Earlier this month, Green Mountain Power (GPM) asked the Vermont Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for permission to install batteries in the homes where power losses occur most often as a way to save money and make sure customers are never without power.
The request to the PUC notes that installing batteries is cheaper than building new power lines and is also cheaper than repairing and replacing power lines that are damaged in an increasing number of extreme weather events.
The brainchild of the company’s new CEO Mari McClure, the plan is not how most utilities do business. Most utilities build and operate power lines that bring electricity into buildings. That power comes from fossil fuels and wind and solar and hydro sources. GPM would continue to use its existing infrastructure but build less by purchasing and installing batteries in people’s homes.
In an interview with the New York Times, McClure said that GMP realized that paying recovery costs and building more power lines to improve its system would cost a lot more and take a lot longer than equipping homes with batteries.
GMP will be spending some $1.5 billion over the next seven years to install the batteries and the company will continue its existing program that allows homeowners to lease Tesla batteries.
Once installed, GMP will maintain control of the batteries, charging them with energy when a lot is being produced by wind and solar. Power would be released as needed during peak demands -until there’s a power outage and then batteries will power customers’ homes.
This idea is being hailed nationally as forward thinking and a storm smart way to reduce costs and power outages. As part of the battery program, the utility wants to bury more lines and strengthen cables to reduce damage from storms and falling trees.
Extreme weather events are happening with ever greater frequency. The Valley saw a 500 year flood in 1998 and again in 2011 with Tropical Storm Irene and Vermont saw a 500 year flood this summer. And that’s just flooding. Kudos to Green Mountain Power for a bold plan to better keep the lights on during extreme weather while acknowledging that a changing planet means traditional operating procedures won’t work anymore.