Burlington Electric to source power from within VT

Joey Waldinger and Caroline Derksen

Burlington Electric will begin to source its hydropower from within Vermont.

As part of its contract with Great River Hydro LLC, a company that operates 13 hydroelectric plants, Burlington Electric will receive electricity from three Great River plants on the Connecticut River, according to a Jan. 3 press release from the Burlington Electric Department.

Hydro power is renewable energy produced by dams.

Increasing the speed with which electricity can flow out of the grid, this new contract will keep “electric rates low and stable in our city,” the press release stated.

Burlington Electric will save money by not having to pay for the transportation of electricity produced far away, said Paul Hines, an electric and biomedical engineering professor who studies electrical energy systems.

When electricity doesn’t have to travel such far distances, the chance of losing it before it reaches the grid decreases, this also reduces costs, he said.   

The lower prices are the result of a better contract with Great River Hydro than with NextEra Energy, the company that formerly supplied Burlington’s hydropower, said Ed McNamara, director of planning and energy resources at the Vermont Department of Public Service.

The details of energy contracts largely have to do with  “what people think the energy market is going to look like,” McNamara said. They are based on people’s assumptions of future energy prices.

Decreasing energy prices probably helped Burlington Electric negotiate lower prices, he said.

While Burlington Electric negotiated a better price, they also “purchased more valuable energy,” the press release stated.

The energy will be delivered during the hours of the day when the use is highest and purchasing it becomes more expensive, Hines said.

“It’s the time of greatest demand…so the power is worth more,” said Mike Kanarick, manager of customer and communications at Burlington Electric.

Even when the high-use hours are over, it doesn’t mean that the power is gone. Unused electricity is added to the available pool of energy, Kanarick said.

Burlington Electric began forming the new hydropower plan roughly six months ago, James Gibbons, director of policy and planning at Burlington Electric, said.

With the current contract set to expire Dec. 31, the utility was looking for a new company they could establish a deal with, Kanarick said.

It would be difficult to power larger cities on 100 percent renewable energy since the needs are much greater, Gibbons said.

Sophomore Gillian Gallagher, a civil engineering major, agreed that using this energy source in big cities would be problematic and difficult.

“Space and resources are the biggest issues,” she said.