It’s a small project, but Green Mountain Power’s new $10 million solar/storage project in Rutland, VT, could have a big impact—both in Vermont and throughout the electric utility industry.
The project initially was designed as a simple 2 MW PV farm, and is still called the Stafford Hill Solar Farm, but it has morphed into much more than that. The facility now includes 4 MW of battery storage and islanding capability, and is being touted by the Energy Department as the first of what it hopes will be many “resilient microgrid projects’’ nationwide designed to help utilities and consumers alike cope with the probability of more, and more severe storms and other grid disruptions in the years ahead.
It’s clear that utilities need a different approach to grid disruptions, Dr. Imre Gyuk said during a recent webinar discussing the GMP project. The traditional approach has been to rely on diesel generators, but Gyuk, who runs the energy storage program in DOE’s Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, pointed out that 50 percent of the installed diesel generators failed to start when needed following Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
A much better solution, he continued, is building a microgrid powered by renewable energy that is coupled with storage. Such a unit, he said, would be able “to provide essential services during emergencies.’’
Speaking on the same webinar, Mary Powell, GMP’s CEO, went even further.
“[The project] is…a key part of our vision for the future for our customers,’’ said Powell. The utility has been moving diligently toward creating a cleaner/greener, and still cost-effective, future since 2008, she added, and this is a key component of that effort.
Over the last couple of years, Powell continued, the utility has realized that the best approach is to embrace new technologies—including renewables, storage and EVs, to name just a few—and figure out how to make them work. GMP does not develop these technologies, Powell noted, but the utility prides itself on being a “fast implementer’’.
To expand on the Stafford Hill project, Josh Castonguay, director of generation and renewable innovation at GMP, explained that the utility will be looking hard to ensure that its systemwide renewable capacity isn’t capped by some arbitrary ceiling. “We don’t want to be limited as to how much renewable energy we can deploy on the distribution system,’’ he told the webinar.
Another company goal, Castonguay said, is to look at distributed energy storage and develop the means of aggregating that storage into a usable resource.
GMP clearly is looking to take advantage of the current changes buffeting the industry, and build a future that works for the company and its customers—it is a lesson that others in the industry would be well-advised to take to heart.