Vermont Seizing the Lead in Microgrid Development

Vermont is doing it.

Green Mountain Power Corp. and NRG Energy Inc. on Sept. 2 rolled out a series of utility programs and infrastructure projects in Vermont that the companies described as the foundations for a modernized electric grid.

Using NRG Energy’s technical capabilities and funding from Green Mountain Power, the companies said they are facilitating an evolution of the grid, starting with a network of electric vehicle charging stations, community solar plants, energy-management programs and micro power generators that can provide battery storage for onsite solar systems.

The ultimate goal is to create clusters of self-sustaining microgrids in the state that are more flexible and resilient than an existing power system that depends on “130 million wooden poles,” NRG Energy President and CEO David Crane said at a news conference.

“What it really means is that you’re moving toward a local system versus this very vast regional system that operates now,” Green Mountain Power President and CEO Mary Powell said. “As I stand here today, all I know is that I don’t know how long it’ll take, but I will say that we’re certainly going to see a lot of change in the next five to 10 years.”

And remember my comments in the WV PSC’s 2012 general investigation into power company failures during the derecho and Hurricane Sandy?  I advocated that the PSC begin studying the use of microgrid technology so that emergency services could continue during power blackouts.  Well, Green Mountain Power has already done it in Vermont, with no prompting from regulators.

“Our customers consistently tell us they want tools to save money and move to renewable energy sources, and we can show the rest of the country how to get there. This is what our energy future looks like,” Powell said in a news release.

The effort in Vermont coincides with more widespread adoption of distributed power systems such as rooftop solar panels, as well as heightened concerns about extreme weather. To prepare for harsher storms, Green Mountain Power recently broke ground on the 2-MW Stafford Hill solar farm in Rutland County, Vt. The project, which includes 4 MW of battery storage, will provide backup power to a local emergency shelter. The company said the project is the first example in the country of a microgrid powered solely by solar with a battery backup and no other fuel source.

Crane applauded Powell and other Green Mountain Power officials for their efforts, noting that he, “for the most part,” has a “fairly low opinion of people who run utilities around the country.” Crane said too few are able to work around the “fundamental conflict” baked into the electric utility model: a corporate obligation to shareholders and a regulated mandate to serve ratepayers. [emphasis mine]

How much change do you think we will see in WV’s electrical system in the next five to 10 years?  Other than it getting a lot more expensive, I mean?  We’ll still be dependent on obsolete coal plants and all those “wooden poles.”

2 thoughts on “Vermont Seizing the Lead in Microgrid Development

  1. Solar power and micro-grids go hand in hand and Vermont is leading the nation by example. WV could follow their lead as far as economies of scale with the population densities somewhat similar I believe but with our state so dependent on fossil fuels via sweetheart deals made by regulated monopolies and their regulators the citizens have no voice in how our energy future is choreographed.

  2. You can see the future in this post. Vermont will be one of the few states to effectively keep the lights on through the next several decades, thanks to its monied residents and liberal influences. WV might be another one–but only if there’s enough coal, and only if we don’t care about obliterating mountains and streams, and trashing the climate and killing the coastal cities and various ecosystems–which we don’t. I think coal’s funeral dirges have been sung too early–there’s apparently plenty of it, it doesn’t take super high-tech to get it, and it supposedly has an Energy returned on Energy invested of 70 to one.

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