- Vermont utility Green Mountain Power, or GMP, submitted a petition Monday to the Vermont Public Utility Commission asking it to approve a Zero Outages Initiative aimed at grid hardening and decentralizing energy in the state by providing batteries to customers.
- GMP is seeking authorization for up to $250 million in hardening investments, along with $30 million for customer and community storage programs, saying these investments will “save on operations ... while providing many tangible benefits to the grid and for customers.”
- “We've had our worst storms in Vermont history in the last ten years,” GMP CEO Mari McClure said in an interview. The utility spent $45 million last winter restoring the system after major storms, she said. “It doesn't take very long in a climate-changed world to get to $80, $100 million a year.”
The three goals of the Zero Outages Initiative are to accelerate the undergrounding of distribution lines, replace existing main feeder cables with tree wire and “bring energy storage to all Vermonters by 2030,” McClure said. The initiative is particularly focused on storm hardening the most rural areas of the state, located in central and southern Vermont.
GMP currently offers customers the ability to lease batteries from the utility or participate in a “bring your own device” program to connect a customer’s battery to the grid, but this initiative proposes providing utility-owned batteries directly to all customers, “not just those who can lease or pay for a system,” the petition says.
“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.”
The six major storms that impacted Vermont last winter were a significant factor, McClure said. In addition to the $45 million spent after major storms, GMP spent an additional $10 million responding to smaller storms that also caused outages.
“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.
The “big game changer,” according to McClure, is recent innovations in energy storage that are driving decentralization and the establishment of a distributed grid. “Storage unlocks the power of renewable energy,” she said.
In addition to embracing existing technology like microgrids, McClure said the near-future promise of long-duration storage is why GMP’s leadership feels “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.”
The initiative builds off of a climate plan GMP filed in 2020, which McClure said was the utility’s first opportunity to speak with regulators about their observations of changes to weather patterns and vegetation growth.
The petition asks VPUC to approve the $280 million in proposed spending, schedule a prehearing conference on the petition, and review the petition and issue an order in a timely fashion.
McClure said GMP’s goal is to decentralize energy in Vermont and shift the state’s grid to a distributed system – a future she said she envisions for the entire U.S., with the concepts of baseload and supply following demand becoming “very outdated.”
“We're already very much on our way to that,” she said. “And with that, we can tackle any challenge thrown our way – whether it's severe weather, cyber or physical attacks on the greater grid, or regional load issues. That's how we see the future, and that's what we're building towards.”