Derek Hallquist: Natural beauty and renewable energy sources are under threat

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The Green River reservoir in the fall. Photo courtesy of Derek Hallquist

This commentary is from Derek Hallquist, a cinematographer and producer who went to Lamoille Union High School in Hyde Park, and now works all over the world.

Green River Reservoir State Park is under threat. The Vermont Natural Resources Agency ordered the local utility, Morrisville Water & Light, to cut production by about 30%.

This means that the dam holding back the reservoir is now operating at a loss. As a result, the electric utility announced that it had no choice but to remove the dam, which would empty the reservoir.

The Natural Resources Agency must reverse its decision to prevent the loss of Green River Reservoir State Park.

The 653-acre reservoir includes approximately 19 miles of shoreline, one of the longest stretches of undeveloped shoreline in Vermont. Green River Reservoir became a state park in March 1999 when 5,503 acres were purchased from the Morrisville Water & Light Department.

Not your typical Vermont state park – Green River Reservoir offers camping and paddling experiences in a remote setting. The state of Vermont has pledged that the park will “remain in its wild and undeveloped state”. The park receives an average of more than 10,000 visitors per year.

The reason the Natural Resources Agency wants to reduce the flow is to restore some of the original plant life along the reservoir, as well as improve the quality of fishing downstream. The agency’s report contradicts itself, as it also states that the reservoir is currently in good health, including a healthy fish population.

It is difficult to understand the logic behind the Natural Resources Agency’s decision. A dam on the Green River created the reservoir in 1947. Although originally built for flood control, a generator was installed in 1984. Like most power dams, this one is undergoing a new federal license every 30 or 40 years.

Here we have a wildlife habitat that has existed for over 70 years. The fishing is excellent. The natural beauty is enjoyed by thousands. It is the largest body of fresh water in Vermont free of motorboats.

The Natural Resources Agency’s decision will likely cause the dam to fall, destroying this gem. The hope is that it will improve habitat quality downstream – essentially trading healthy habitat for some improvements downstream. Destroy a healthy warm-water fishery for hoped-for improvements in another cold-water fishery.

There are serious flaws in this logic. The Natural Resources Agency has not considered the carbon offset value of hydroelectric generation. The northern Vermont grid has exceeded its limits for wind and solar capacity. Adding more wind and solar energy does not reduce the carbon footprint because the grid can no longer handle it.

One solution to this problem is to add lithium-based energy storage. Removing an existing hydro plant means you now have to replace it with even more batteries to get the benefits of on-demand renewable energy, which this pre-existing hydro generator provides.

Removing this resource to improve cold-water fish habitat downstream without considering the impact on climate change is a short-sighted decision. The Green River Reservoir hydroelectric plant was producing about 1 million kilowatt hours a year of carbon-free power before restrictions imposed by the Natural Resources Agency.

To produce the same amount of electricity using a natural gas generator would create an additional 60,250 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. This is equivalent to the amount of carbon emitted by 7,000 vehicles.

If we don’t tackle climate change, there won’t be any cold-water species in Vermont. With the Natural Resources Agency’s decision, Vermont will eliminate an on-demand renewable energy resource and we will lose wildlife habitat that has existed for over 70 years.

Let’s not find ourselves in a warmer climate two decades from now regretting this short-sighted decision. We could end up with no cold water habitat and no Green River Reservoir State Park.

The best way to solve this problem is to reverse the Natural Resources Agency’s decision requiring Morrisville Water & Light to reduce the flow from the dam.

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Tags: Derek Hallquist, Green River Reservoir, hydroelectric dam, Vermont Agency of Natural Resources

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