Vermont utility building microgrid to provide backup power for town


Green Mountain Power (GMP) will break ground this spring on a utility microgrid in Panton, Vermont, offering a new way to keep the power on for residents, farms, and municipal buildings in the town center during power outages.

GMP said Panton is the perfect place for this project because it leverages the utility’s existing 4.9 MW solar facility with utility-scale batteries already up and running in the town. GMP noted it will be among the first utilities in the country to island a distribution circuit using inverter-based sources with no reliance on fossil fuel generation backup.

“It is heartbreaking to see the impacts of extreme weather across the country, and it’s a sad but important reminder that we must innovate to build resiliency to protect from extreme, unpredictable weather,” said Mari McClure, GMP’s president and CEO.

In the event of a prolonged grid outage, the Panton microgrid will enable energy from the batteries and solar panels to flow to a network of customers served by the traditional grid. According to GMP, this islanding effect will work independently from the larger electric system when needed and could provide battery backup power for days.

To start, the project will help keep power on during outages for about 50 customers in Panton, with the planned possible expansion to include another 900 customers on that circuit. The utility noted the batteries are also used to lower costs for all GMP customers during peak energy times.

Resiliency zones like the one created by Panton’s microgrid are a core feature of the GMP Climate Plan, a package of infrastructure initiatives approved by Vermont’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) last year to make communities more resistant to outages and help ensure they can recover more quickly if outages occur.

The PUC approved the microgrid phase of the Panton project in fall 2020. GMP’s solar and energy storage facility in Panton first came online in 2019. Since then, the utility’s engineering teams have been designing the microgrid aspect, which is expected to be fully constructed and working for customers by the end of June.

This year, GMP will be working with three additional towns most affected by weather-related outages to create resiliency zones. Using outage data, GMP outreach is underway to determine interest from possible towns to join the program. GMP said it plans to build on this work, adding more resiliency zones in more towns every year.

GMP also continues to deploy batteries in customers’ homes and businesses. According to the utility, there are about 3,000 home battery systems in its service area that provide power to customers during outages, as well as help save money for all utility customers by driving down cost on peak energy days.

GMP offers two home battery programs: the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and Powerwall programs developed in partnership with local solar companies. GMP’s BYOD for Business program also recently helped Vermont’s statehouse become one of the first in the country to have battery backup.

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