Green Mountain Power is trying to turn homes, neighborhoods and towns into virtual power plants, driven by economics as well as environmental goals.
By Diane Cardwell
WALTHAM, Vt. — In a new low-income development that replaced a trailer park here, rooftop solar panels sparkle in the sun while backup batteries quietly hum away in utility closets.
About an hour away, in Rutland, homes and businesses along a once-distressed corridor are installing the latest in energy-saving equipment, including special insulation and heat pumps.
And throughout Vermont, customers are signing up for a new program that will allow them to power their homes while entirely disconnected from the grid.
The projects are part of a bold experiment aimed at turning homes, neighborhoods and towns into virtual power plants, able to reduce the amount of energy they draw from the central electric system. But behind them are not green energy advocates or proponents of living off the land. Instead, it’s the local electric company, Green Mountain Power.
Even as the Trump administration has broken with almost all the world’s nations by renouncing the Paris climate accord, the Vermont program offers just one example of the continuing efforts at the local level to rethink a largely carbon-based power system. The initiatives are driven by financial advantages as well as environmental ones.
Green Mountain’s chief executive, Mary Powell, sees the program here as the best way to please customers while making the system more environmentally and physically sustainable.
“Customers, especially in Vermont with the energy-independence values that people have, want to move more toward self-generation,” she said, seated in a bright orange modernist chair in a meeting area in the company’s open-plan headquarters near Burlington.
“The opportunity for us,” she added, is to lead the transformation of an electric system that depends on power sent along big transmission lines “to a community-, home- and business-based energy system.”