Electricity from Hydro-Quebec should be considered renewable, the Vermont Senate declared in a unanimous vote Thursday night. Senators voted 30-0 to approve a major new renewable energy bill which includes a host of efforts to boost green energy production in Vermont, but also includes a provision that many environmental groups find alarming.
That provision would deem energy coming into Vermont from Hydro-Quebec, a providence-owned electric utility, as renewable energy. Those opposed to the provision say the company has a long history of environmental and human rights problems.
Vermont’s two largest energy utilities – Green Mountain Power and Central Vermont Public Service – are in the midst of negotiating long-term contracts to buy energy from Hydro-Quebec. The current contracts – which supply about one-third of the state’s energy needs – run out in the next several years. But several environmental groups point to the damage caused by the company’s large hydroelectric dams for the fishing and hunting grounds used by Canada’s native population. They also worry that signing such a long-term contract will stunt the development of new in-state hydroelectric facilities.
Sen. John Campbell, D-Windsor, attempted to have the Hydro-Quebec portion of the bill removed so that it could be voted on separately. His motion was ruled improper by Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, who presides over the Senate.
Hydro-Quebec and the owners of Vermont’s electrical utilities sought the designation of the energy as renewable as a “sweetener” for both sides during negotiations on a new contact, although it is not essential for the deals to go forward.
Vermont law now defines hydro facilities under 200 megawatts as renewable. The bill lifts that cap.
Sen. Virginia Lyons, D-Chittenden, the chairwoman of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, defended the bill, saying the debate “today is not about what Canada does, but about what Vermont does.”
“The bill in no way changes our environmental standards,” Lyons said. “It does not change Act 250. It does not change the review process by the Public Service Board.”
Lyons acknowledged that the issue has divided the environmental community and lawmakers in the Senate. But she said the designation would help bring about a long-term energy contract for the state and includes other must-pass clean energy proposals.
Those provisions include consolidating the appeals process for energy projects and boosting the incentives to build new solar and so-called “cow power” facilities. Lyons said the senators have an “opportunity to vote for a long-term contract for our citizens and businesses.”