Vermont power utility Green Mountain Power (GMP) is responding to a recent spate of severe storms by offering battery storage to every household it serves.
The company has sought regulatory approval for a Zero Outages Initiative that would invest up to US$250 million in “hardening” the state grid to make it more efficient and $30 million in community and customer energy storage programs, after spending $45 million last winter to restore its system in the wake of six major storms, Utility Dive reports.
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Outages from a series of smaller storms cost GMP another $10 million.
“The plan is a big departure from how U.S. utilities normally do business,” the New York Times writes. “Most of them make money by building and operating power lines that deliver electricity from natural gas power plants or wind and solar farms to homes and businesses. Green Mountain—a relatively small utility serving 270,000 homes and businesses—would still use that infrastructure but build less of it by investing in television-size batteries that homeowners usually buy on their own.”
“Call us the un-utility,” CEO Mari McClure told the Times. “We’re completely flipping the model, decentralizing it.”
The plan is a direct result of Vermont’s recent experience with climate change, McClure added in an interview with Utility Dive.
“We’ve had our worst storms in Vermont history in the last 10 years,” she said. With costs this high today, “it doesn’t take very long in a climate-changed world to get to $80, $100 million a year.”
McClure said the three goals of the Zero Outages Initiative are to move more distribution lines underground, replace existing cabling with “tree wire” where foliage crowds the right of way, and “bring energy storage to all Vermonters by 2030”. Rural areas in the central and southern parts of the state will receive priority for storm hardening.
The new program will ultimately replace existing programs that enable customers to lease batteries or “bring your own device” and connect it to the grid.
“Where we came up with the concept was living both as the folks responsible in the state for providing this grid, and as Vermonters,” McClure said. “We experienced what this past winter was like, relative to the weather and our own outages in our homes.”
So “instead of running from it, or burying our head in the sand, we’re staring it right in the face, and making the appropriate changes we think we need to make to keep ourselves safe and to lower costs,” she said.
Overall, “the company expects to invest an estimated $1.5 billion over the next seven years — money that it would recoup through electricity rates,” the Times says. “Green Mountain would control the batteries, allowing it to program them to soak up energy when wind turbines and solar panels were producing a lot of it. Then, when demand peaked on a hot summer day, say, the batteries could release electricity.”
McClure called recent innovations in energy storage a “big game-changer” that enables grids to decentralize and “unlocks the power of renewable energy.” With long-duration batteries on the near horizon, “it’s important now, while those technologies are being developed and becoming cost effective, that we set up our system to be ready for it,” she added.
While utilities frequently face criticism for failing to innovate, recognize the climate impacts they face, or invest in distributed energy resources that are becoming increasingly affordable, Green Mountain Power is receiving early praise for its battery plan. “It really is the model, especially if you’re worried about power outages,” said U.S. climate hawk Leah Stokes, an associate professor of environmental politics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It really could become the example for the rest of the country.”