Trailblazing Vermont Utility Helps Customers Adopt Off-Grid Energy
One of the United States’ most innovative utilities, Vermont’s Green Mountain Power, is helping customers reduce their electricity use and increase their reliance on off-grid power, in a bid to cut peak demand and reduce costs as a result.
“Throughout Vermont, customers are signing up for a new program that will allow them to power their homes while entirely disconnected from the grid,” the New York Times reports. “The projects are part of a bold experiment aimed at turning homes, neighbourhoods, and towns into virtual power plants, able to reduce the amount of energy they draw from the central electricity system.”
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“Customers, especially in Vermont with the energy independence values that people have, want to move more toward self-generation,” said CEO Mary Powell. For the utility, that translates into a shift from a traditional grid built on big transmission lines “to a community-, home-, and business-based energy system.”
The front-line results of the program range from a solar+storage project in a low-income housing development in Waltham, VT, to an energy efficiency initiative in nearby Rutland. The Times notes that the programs are a win for utility and communities alike.
“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,” writes reporter Diane Cardwell. “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 and other technologies give customers more control.”
While many utilities see the transition as an existential threat, Green Mountain 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,” said local customer Dan Reicher, executive director of Stanford University’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance.
Green Mountain Power has also invested in larger wind and solar projects that have drawn local critics, including newly-elected Republican Governor Phil Scott. “But many customers say they are happy to be part of greening the area’s energy supply,” the Times notes, “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.”