Vermont Utility Turns Homes into Solar Power Plants

ACCT August 2017 Newsletter

We thought ACTT folks might be interested in this excerpted NY Times story of innovative energy developments in Vermont. ACTT hopes to work with Emera Maine on similar innovations here on MDI.”

In a new low-income development in Waltham, Vermont rooftop solar panels sparkle in the sun while backup batteries quietly hum away in utility closets. About an hour away, homes and businesses along a once-distressed corridor are installing the latest in energy-saving equipment, including special insulation and heat pumps.

Vermont utility customers are signing up for a new program that will allow them to power their homes while entirely disconnected from the grid. The projects are part of a bold experiment aimed at turning homes, neighborhoods and towns into virtual power plants, able to reduce the amount of energy they draw from the grid. But behind them are not green energy advocates or proponents of living off the land. Instead, it’s the local electric company, Green Mountain Power.

“Customers, especially in Vermont with the energy-independence values that people have, want to move more toward self-generation,” says Green Mountain Power’s chief executive, Mary Powell. The Vermont program offers just one example of the continuing efforts at the local level to rethink a largely carbon-based power system. “The opportunity for us,” she added, is to lead the transformation of an electric system that depends on power sent along big transmission lines “to a community, home, and business-based energy system.”

As a practical matter, the less electricity the utility pulls from the regional transmission system, especially at times of peak demand, the less it has to pay in fees, producing savings it can pass on to customers.   Keep Reading

Green Mountain became the first utility to offer customers access to Tesla’s Powerwall home battery system. A new program will offer the battery to 2,000 customers for $15 a month over 10 years. The idea is that customers, especially when they have solar panels, heat pumps and electric vehicles, will be better able to monitor and manage their energy use. The utility, using Tesla’s software, will be able to call upon the stored energy in the combined batteries to help meet surges in demand, or to sell it on the wholesale market to help balance or smooth out fluctuations within the region.

The efforts have won plaudits from national green energy advocates who see the utility as a leader in helping redesign the electric system, which is undergoing enormous changes as renewable sources of energy become more popular. Many utilities see such moves as an existential threat because their profits come mainly from getting a set rate of return that is factored into customer rates.

Green Mountain Power has “figured out a way to do well and do good in the utility business and keep its regulators, investors and customers all happy at the same time,” Many customers say they are happy to be part of greening the area’s energy supply, whether for the financial savings, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming, or just to make sure the lights stay on in a power failure.

Read the full New York Times article here.