REV2023 Renewable Energy Myths Quiz

As REV staff have spent time 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 the climate. See if you can separate truth from fiction about some of the most often repeated myths about the impacts of renewable energy.

Myth: We can weatherize our way out of the climate crisis

On average, how many homes will Vermont need to weatherize each year to hit the 2030 weatherization targets in the Climate Action plan to meet the GHG reduction goals of the Paris Accord?

  1. 2,000 homes per year
  2. 5,000 homes per year
  3. 10,000 homes per year
Click for answer

Answer: 3. 10,000 homes per year

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 generating more renewable energy is imperative to meet this new load. Weatherization is a valuable climate mitigation tool but will not prevent load growth in Vermont.

Learn more: Energy Myths: We Can Weatherize Our Way Out of Climate Change

Myth: Cutting trees to construct a solar array increases GHG Emissions

In 2021, Synapse Energy Economics published a detailed breakdown of the carbon balance of converting New England forest to solar. They found:

  1. There were no climate benefits to clearing a forest to go solar
  2. There were 2x the climate benefits compared to leaving the forest intact
  3. There were 5x the climate benefits compared to leaving the forest intact
  4. There were 15x the climate benefits compared to leaving the forest intact
Click for answer

Answer: 4. There were 15x the climate benefits compared to leaving the forest intact

While REV members recognize and value the many benefits forests have for wildlife, people, and the environment, given how dirty the New England regional grid is, the carbon balance will not shift in favor of maintaining forest cover until the marginal emissions rate in New England is reduced by 94%. While forests sequester and store carbon, the emissions that solar offsets are so large that the net impact of clearing trees for solar is a substantial reduction in net greenhouse gas emissions.

Throughout New England, natural gas power plants are typically the power plants that are operating “on the margin” – that is they are the plants that ramp up or down in response to changes in demand or renewable generation. Reducing power generation from these carbon-intensive plants results in massive greenhouse gas benefits, resulting in a very favorable carbon balance for solar.

Myth: Solar Development is Destroying Vermont Farmlands

On an annual basis, how many times more farmland is lost to urban and low-density residential uses than is used for solar projects?

  1. 2 times
  2. 10 times
  3. 16 times
Click for answer

Answer: 3. 16 times

Vermont has close to 1 million acres of primary agricultural soils. The Farmland Information Center has estimated that 41,000 acres of Vermont’s agricultural land will developed for urban or low-density residential uses between 2016 and 2040. By contrast, the 19 solar projects 250 kW or larger permitted in 2022 disturbed less than 100 acres of primary agricultural soils while providing enough power for 3,800 homes. Unlike residential development, solar development does not permanently remove land from agricultural production and in many cases can help keep farms operational.

Learn more: Myth: Renewable Energy is a Threat to Vermont Agriculture 

Myth: Vermont is a leader in decarbonizing the ISO NE regional grid

How does Vermont’s Renewable Energy Standard compare to other New England states in terms of its requirement for power from new renewable sources?

  1. Vermont is number 1!
  2. Middle of the pack
  3. Dead last
Click for answer

Answer: 3. Dead last

Vermont’s requirement for renewable energy from new renewable projects – the very energy we need to actually reduce fossil fuel generation — is the worst in the region.

Learn more: A Renewable Energy Standard Like No Other

Myth: Increasing in-state renewables will destroy Vermont’s landscape

Leading environmental groups are supporting doubling the Tier 2 in-state purchasing requirement to 20% by 2030. How many acres of land will this new requirement take?

  1. About 3,000 acres
  2. About 6,000 acres
  3. About 12,000 acres
  4. About 15,000 acres
Click for answer

Answer: 1. About 3,000 acres

According to REV’s modeling, doubling the Tier 2 requirement to 20% relying only on solar power would take an additional 2,983 acres of land to deploy the 664MW needed – everything from fields to parking lots to brownfields.

Myth: Vermont’s current wind sound rules make any sense at all

Vermont’s daytime sound limit for wind turbines is 42 decibels and the nighttime sound limit is 39 decibels – measured 100 feet from the outside of a home. 39 decibels is roughly equivalent to

  1. A refrigerator 3 feet away
  2. A car passing by 50 feet away
  3. An F-16 jet 1000 feet away
  4. None of the above
Click for answer

Answer: 4. None of the above

39 dba is roughly equivalent to the inside of a library.

A refrigerator 3 feet away is about 40 dba, a car passing by 50 feet away is about 55 dba and an F-16 jet 1000 feet away is 106 dba.

Maine allows 42 decibels of wind sound overnight, and New York allows 45 decibels. That may not seem like a big difference, but decibels are measured on a logarithmic scale. This means that Maine’s 42-decibel limit equates to double the sound energy that Vermont allows and New York doubles that limit again. What’s the scientific rationale for setting a sound standard half that of Maine’s and a quarter that of New York’s? There isn’t one.

Myth: We have more solar energy than we can use during the summer.

When is renewable generation from wind, hydro, solar, and hydro lowest?

  1. Winter
  2. Spring
  3. Summer
Click for answer

Answer: 3. Summer

While solar generation peaks in the summer, both hydro and wind generation decline, and the net effect is that renewable generation in ISO-New England is lowest in the summer.

Myth: Vermont is a regional leader in the promotion of new renewables 

How much electricity will the Renewable Energy Standard require Vermont utilities to purchase from new renewable resources (defined as renewables built in 2015 or later) in 2032?

  1. 10% of retail electricity sales
  2. 15% of retail electricity sales
  3. 25% of retail electricity sales
Click for answer

Answer: 1. 10% of retail electricity sales

This year utilities are only required to get 4.6% of their retail electricity sales from new renewable sources. After accounting for line losses, it is closer to 4. 2% of utilities total power purchases. This 10% requirement is far weaker than other New England States.

Myth: Solar power does not meaningfully reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the winter

ISO-NE estimates that New England will add approximately 700 MW of behind-the-meter solar annually over the next decade. How much natural gas does 700 MW of behind-the-meter solar displace during the winter? Hint: the natural gas facility in Everett MA burns 800m cubic ft of natural gas a day.

  1. Less than 1 billion cubic feet
  2. Between 1 and 1.5 billion cubic feet
  3. More than 1.5 billion cubic feet
Click for answer

Answer: 2. Between 1 and 1.5 billion cubic feet

In June, ISO New England presented a new analysis showing that growing solar capacity is one of the key reasons there will be minimal risk of electricity shortages this winter and next. This represented a dramatic departure from the ISO’s evaluation last year and speaks directly to one of the central reasons REV has been pushing for Renewable Energy Standard reform – that every kW of solar we install in Vermont, ultimately reduces the need for natural gas in New England, including during winter months.

As a result, the liquified natural gas facility in Everett – which was seen as vital to the grid as recently as last year – is no longer essential to winter reliability.

“ISO New England, based on its latest analysis, said it believes the liquefied natural gas facility import facility is no longer needed to keep the grid working smoothly […] energy efficiency efforts are holding electricity demand down and solar is growing faster than expected. Officials said solar power was a nonfactor in the region in 2010, but it contributed 5,500 megawatts by the end of 2022 and is expected to double to 11,923 megawatts by 2032.

“We didn’t see that until we did this analysis,” said Gordon van Welie, the president and CEO of ISO New England.”  – from Bruce Mohl, Commonwealth Magazine 

Myth: Toxics leaching from solar panels are a risk to human health

This month, the journal Nature published a comment addressing “unsubstantiated claims that [are] fuel growing public concern over the toxicity of photovoltaic modules” based on false or outdated information. Which of the following compounds that some state health departments list as potential toxins in solar panels are not found in today’s solar modules?

  1. Arsenic
  2. Gallium
  3. Germanium
  4. Hexavalent chromium
  5. All of the above
Click for answer

Answer: 5. All of the above

Germanium and chromium were historically used in a small volume of modules that were never produced at scale. Arsenic and gallium are only used in aerospace photovoltaic applications. Trace amounts of lead in the solder of crystalline silicon modules and cadmium in CdTe modules are the only toxins of potential concern for human health or environmental concerns. Testing of solar modules in worst-case scenarios – rainwater leaching through broken panels at a solar facility and broken panels exposed to acidic conditions in an unlined landfill (which are illegal in the United States) – show of lead and cadmium released under these conditions where below the EPA’s safety thresholds.

Myth: Nuclear power is a viable alternative to wind and solar to meet new load demands

As of January 2023, how much of the proposed generation in the ISO-New England queue was something other than wind, solar, or battery storage?

  1. 3%
  2. 15%
  3. 30%
Click for answer

Answer: 1. 3%

Currently, there is no new nuclear generation planned in New England. Despite persistent excitement about next-generation nuclear power, the market for advanced nuclear plants is struggling. The advanced reactor that is farthest along in the development process in the U.S. is a first-of-its-kind small modular reactor project in Idaho that is still years away from beginning construction. According to Canary Media, “The first module at the plant is set to begin commercial operation in December 2029, but nuclear project timelines are inevitably Pollyannaish and wildly off-base.” Given the long timelines and high cost of nuclear construction, wind and solar power are our most cost-effective and scalable options for meeting growing electricity demand without increasing our use of fossil fuels.


Myth: The renewable permitting process in Vermont is working

On average, how long has it taken the Public Utility Commission to issue a Certificate of Public Good for a Standard Offer solar project?

  1. 6 months
  2. 8 months
  3. More than 13 months
Click for answer

Answer: 3. More than 13 months

The average time between an application for a CPG and a CPG being issued is over 400 days. Four projects have taken at least three years in the permitting process.

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that it’s easier to build a Dollar General Store than renewables in Vermont. Between 2006-2020, 37 Dollar General stores opened in Vermont. By comparison, Vermont hasn’t permitted a new wind farm since 2012 and none are being planned for the foreseeable future.

Why is this? In general, unless they trigger Act 250, most commercial projects only have to comply with local zoning ordinances. Meanwhile, commercial renewable energy projects have to run a regulatory gauntlet that gets more restrictive and less predictable every year.

By law, Vermont’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) treats each application for commercial wind and solar as a “contested case” litigation requiring more extensive evidence for approval than any other local or state agency permitting.  Most wind and solar projects must meet all the same criteria as apply to other types of development under Act 250 plus comply with additional PUC rules, and special criteria set by the Legislature, comply with Town and Regional Plans, and obtain permits from ANR before being considered for approval by the PUC.  Going through all of this excessive permitting adds a lot of cost to these renewable energy projects and often results in otherwise well-planned projects being rejected. In the end, all of this red tape greatly disincentivizes Vermont from adding new renewables.

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