Vermont utility announces emissions-free “zero outages” initiative

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If ever a reader needed an example of an electric utility’s confidence in renewable energy to provide resilient, reliable power, one could look to Vermont’s Green Mountain Power, which recently launched a first-of-its-kind initiative to have zero power outages following infrastructure upgrades through 2030.

Green Mountain Power is a 100% carbon-free generation electric utility that sources more than 78% of its generation from renewable energy. It recently launched its Zero Outages Initiative, which “will deliver an energy system by 2030 where customers stay powered up across the state while reducing costs.”

The utility said this initiative is needed urgently following a devastating year of sever climate change-driven storms. Much of the state suffered widespread damage from floods in the Summer of 2023.

The plan calls for rapid acceleration of proven energy storage programs, proactive transmission line undergrounding, and system storm-hardening.

“We all see the severe impacts from storms, we know the impact outages have on your lives, and the status quo is no longer enough,” said Mari McClure, Green Mountain Power president and chief executive officer. “We are motivated to do all we can to combat climate change and create a Vermont that is sustainable and affordable, but we must move faster.”

The initiative leverages circuit-level resiliency data, topography, and other networks to determine the appropriate resiliency approaches for each of the utility’s 300 circuits. The approach is expected to ensure all customers experience zero outages, whether in a remote area of densely populated downtown.

The regulatory filing for the Zero Outages initiative calls for an investment of $280 million over the next two years, $250 of which call for undergrounding and storm-hardening lines, and $30 million for energy storage.

Major storms have caused over $115 million in damages in the utility’s service area, $45 million of which occurred in 2023. This spending gets customers reconnected after storm damage, but does little to prevent future outages, which are expected to become more frequent due to climate change.

“Projects to reinforce the grid and integrate energy storage are more important than ever. We know that we will continue to see an increase in extreme weather events, and research shows that every dollar invested in disaster preparedness and mitigation ultimately saves several times more in avoided response and recovery costs, while also preventing health and safety impacts,” said Jeff Schlegelmilch, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Climate School.

Green Mountain Power line worker Matt Butler working at the Panton solar/storage facility.

Green Mountain Power

The Zero Outages Initiative will also incorporate a variety of energy storage and microgrid approaches to boost resilience. It includes incorporating emerging technologies like vehicle-to-home storage. The initiative also includes funds to provide residential batteries to customers in remote locations, with a goal for all customers to have energy storage.

Green Mountain Power has displayed cost-effective programs in both microgrids and energy storage in the past, including home battery programs, community microgrid and Resiliency Zones, and a resilient all-electric neighborhood which is under construction now.

Vermont regulators recently agreed to GMP’s request to lift the enrollment cap on its home battery programs. There are currently 5,000 home customer batteries in the utility’s network, which also includes utility-scale batteries, controllable devices like EV chargers, and school bus batteries through vehicle-to-grid operations.

The filing for the Zero Grid Initiatives will undergo a public review process through the Vermont Public Utility Commission. If approved, the first projects would begin in mid-2024.

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