As REV moves forward talking to Vermonters about the need to get to a 100% renewable energy future, we have come across many myths about renewable energy and the role it plays in combatting global warming. Below are the most often repeated myths about the impacts of renewable energy and an explantion debunking each one.
Myth: Vermont Can Weatherize its Way Out of Climate Change: Vermont Climate Council modeling calls for weatherizing 120,000 homes by 2030 which would require increasing the number of weatherization projects completed annually from 2,000 today to 19,000 by 2030. Even if Vermont achieves this weatherization target, electricity demand is projected to grow by 34% by 2030 to support demand for electrification measures so more renewable energy is imperative to meet this new load.
Myth: Cutting Any Trees to Construct a Solar Array Increases Green House Gas Emissions: Synapse Energy Economics research found converting a typical acre of New England forestland to solar saved 470 tons of CO2 annually with climate benefits over 15 times that of forestland, reflecting just how dirty our current electricity generation is. This carbon balance doesn’t shift in favor of maintaining forest cover until New England’s marginal emissions rate is reduced by 94%.
Myth: Vermont Can Rely on Wind and Solar Being Built Elsewhere in New England: Solar projects smaller than 5MW generally can sell their power at the best price in the state where the project is located. Maine, Massachusetts and Connecticut all have programs that pay a higher rate than Vermont solar projects receive under our Standard Offer program. Projects that are larger than 5MW, the high wholesale New England market prices incentivize selling power and renewable energy credits directly to the wholesale market rather than contracting with Vermont utilities.
Only six onshore wind projects are currently in the ISO-NE Interconnection Queue with the power from the largest of these projects already contracted to utilities in Maine and Massachusetts. Offshore wind prices have been highly volatile and several offshore wind projects that were under contract have been cancelled or are in the process of renegotiating higher power prices. At prices ranging from about 6–13¢/kWh in the past five years, these projects do not offer price benefits relative to Vermont’s Standard Offer solar project which costs 8.5 –9 ¢/kWh and is fixed for 20 years.
Myth: Increasing In-State Renewables Will Destroy Vermont’s Open Spaces: REV’s modeling found doubling in-state renewable energy generation to 20% of load by 2030 using solar power would only use an additional 2,300 acres of land.
Myth: Solar Development is Destroying Vermont Farmlands: Vermont has close to 1 million acres of primary agricultural soils. In 2022, the PUC permitted 19 solar projects 250 kW or larger disturbing less than 100 acres of primary agricultural soils in total providing power for 3,800 homes. The Farmland Information Center estimated 21,000 acres of Vermont’s agricultural land were developed for urban or low-density residential uses from 2001-2016 with another 41,000 acres will be lost by 2040.
Myth: Solar Panels Leak Toxics: Solar modules contain very little toxic material- glass and aluminum constitute 97% of a module’s mass. The International Energy Agency studied worst case scenarios where solar modules broke while in operation or after being disposed of in a landfill and found that levels of lead, cadmium and selenium released under these conditions were below the EPA’s safety thresholds. As a result, the National Renewable Energy Labs concluded that panel breakage and disposal did not warrant concern about toxicity/hazardous materials pollution.
Myth: Vermont’s Electricity is Already “Green” Enough: Vermont’s physical electricity purchases are different than how utilities are legally able to portray the amount of renewable energy in their power supply after retirement of “renewable energy credits”, i.e. paper credits purchased from renewables in Canada or New England used to offset electricity generated from nuclear power or burning fossil fuels. In 2021, Vermont’s annual physical electricity purchases included 24% from Hydro Quebec, 18% from nuclear power, 17% from New England system mix (which is 60-70% natural gas) and 7% from biomass.
Myth: Using More Wind and Solar Power Will Increase Electric Rates: With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the cost of deploying renewables has become even more competitive with fossil fuel generated electricity in New England. NextEra projects that within the decade onshore wind and solar will be the cheapest form of electricity generation available. Even when constructed with the added cost of battery storage, NextEra estimates that electricity from wind and solar will be only half the cost of power from the cheapest natural gas plants.
Myth: The Grid Can’t Handle More Solar: While there are portions of Vermont’s grid that experience congestion and are not well suited to adding larger solar projects without grid upgrades, much of the grid has ample capacity to handle additional solar power. Strategic investments in the grid to support the use of electric vehicles and heat pumps as well as to improve system reliability in the face of more frequent and intense storms can add additional capacity for solar generation as well. Vermont utilities are also continuously developing programs, such as flexible EV charging rates, designed to maximize the efficiency from adding new load and new renewables to the grid.
Myth: Solar Panels Don’t Help in the Winter: While solar makes most people think of sunny summer days, solar continues generating electricity throughout the winter. Even with lower output on shorter, snowier days, winter solar production is now significant enough that ISO-NE is citing solar as one of the primary reasons for improved winter reliability, alleviating long-running concerns about natural gas fuel shortages for electricity generation in the winter.