One of the key elements in reducing our regional dependence on fossil fuels is the development of renewable resources. State statute has provided for renewable resources by prohibiting the creation of regulations that would prohibit the heights of structures that collect renewable energy (wind towers, solar collectors, etc.). It has also provided for the creation of regulations that encourage the development of renewable resources.
The information below provides an overview of the types of renewable resources that can be accessed in our region. For more specific information, we recommend you utlize the Renewable Energy Atlas of Vermont, which provides specific locational information through maps.
Biomass energy can come from tree and grass crops and forestry, agricultural, and urban wastes. Biomass is a renewable energy resource because the energy it contains comes from the sun, and it is the oldest source of renewable energy known to humans. Biomass energy currently supplies almost 15 times as much energy in the United States as wind and solar power combined. In the eyes of its supporters, biomass has the potential to supply much more. Biomass functions like a natural battery, in which solar energy is stored in the biomass and then released when it is burned to make heat, steam, and electricity. New and cleaner ways to use biomass include conversion into liquid fuels or production of combustible gases. Crops such as switchgrass and willow trees are especially suited for biomass and can be grown specifically for energy use. The best approaches vary from region to region according to climate, soils, geography, and population.
Cow power is a program run by Central Vermont Public Service. CVPS offers a production incentive to farmers who utilize anaerobic digestion of agricultural products, byproducts, or wastes to generate electricity. CVPS then sells the Renewable Energy Credits as part of the Cow Power green power program. Towns that are CVPS customers can pay a small monthly premium on their electric bills and support this Vermont-grown renewable energy source, supplanting other forms of generation. Each kilowatt-hour paid for will displace some other form of generation, such as fossil fuel plants.
Ethanol and biodiesel were the fuels used in the first automobile and diesel engines in America. But because of their lower costs, gasoline and diesel fuel made from crude oil became the dominant vehicle fuels. Nearly all gasoline sold today in the United States contains some ethanol, which is produced from corn and sugarcane. Biodiesel is a domestically produced renewable fuel derived from virgin seed oils pressed from crops that can be grown in Vermont. The plants used to make biofuels absorb carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) as they grow. The noted downside to Biofuels is its impact on other systems which also use the materials needed to make Biodiesel. Corn or soy can be used to create Biodisel, but is an important element in agricultural production. The diverson of these materials away from agriculture has increased costs for food as a result. Biodiesel can also be produced from reclaimed vegetable oil, animal fat and algae.
Biodiesel produces less greenhouse gas and sulphur emissions than petrodiesel. It is being used today in farm equipment and other applications, including transportation and heating ("bioheat").
Vermont Biofuels Initiative
The Vermont Biofuels Initiative is working to replace a portion of the fossil fuel energy consumed in-state with homegrown alternatives from oilseed crops, perennial grasses and algae. Our grant making and technical assistance are aimed at addressing the most critical issues of our time -- peak oil, energy price volatility, and climate change – using an innovative 'local production for local use' market development model.
Combined heat and power (CHP), also known as cogeneration, is the simultaneous production of electricity and thermal energy (heating and/or cooling) from a single source of energy. Unlike centralized heat and power generation, CHP plants are located at or near the point of consumption. For this reason; CHP systems can operate at efficiency levels as high as 80% and offer the possibility of reducing business costs and creating green-collar jobs.
CHP is actually a suite of technologies that can use both fossil- and renewable-based fuels to generate electricity or power at the point of use. CHP systems allow the heat that would normally be lost in the power generation process to be recovered to provide needed heating and/or cooling, and can significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
CHP has been used in industrial, commercial, institutional, and utility applications for years. It is a highly efficient electricity and process heat resource at work for many of Vermont's largest employers, including Pompanoosuc Mills in the TRORC region. Using CHP as part of a distributed energy system, this technology can be deployed quickly and cost-effectively, and can serve Vermont's more urban centers, and college and institutional campuses.
Geothermal energy is heat (thermal) generated in the earth (geo). Geothermal energy is a renewable energy source - the heat is continuously produced in the earth's core at temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun. We can recover geothermal energy as steam or hot water and use it to heat buildings or generate electricity. Today, geothermal energy is used world-wide to heat homes and produce electricity by digging deep wells and pumping the heated underground water or steam to the surface. The stable temperatures found 10 feet below the surface of the Earth can be used to heat and cool buildings through use of geothermal heat pumps (GHPs).
Most of the geothermal power plants in the United States are located in the western States and Hawaii, where geothermal energy resources are closer to the earth's surface. GHPs are used in Vermont to control building temperatures because soil temperatures are warmer than the air in winter and cooler than the air in summer. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), geothermal heat pumps are the most energy efficient, environmentally clean, and cost effective systems for temperature control. For more information, utilize the link below.
Hydro power is generated by flowing water in big rivers and falling water. In both cases, the water flows through a pipe and turns blades in a turbine to spin a generator and produce electricity. A run-of-the-river dam such as the one found on the Connecticut River at Ryegate, the force of the current applies the needed pressure. In a storage system, such as the Wilder Dam, water accumulates in a reservoir created by a dam and is then released as needed to generate electricity.
Hydropower was used thousands of years ago to turn a paddle wheel for purposes such as grinding grain. Today, hydropower produces the most electricity from a renewable source in the US - 35% of electricity generation from renewables in 2009.
Environmental issues associated with hydro power include obstruct of fish migrating to their upstream spawning areas. Fish ladders can address this problem. A reservoir and operation of the dam can also change the natural water temperatures, chemistry, flow characteristics, and silt loads, all of which can lead to significant changes in the river's ecology and land, upstream and downstream.
Vermont has at least 174,000 kilowatts of undeveloped hydroelectric potential, according to several sources. This is about 22% of the state's current power use. Most of the potential hydro sites would generate less than 1,000 kilowatts, and could be developed at existing dam sites with no additional environmental impact to rivers. Each kilowatt of hydroelectric capacity can, on average, produce 4,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, generating income for the producers. One group estimates that Vermont hydroelectric facilities can provide 10 percent of the state's electricity needs by 2015.
Solar energy is derived from solar radiation - the sun's rays - and is converted into other forms of energy, such as heat and electricity. When converted to thermal or heat energy, solar energy can be used to heat water for use in buildings or to heat buildings, greenhouses, and other spaces. Solar energy can also be converted to electricity. There are two ways to do this:
Photovoltaic (PV) cells, grouped into panels and arrays, convert solar rays directly into electricity. Small PV cells are used to charge small batteries found in calculators and watches, while larger systems power single homes. Solar energy plants have been built in the US and Europe, covering many acres. Such proposals are under consideration in the Two Rivers region.
Concentrating solar power plants use mirrors to reflect and concentrate sunlight onto receivers and convert it to heat. This thermal energy can then be used to produce electricity with a steam turbine or heat engine driving a generator.
Because one PV cell only produces one or two watts of energy, PV cells are electrically connected into a packaged weather-tight module, and modules in turn can be connected to form an array. The number of modules connected together in an array depends on the amount of power output needed. Performance of an array is directly dependent upon how much sunlight reaches it, so weather conditions, such as clouds or fog, have a significant effect on the amount of solar energy received and produced by a PV array. Research is currently being conducted to increase the efficiency of PV arrays.
PV cells generate direct current or DC, which is generally used for small electronic equipment. When DC from photovoltaic cells is used for commercial applications or sold to electric utilities over the electric grid, it must be converted to alternating current (AC) using inverters.
PV systems are advantageous in part because conversion from sunlight to electricity is direct, meaning that mechanical generators are unnecessary. In addition, PV arrays can be installed quickly and in any size, environmental impacts are minimal because no water is required for cooling, and there are no wastes produced.
Wind is air in motion. Wind is created by the heating and cooling of the earth's surface. Thus wind is a renewable energy source because wind will blow as long as the sun shines. When the wind isn't blowing, however, other types of power plants must be used to make electricity. Wind power has been used for energy since early recorded history. Wind energy is created by using turbines to collect the wind's kinetic energy to turn an electric generator and produce electricity. Wind is clean and the fuel is obviously free. Proponents of wind energy in Vermont have collected data proving that this resource is predictable over time and is therefore a sustainable choice for Vermonters.
Wind farm development in Vermont requires access to higher elevation ridgelines in order to tap into dependable wind flow, and this is objectionable to some people. Others see risks to property values and tourism. Wind turbines can kill birds and bats, contributing to declines in these species from diseases and human-related impacts such as collisions with vehicles and buildings, house cats, and pesticides. Bird and bat habitats may also be altered or destroyed by development and by climate changes that most scientists believe are caused by greenhouse gas emissions - which wind energy use can help reduce.
New technologies have decreased the cost of producing electricity from wind, and growth in wind power has been encouraged by tax breaks for renewable energy and green pricing programs. Many utilities around the country offer green pricing options that allow customers the choice to pay more for electricity that comes from renewable sources to support new technologies.