On Tuesday, Vermont’s legislature took another step toward designating large hydropower resources as "renewable." The move came just days after the two largest Vermont utilities signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Hydro-Québec for a 26-year power purchase agreement.

Rep. Tony Klein (D), chair of the Vermont House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, told POWERnews on Tuesday that the legislation had passed out of his committee to the Ways and Means Committee and was expected to reach the full House by "about the end of next week." Like many U.S. state renewable portfolio standards (RPS), Vermont’s currently does not recognize large hydro generation as renewable.

The effort to redefine large hydro resources as "renewable" would benefit both Vermont and Hydro-Québec. Should Vermont include large hydro as renewable, it could win a more-favorable price for Hydro-Québec power, according to Green Mountain spokesperson Robert Dostis, because the redefinition could prompt other states to follow suit, opening the door for Hydro-Québec to gain more U.S. customers.

Vermont has had power purchase agreements with the Canadian utility for decades, and the current contracts were to expire by 2015. However, renewal was not a given. After an ice storm in 1998 that destroyed transmission lines in Québec and interrupted delivery of power promised to Vermont, "Vermont utilities took Hydro-Quebec to court for failing to fulfill its contract, partly because at the time the price of power from Hydro-Quebec was relatively high and the utilities saw the lawsuit as a way to gain a better deal," the Rutland Herald reported. Fence-mending ensued over the next several years, resulting in the Thursday MOU with Central Vermont Public Service and Green Mountain Power.

The contract renewals are said to be worth $1.5 billion over 26 years (starting in 2012) for the purchase of 225 MW, at “market prices.”

From Nuclear to Hydro

One incentive to get a renewed agreement with Hydro-Québec was the Vermont Senate’s recent decision to disallow the renewal of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant’s license when it expires in 2012. The nuclear plant provides about a third of the state’s electricity.

Hydro-Québec is building a new 1,200-MW transmission line through New Hampshire and Massachusetts that, Québec Premier Jean Charest noted, could also be used to transmit more electricity to Vermont.

Meanwhile, efforts to determine the source of the tritium leak at Vermont Yankee continue, though two leaking radioactive steam drain lines are thought to be a source of the leak. Those lines are scheduled to be rerouted temporarily, pending a more permanent solution, when the reactor begins a shutdown in April for routine refueling and maintenance.

The Rutland Herald quoted Entergy spokesperson Larry Smith as noting "that several groundwater monitoring wells were ‘trending’ downward since the leaks were found in the steam drain lines and either plugged or diverted." The paper added that "at least one well shows measurements in excess of 1 million picocuries per liter, and several are around 500,000 picocuries. The EPA standard for drinking water is 20,000 picocuries per liter."

Sources: Rutland Herald, Montreal Gazette, Burlington Free Press, POWERnews