Vermont seeks $66 million in stimulus funds for “Smart Grid”

Posted August 7, 2009

Vermont’s utilities, working with the Department of Public Service, Vermont’s congressional offices and the Vermont Office of Economic Stimulus and Recovery, have filed a $66 million application for federal stimulus funds to deploy advanced metering, new customer enhancements, grid automation and security technologies statewide. 
The grant, if approved, would pay up to half the costs of $133 million in improvements across Vermont.
The application outlined the statewide effort, known as eEnergy Vermont. It was filed on behalf of 20 Vermont electric distribution utilities, Efficiency Vermont and Vermont Electric Power Company (VELCO), the state’s transmission utility, which have all worked together on the project, with the Department of Energy’s Smart Grid Investment Grant Program.
A “smart grid” delivers electricity to customers using digital technology to save energy, reduce cost and increase reliability and transparency. It can also reduce the need for new transmission lines to carry peak loads. In Vermont, smart grid projects will include a statewide fiber optic build-out by VELCO that enhances Vermont’s grid, improves interconnections with surrounding states and Quebec, and facilitates statewide broadband.
“This will be a very competitive process and Vermont will be competing for funds nationwide against some of the largest players in the utility business, however, I am very impressed with the work done by our utilities and the quality of our application,” said Public Service Commissioner David O’Brien. “The most important thing for folks to know is that a smart grid is all about serving consumers better. They will be empowered through smart meters that will allow them to make the best choices for them while their utility will be able to enhance reliability of the grid and reduce operational costs.”
Tom Evslin, chief recovery officer for Vermont, said a successful application would give customers new tools to reduce environmental impacts of energy use and take control of their consumption.
“This application is not only very well coordinated between all the electrical utilities in Vermont but also a key part of our overall SmartVermont initiative to focus stimulus funding,” Evslin said. “The fiber being built to every substation in the state brings a wealth of high-speed Internet capacity at affordable prices to places where even limited access was priced so high that it was unusable for most purposes. The same fiber backbone that connects the automated equipment in utility substations will carry readings from meters, enable consumers to better see and control their electrical use, connect schools and hospitals to the world, make eHealth and eEducation practical in very corner of the state, and assure that bandwidth is not an obstacle to business success in Vermont.”
“These efforts are designed to empower customers to better participate in the energy marketplace, enhance Vermont’s ability to integrate new generation and energy storage systems, including new renewable energy projects, improve transmission and distribution system performance, and enhance grid reliability,” the utilities said in a joint statement. “Customers will ultimately be able to reduce their environmental impacts, their energy use and their bills through smarter energy consumption.”
The eEnergy Vermont project is a set of interrelated initiatives closely coordinated by the participating utilities. “These initiatives will significantly improve the reliability and intelligence of the Vermont grid while fostering better coordination and management within the Vermont system and with the New England, New York and Quebec systems with which the Vermont grid integrates,” the utilities said. “Throughout the project, best practices developed by the Vermont utilities will be shared within Vermont and with the DOE.”
There are three primary areas of focus:
  • Automated metering infrastructure and smart meters will create a technical infrastructure that will allow Vermont utilities to introduce new peak and time-of-use dynamic pricing, and enhance existing Outage Management Systems. Vermont customers and utilities will be able to reduce peak consumption, improve system reliability, reduce carbon emissions, provide consumer-driven energy choices, and make electricity more affordable than it would otherwise be.
  • Customer systems such as in-home displays that provide real-time feedback and information about home energy usage and pricing will be deployed within Vermont to fundamentally change how customers manage their electricity.
  • Electric distribution and transmission system grid automation will allow Vermont utilities to build a more reliable and secure grid that can automatically adjust and react to system conditions and more easily integrate distributed generation. 
Many Vermont utilities had been looking into deploying so-called smart-grid technologies on their own. Through the eEnergy Vermont application, each utility will maintain its own programs, but through the statewide effort will benefit from each other’s experiences. For example, studies will be conducted on how social networking can be used to educate customers on how to best use smart meter technologies, and how to shift load to off-peak hours.
“This is an important effort with unprecedented cooperation by utilities large and small, the DPS and the state’s Recovery Office,” the utilities said. “We believe our application for statewide improvements in a small, rural state may have tremendous appeal to the Department of Energy, and we’re hopeful that it will be approved. If not, our efforts to modernize our systems will continue, though they will occur at a faster pace with this funding.”
Congressional delegation supports application
All three members of the Vermont congressional delegation support the application.
“Having pushed for this funding in the economic recovery plan, I am pleased to see Vermont’s utilities come together as Vermonters to put together this statewide application,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.  “If funded, this effort will speed the advancement of a Smart Grid in Vermont, helping empower Vermont’s consumers, businesses and utilities achieve smarter and more efficient energy consumption, with lower greenhouse emissions, while making Vermont a more competitive place to do business.”
“I strongly support this application by Vermont’s utilities to take advantage of the economic stimulus plan and take a major step forward in moving our state toward a greener economy,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate green jobs subcommittee. “Smart Grid technologies improve reliability and service quality while allowing consumers more control over their energy use – thus improving the state’s energy conservation and efficiency.  This is an opportunity for Vermont to once again take the lead in energy efficiency and the green economy.”
“This initiative is a further demonstration of Vermont’s commitment to developing a smarter, more reliable and more efficient energy infrastructure. The unique collaboration between the state, its federal representatives and all of Vermont’s utilities makes this application unique and highly worthy of federal investment,” said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. “With this effort, Vermont has the potential to retain its leadership role in developing a smarter energy infrastructure, reducing its contribution to climate change and saving money for consumers and businesses alike.”