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2013 Year in Review: Energy - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

2013 Year in Review: Energy

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Natural Gas

2013 started with crime scene tape up in Monkton neighborhoods-- a way residents protested plans for a natural gas pipeline through their town.

"If it blows up, there's no protection against it," Monkton resident Holly Lukens said in January.

Vermont Gas plans to build a pipeline through Chittenden and Addison counties with the goal of bringing natural gas across Lake Champlain to the International Paper mill in Ticonderoga.

And hearings continued to draw protest from residents and environmental groups that say it's extracted by fracking, which can pollute water sources.

"We're just locking in a fossil fuel technology that will cause environmental destruction somewhere else," VPIRG's Paul Burns said in October.

But supporters say low natural gas prices will help area businesses. The fracking boom is flooding the market with lower-priced natural gas. Vermont Gas closed the year announcing another rate cut-- about 6 percent for most customers-- the 16th rate reduction since 2008.

"This is a real opportunity for people to be able to cut their costs again because it's 44 percent less than fuel oil, 54 percent less than propane," Steve Wark of Vermont Gas said in November.

And Monday, state regulators gave Vermont Gas a holiday gift-- approval for phase one of that pipeline into Addison County.

Vt. Yankee

An August surprise fueled by those low natural gas prices made for one of the biggest stories of the year. Entergy, which owns Vermont Yankee, announced it will close the aging nuclear plant in Vernon by the end of 2014.

"Let me be clear on one thing: this decision was based on economics of the plant," Entergy's Bill Mohl said in August.

Entergy executives said the changing dynamics of the power business due to the abundance of natural gas combined with the cost of keeping the plant going was just too much, and that the long legal fight over Vermont's push to close Yankee played no role.

"This is good news for Vermont and Entergy has made the right decision," Vt. Gov. Peter Shumlin said in August.

The announcement was welcomed by environmental groups after decades of dissent.

"This is a tired old nuclear plant and its time has come," Sandy Levine of the Conservation Law Foundation said in August.

But hundreds of good paying jobs will disappear.

"My message to Governor Peter Shumlin is that we all need to work. We are not all millionaires," Vernon Select Board Chair Patty O'Donnell said in August. "My first concern as governor is to ensure that we view this as a base closing in other parts of the country, but an opportunity to grow jobs and economic opportunities."

The closure launched negotiations between the state and Yankee over dismantling the plant. Vermont wants it turned to greenfields as soon as possible, a project that could top $1 billion. But Yankee only has $560 million set aside. The holiday season brought a deal-- Yankee officials agreeing to start decommissioning the plant as soon as there is enough money in the fund. Yankee will put $25 million into the fund as part of the deal and pay $10 million for economic development in the region. Vermont officials agreed to drop legal action and allow the plant to continue operating through next year. But that radioactive spent fuel stored in dry casks at Yankee is staying put. The federal government has no site to store high-level radioactive waste.

Solar

2013 saw an explosion of solar panels, arrays popping up across the state.

"It's something we've wanted to do for years," Cold Hollow Cider's Paul Brown said in January.

But making the switch wasn't always smooth. In Burlington, solar company Suncommon ran into tricky building codes, slowing installation. The city supports solar and worked to make regulations clear.

"We have this process to try and make things better," Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger said in July.

Harnessing the sun became so popular that some power companies stopped adding new solar customers. Washington Electric Co-op and Hardwick Electric said net metering, when utilities buy the solar power back from homeowners, just unfairly shifts traditional power costs to nonsolar customers. But by November VEC announced plans for a new solar array that nonsolar customers could invest in to capture some solar savings.

Biomass

In April, Montpelier got to work on its new $20 million biomass project, aiming to heat both public and private buildings downtown. But the construction came with traffic headaches and parking problems.

Wind

Lawmakers sidestepped a vote on a wind moratorium, despite a big push by some groups to stop new development on Vermont ridgelines.

"I don't think they understand what's happening to Vermont families," Matt Levin of Vermonters for a Clean Environment said in February.

But lack of a wind moratorium did not prevent new challenges for wind projects.

The community vote tally is still out on plans for a wind farm atop Seneca Mountain in the Northeast Kingdom, but developers scaled back their original push for more than 30 turbines to 20 after concerns about curtailment, a process that takes wind farms offline when the power grid needs more reliable sources of power.

Despite some windy days, new wind projects in Lowell and Georgia were told to cut back on power production. Grid managers say wind developers need to invest in equipment to make, store and transmit wind power more reliably.

"We cannot carry any more large wind capacity on those lines," VELCO's Kerrick Johnson said in March.

But the Shumlin administration said grid managers could do more to help green power sources.

"We're concerned and we think ISO New England needs to do a better job at integrating these renewables," Vt. Department of Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia said in March.

And wind turbine noise became a bigger issue. A couple in Georgia applied for reduced property taxes, claiming the value of their home decreased after turbines at Georgia Wind started turning. The town agreed, setting a precedent. And regulators took notice. The Public Service Board says it is changing the way it weighs the impacts of wind noise when reviewing new projects.

2014

Energy battles wait for 2014-- will there be a wind moratorium? When will Yankee be decommissioned? And will Vermont Gas get approval for the pipeline under Lake Champlain?

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