. etc.

The abstract of the study shows already its target:
“The back-up system cannot be replaced by a storage using surplus electricity from wind power. The surplus is too little. To overcome this, further strong extension of wind power is necessary which leads, however, to a reduction of the use of hydroelectricity if the annual consumption is kept constant.”

Sorry, it’s somewhat childish…
Apparently they’ve never heard of the possibilities to increase the power of hydro plants so those can handle peaks, pumped storage, etc.
Neither did they seem to realize that 100% renewable require some renewable overcapacity. Which is a non issue as wind is nowadays >3times cheaper than nuclear. So the 100% renewable end result is cheaper anyway.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Feb 17, 2017 3:48 pm GMT


Vermont spends about $2.5 billion on energy. Whereas source energy would be reduced by about 35% due to the plan by 2050, the remaining energy, about 60% electrical, with the rest bio fuels?, hydrogen?

Future energy = 94.37 TBtu/y, see tables

Electrical = 0.6 x 94.36 = 56.62 TBtu; after conversions and losses, about 10 TWh/y at user meters.

Electrical, 60% = 10 TWh/y x 35 c/kWh = $3.5 billion/y
Other 40% = $2.5 billion/y
Total = $6 billion

Syngas to Cover Wind and Solar Lulls: Wind and solar electricity can be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen by means of electrolysis. The hydrogen can be converted to methane, CH4, and stored in underground caverns. At present, process development is conducted in various power-to-gas, P2G, pilot plants.

In 2050, during the 2 lulls, Germany would need to generate about (3 TWh/day/24 h) x 150 h = 18.75 TWh.
The generators of Alternative no. 1 would produce about 65650 MW x 150 h = 9.85 TWh, for a shortfall of 8.90 TWh, which has to be made up with syngas-fired CCGTs.

The required capacity of the CCGTs would be 8.9 TWh/(150 h x 0.85) = 69,824 MW.
The required syngas would be 8.9 TWh/0.5 = 17.8 TWh, equivalent to 60.7 billion cubic feet.

At a maximum operating pressure of about 100 bar (1470 psig) the underground volume would be about 0.61 bcf. The quantity of stored syngas would be double that to provide adequate operating cushion.

This approach may not be attractive with a CF of about 0.20 for wind energy in Germany, and a P2G a-to-z process efficiency of 60%, and pumping into storage at 90%, and discharging from storage at 90%, and burning the gas in a CCGT at 50%.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Feb 18, 2017 8:13 am GMT

Germany uses already a storage capacity >200TWh.

P2G efficiency is already >70% and predictions are that it will increase towards 85% – 90%.

Pumping gas into storage implies very low losses as shown by the Dutch situation where that showed to be cheaper as it allowed for building a smaller gas cleaning & adaptation plant (creating the right caloric value, etc)…
No losses at discharge from storage (in principle it implies energy can be won).

Combined Cycle Gas Turbines is expensive as those will operate only ~5% of the time and need staff. Fuel cells or simple Gas Turbines are somewhat less efficient but little investment and little operating costs as they can operate unmanned remote controlled.

Assume P2G start to operate when the whole sale price is <2cnt/KWh then the average purchase price will be about 1.2cnt/KWh. With a round trip efficiency of 40% it implies that the costs are 4cnt/KWh + the costs of the equipment (incl. remote management & maintenance).

It implies that the electricity produced during those lulls will cost ~6.5cnt/KWh which is only slightly more than the present average whole sale price in UK.


Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Feb 18, 2017 1:43 pm GMT


Recent studies suggest that there may be more than 300 GW of potentially feasible pumped hydro storage sites in the country, with an estimated 2 – 3 TWh of storage capacity.

300 GW x 10 h = 3000 kWh = 3 TWh

About 20 – 30 TWh is needed for a 100 plus hour lull, and very much more is needed for seasonal shifting, as shown in my article

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Feb 18, 2017 10:03 pm GMT

We agree that pumped storage is no solution for the seasonal fluctuations and long winter wind lulls.

For that the Germans are developing Power-to-Gas since ~2004. They have now ~30 bigger (unmanned) pilots running (incl H2 car refill P2G) and plan to have 2GW in 2022.
They plan full roll-out in 2025.
As 60% wind+solar share is not expected before 2035-2040, they have a margin of >10years for delays.

– They have >200TWh cheap storage for the gas in earth cavities….

-Power-to-Gas + cheaper batteries, compete any idea to expand their ~35 pumped storage facilities off the table. So they have no real plans to increase those,
Pumped storage may go the same way as nuclear.

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