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Green Mountain Power is set to deliver big

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Henry Craver's picture
Small Business Owner Self-employed

As a small business owner, I'm always trying to find ways to cut costs and boost the dependability of my services. To that end, I've become increasingly invested in learning about energy saving...

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  • May 29, 2020
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Yesterday, Vermont regulators okayed Green Mountain Power’s ambitious customer-sited battery storage program. Starting June 5th, the utility will open enrollment in the Tesla Powerwall program, although customers will also have to option to subscribe to their own storage system’s rates for the next 15 years. If all goes swimmingly, this new initiative could represent the first time an American utility uses customer-sited storage to lower peak demand across its system. 

GMP has been gearing up for this moment for the past five years. In 2015, the utility partnered with Tesla to build up their solar-battery system. Shortly after, a BYOD pilot program was started at the behest of local installers. As it stands today, GMP has about 14 MW spread out on residential batteries, and 100 MW at peaking facilities. GMP expects to add as many as 1,00 powerwall batteries per year, making 5MW, and an additional MW a year through the BYOD tariff. 

There is, as you’d guess, a cap on new enrollment for the Powerwall program. As many as 500 customers can buy into the Powerwall program each year for a 10-year lease that can then be extended to 15 years at no extra cost to the customer. Customers have the option to buy the pair of Tesla batteries for $5,500 up front, or in monthly payments of $55 for the duration of the lease. 

The BYOD option promises its 500 participants up to $10,500 in immediate incentives. Customers control their savings by choosing the amount of stored power to register through other local storage providers—that is the same energy GMP will ultimately dip into during peak demand. 

Coinciding with the Powerwall and BYOD plans, GMP is rolling out a slew of incentives titled “Go, Save & Share Green with GMP”.  The initiative is being branded as a response to COVID-19, a way to help customers save money and help out struggling local businesses. However, many of the programs clearly benefit the utility, like by reducing peak demands. The “Save and Share” program was described as such in an article at VermontBiz: 

“Launches in July. Help Vermonters in need by reducing your energy use during peak demand times on the grid. This saves all GMP customers money and some of those savings will be shared with the Vermont Foodbank. Enroll, and you will get notifications about peaks. Turn down your power use to help others. It is that easy!”

It will be interesting, for the utility industry and Elon Musk fanboys, to see how GMP’s Powerwall plan turns out. There’s been a lot of talk over the last decade about the potential of residential battery systems to buttress our grids and pave the way for renewables. Maybe the moment is finally here. 

I hope Powerwall and other distributed battery systems really are capable of alleviating the tension between renewables and load management. Over the past five years, cities around the country have rapidly adopted solar and electric transportation.  A new study by the Environment America Research and Policy center found that U.S. cities have more than doubled their total installed PV capacity since 2013. What’s more, I suspect COVID will accelerate the electrification of cities. Companies, many of whom were on the fence about automation, have been pushed to go all in during the pandemic. Companies that were already invested in robot futures, like uber, are now moving even faster. It’s possible the new tech proves radically more efficient, thus not overtaxing the grid, but there are no guarantees.


 

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on May 31, 2020

Henry, some background on Green Mountain Power (GMP), Vermont's power monopoly, is apropos.

The utility, with singular determination, pursued the shutdown of Vermont Yankee Power Plant (VY) in 2012. Why? The nuclear plant had operated safely and economically for nearly fifty years, providing 70% of Vermont's electricity with no carbon emissions.

Maybe it was because four years earlier Canadian gas supergiant Gaz Métro had bought GMP, and wanted to replace VY with gas generation (they did). Though GMP claimed VY would be replaced with solar and wind, sales of gas would be worth $billions more in future profit (it was).

Maybe Gaz Métro could build some wind turbines on ridgelines, so residents would think renewables could take the place of VY's steady generation (not even close). When the wind wasn't blowing maybe they could burn trees, clear-cut from Vermont forests, to generate electricity - then label it "biomass" so Vermonters would think it was sustainable (they did, and it wasn't).

This photo on the film poster for Michael Moore's documentary Planet of the Humans shows an example of the destruction wrought when Gaz Métro / GMP bulldozed 3 miles of pristine ridgeline in Lowell to make way for 21 wind turbines:

Maybe GMP CEO Mary Powell cemented the deal by chairing Governor Shumlin's Inaugural Ball, raising $190,000 from Vermont's political and corporate elite, with GMP kicking in $5,000 of the kitty (they did).

These are the forces clean nuclear energy is up against. In 2020, U.S. energy is all about selling fuel, and nuclear? Maybe it's not un-economical but too economical, and maybe the only purpose of wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries is to greenwash natural gas (sure looks that way).

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