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Green Mountain Power: Going for Gold

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Nevelyn Black's picture
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Nevelyn Black is an independent writer with a background in broadcast and a keen interest in renewable energy.  In the last few years, she transitioned from celebrity interviews and film shoots...

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  • Jul 30, 2021

The New England state of Vermont is going for the gold in areas of business and beyond.  New data released shows Vermont is first in the number of residents who have received as least one of their COVID vaccine shots.  The state is also the first to finish integrating women into the National Guard’s combat arms units and they recently hired their first Black female police chief.  Now the state’s utility, Green Mountain Power (GMP), is stealing the lead with the first U.S. utility-built community microgrid able to run on renewable energy without a fossil-fuel backup.  “You play hard, and winning takes care of itself,” stated GMP CEO Mari McClure. She continued, “That’s the analogy to our transformation work.”  The utility is working toward a more decentralized approach using technologies like networks of utility-connected devices and new, cheaper battery storage.  The challenges are many but Josh Castonguay, VP of engineering and innovation at GMP is optimistic. “This won’t work. That won’t work. They’re all things that you’ve just gotta engineer through.”  With its Powerwall program, GMP plans to offset peak demand by sending stored electricity to the grid from residential systems around the state, creating a “virtual power plant” (VPP).  As the microgrid industry streamlined development and financing, costs have dropped, software has advanced and popularity has grown.  Several communities in California, New Jersey and Maryland are adopting microgrids through government or utility sponsored programs.  In New Hampshire, Liberty Utilities started a battery VPP program in 2018.  One year later, Rocky Mountain Power of Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho followed suit.  Portland General Electric and Southern California Edison launched programs last year and this month, Hawaiian Electric made up to $34 million available for those who add batteries to their solar power projects.  Arizona Public Service launched a $1,250 incentive for anyone that installs a new battery and allows up to 80 percent of it to be used during events. In Chelsea, Massachusetts residents will have access to a new microgrid and Cuyahoga, OH is considering microgrids to ensure reliability for several municipalities, the Cleveland-Hopkins International Airport and the NASA Glenn Research Center.  Just outside of Chicago, Bronzeville, Illinois will create the nation’s first utility-operated microgrid cluster.  

Could microgrids and virtual power plants comprised of residential energy storage systems eliminate the need for fossil fuel backups across the nation?  As many as 50,000 Powerwalls are being made available, in California, to create “the largest distributed battery system in the world.”  Tesla's South Australian plant is almost 10% deployed and the plant has already met demand during complex events.  Back in Vermont, Green Mountain Power has expanded its own VPP initiative, investing about $30 million to sign up more than 2,000 homes in one of the largest utility-coordinated home battery programs in the country.  What investments are you making to revolutionize the grid, increase reliability and prevent the pitfalls associated with climate change?

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jul 30, 2021

With its Powerwall program, GMP plans to offset peak demand by sending stored electricity to the grid from residential systems around the state, creating a “virtual power plant” (VPP).

Excited to see early results from this-- and it'll just be a fraction of what such a route can do in the future when widespread EVs get 'plugged' into the VPP!

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jul 30, 2021

Matt, don't get too excited, some history is in order -

Vermont's utility Green Mountain Power (GMP) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Canadian energy giant Énergir, the largest gas distribution company in Quebec and supplier of Vermont's natural gas.

Formerly known as Gaz Métro, Énergir bought Green Mountain Power in 2007 under a cloud of influence peddling with associates of Vermont Governor Pete Shumlin. The governor and Gaz Métro, aided by local antinuke crazies, immediately set about enacting onerous regulatory policy to force the shut down Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant (VY). Gaz Métro's goal was to dominate Vermont's electricity generation with gas-fired power.

VY, however, was the source of 80% of Vermont's electricity, and virtually all of its clean electricity. The plant had operated safely for forty years, generating 650 MW of clean electricity day and night. Owner Entergy had no intention of shutting down the profitable plant, and even sued the State of Vermont to keep it open. But under the thumb of Gaz Métro and unrelenting pressure from the state, Entergy finally succumbed. VY was shut down in 2013.

So with Vermont electricity sewn up, why is Énergir now adding batteries to the grid (hint: it has nothing to do with clean energy)? Two reasons:

1) It's cheaper than building additional biomass capacity to meet peak consumption. Featured in the film Planet of the Humans, Vermont's "co-fired" biomass plants are really gas plants with some wood chips thrown in to look "green". Unsurprisingly, they're powered by Énergir's natural gas, imported from Canada.

2) Batteries waste anywhere from 10-20% of stored electricity through resistance losses. Why would a utility want to waste electricity? Because the cost of fuel that generates it is charged to ratepayers, and the more gas Vermont's biomass plants waste, the more money Énergir makes.

Vermonters like to brag about how Vermont's in-state generation is nearly 100% renewable. Pay no attention, they're conveniently omitting the fact a full 3/4 of its electricity is imported from other states, where the electricity is mostly generated by burning gas.

Everywhere you go, you'll find support for renewables is All About Selling More Gas.

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