Green Mountain Power (GMP) prides itself on encouraging programs to accelerate clean energy adoption outside of traditional utility rate mechanisms.
This outlook is based on an internal cultural change, the seeds of which were planted when Mary Powell transitioned to the CEO position 12 years ago. GMP "set a really big, hairy, audacious goal," to transform the energy portfolio of Vermonters to a reliable, low-carbon, low-cost one, she said.
The Vermont-based investor-owned utility has since revolutionized its approach to expanding distributed energy resource access, ensuring that residential battery systems are being aggregated into grid resources while also saving customers money.
"That first vision just naturally then grew into building out a community home and business-based energy system," she told Utility Dive.
"She's probably one of the most forward-thinking utility CEOs that I know."
Former Tesla Powerwall lead
GMP became the first U.S. utility to put Tesla Powerwall batteries into people's homes, and this year, it expanded the offering to let customers bring their own battery, partnering with residential energy developers to prioritize customer choice.
Before identifying this opportunity and working with Tesla to create an offering for a distributed resource that could be used to lower peak energy usage, GMP created a number of products that encouraged a distributed grid, such as a distributed solar offering.
"She's probably one of the most forward-thinking utility CEOs that I know," Arch Rao, the former Tesla lead on the Powerwall, told Utility Dive. He had worked with Powell and GMP's chief innovation officer to create the distributed storage rollout.
"The approach to allowing a small subset of the customers to quickly experience new technologies with funding support from them makes a whole lot of sense to me," he said, as opposed to integrating new tech into a multi-year planning process.
Since GMP started offering Powerwalls to a set amount of customers, other utilities have begun experimenting with similar offerings, such as Liberty Utilities in neighboring New Hampshire.
GMP continuously aims to expand customer offerings, even when decreasing its own load growth. The utility created a complete off-grid energy package a few years ago to design a way to take a state park off-grid due to the difficulties in powering the remote location.
"Every single person on the leadership team is responsible for innovation."
A project or offering "has to first satisfy the needs of the customer and then satisfy the needs of the utility," Jen Szaro, vice president of the Smart Electric Power Alliance, told Utility Dive. "Until utilities kind of grasp that and really apply it to their products and services development, they're going to have a hard time selling [a program] not just to the customer ... but to the regulators as well."
Powell announced her resignation in September. She will be succeeded by Mari McClure, who has worked closely with Powell for almost a decade.
Powell prides herself on creating a culture of innovation and execution, which is meant to continue without her based on the experience of GMP's leadership. McClure agreed.
"One of the, in my view, biggest benefits of the timing of this transition is the fact that the team here at Green Mountain Power has been together for a long time," she said. "We have built into our DNA the cultural foundations and the customer obsession."
On average, GMP execs have worked with Powell for more than 12 years
"Every single person on the leadership team is responsible for innovation," Powell said.
State legislators and regulators also helped create a space for new products, such as more distributed energy offerings, according to Powell.
"A huge part of what we've accomplished could never be accomplished without what I call Team Vermont," she said.