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With utility’s support, solar-plus-storage takes off in Vermont

PHOTO BY Staff Sgt. Aaron Breeden / U.S. Air Force

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Green Mountain Power is expanding solar-plus-storage pilot programs and finding success in the systems’ ability to reduce peak demand.

When Tom Feist and his wife, Linda Schadler, moved to northern Vermont last year, they knew they wanted a backup power source to protect them from bitter cold and snow and for added peace of mind in a relatively remote home. They immediately decided on a solar array to provide electricity, but had choices to make for a backup power system.

While a propane generator was cheaper than the initial $12,000 they eventually spent on the battery, the costs penciled out comparably over the lifetime of energy credits from the system in addition to lower maintenance expenses than what a generator would require.

“Long-term it looked like a better deal, for environmental and financial reasons,” Feist said.

Their home has a 10-kilowatt-hour battery with the solar system rated at 7.2 kilowatt peak power. “We can run a well, septic, heater, a refrigerator and some lights to keep comfortable, even if the power was out for an extended period,” Feist said.

The installation is part of a larger effort by a Vermont utility to encourage distributed energy and save money by reducing peak demand.

Feist enrolled in a pilot program launched by Green Mountain Power last year that has signed up more than 500 customers to test acceptance and operations of combined solar and battery storage systems. Results were so promising that a second and enhanced pilot program was announced in February.

‘We now see peaks after dark’

Green Mountain Power has worked to integrate battery storage into its system on a small scale, but in the past year it has deployed an increasing number of units. It began offering solar-storage platforms more than a year ago. It started a “bring your own device” program with batteries provided by third-party suppliers, first as a pilot and now as a consumer option.

In February, Green Mountain Power, along with Renewable Energy Vermont, announced an expanded version of the program that offers more services and includes program improvements suggested by customers.

“We started working with battery storage a few years ago to get an idea how it would work, decreasing load, providing value and system resiliency,” said Josh Castonguay, Green Mountain Power vice president and chief innovation officer.

Customers are able to buy batteries from third-party suppliers and the offerings now available have been expanded, in part based on customer requests.

Green Mountain Power originally provided only monthly bill credits based on the number of kilowatts the systems provided to the utility. “Folks asked if we could turn that bill credit into an up-front value, like an instant rebate, based on the future value stream they were going to get,” Castonguay said.

He said the utility knows the value of every kilowatt of reduced load, which it can then extrapolate over the 10-year expected life of the battery.

The new version of the program still provides a monthly bill credit, but customers can take a one-time credit on the value of the battery. The battery credit is valued at $850 per kilowatt-hour, up to $8,500 for the maximum that the program allows. Customers in grid constrained areas who add batteries to existing solar systems receive an extra $150 per kilowatt-hour. Customers who add their own electric vehicle chargers also receive bill credits of $10 per month.

“That provides value to all of our customers by giving them lower rates and providing more environmental benefits throughout the system” with reduced reliance on power plants, he added.

Castonguay said both pilots are limited to 2 megawatts. Based on system size, each program can accommodate 500 to 700 customers.

The programs are already showing value to the utility as it tries to lower its monthly and annual peaks.

“We hit peak late last August. In one hour, we were able to save our customers about $350,000 with about 3.5 megawatts of Powerwall batteries” by avoiding power purchases in the spot market, Castonguay said. “Every battery we add in incrementally, we’re just increasing the amount of savings.”

Collectively, Green Mountain Power is approaching 200 megawatts of installed solar, with another 50 megawatts in the queue. “It has done such a done a great job of crushing the monthly peaks, we now see peaks after dark,” he added.

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Apr 22, 2019 3:26 pm GMT

Bill, let's trace the lineage of so-called "Green Mountain Power." It sounds very much like a holistic, renewables-luvin', down-to-earth power company.

Maybe "down-in-Earth" would be more accurate.

Green Mountain's parent, Northern New England Energy Systems, has a parent too: Canadian natural gas giant Énergir, L.P., formerly known as Gaz Métro.

After the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011, Gaz Métro saw an opportunity to take advantage of irrational public fear. The energy behemoth first bought the original state-owned Green Mountain Power. Then, it generously donated to the campaigns of ex-Governor Pete Shumlin and Vermont senators to help close Vermont Yankee (VY) - a nuclear plant which, for 42 years, had provided the state with 72% of its electricity with zero carbon emissions - and replace it with electricity generated by burning gas piped in from Canada.

The reasoning provided by the state was "nuclear is no longer economical" - reasoning hard to justify, especially when VY owner Entergy sued the State of Vermont to allow it to keep the plant open, to no avail.

Now, GMP seeks to entice customers with credits to buy home-storage batteries, ones which will be wasting 15% of their electricity in storage losses behind-the-meter - after they've already paid for it (Vermonters will be paying 15% more,  for 15% dirtier energy).

So you'll have to excuse environmentalists for not accepting this greenwash coming from "Green Mountain Power". The company appears to be solely devoted to making Vermont, NE-ISO, and NYISO dependent on fossil fuel gas from Canada, and readers might mistakenly interpret green to stand for clean energy - not cash.

Yes Vermont Yankee

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