By George Harvey
On September 15, Green Mountain Power CEO Mary Powell, Vermont Congressman Peter Welch, Governor Peter Shumlin, Rutland Mayor Chris Louras, and others gathered to announce that Rutland, Vermont, is the Solar Capital of New England. What they mean by this is that there is significantly more solar power generated in Rutland, per capita, that in any other city in the region.
The effort to achieve the goal has been underway since it was announced, in 2013. The target was to get 7,000 kilowatts (kW) of solar photovoltaics (PVs) installed. That goal was surpassed, however. The total capacity of PVs installed to date was 7,870 kW. Perhaps more important in its implications is the fact that the original goal, for the installation to be completed by 2017, was achieved over a year early.
There were fifty-one PV installations put up as part of the project. The smallest were quite small, as two were only one kW each. Three were of 2,000 kW or larger. Seven were made possible by grants from GMP.
The projects in Rutland date to considerations arising during the merger of GMP with Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS). Rutland was the home of CVPS, which had its main offices there, and employed a lot of people locally. A merger would make many workers’ jobs redundant, meaning there was a possibility that some employees would lose their jobs. There was concern that Rutland, which was hardly excessively prosperous, could be hit hard economically. The issue was recognized in advance, and a way to address it became part of the merger negotiations.
One GMP proposal was to open a research center in Rutland. While the Energy Innovation Center provides local employment, it has also turned out to produce some very interesting work. Among other things, it has studied new ways to understand how a utility can benefit customers while still making a decent living for itself. GMP has been working to develop not just a new utility business plan, but a new paradigm for its place in society.
Of special interest for the present, however, GMP has been giving value to the Rutland economy by moving it toward solar power. That was the reason for the push to make it the solar capital. It provided employment, and contributed significantly to the local economy.
Solar power also can contribute to the energy security of the city. GMP built a microgrid, with a 4,000 kW battery for power backup, that can provide emergency power to essential services including the emergency shelter at the high school, the hospital, and other facilities.
When solar power is installed it has an interesting effect on power costs. It helps stabilize wholesale prices during the time of day when demand is highest. Ultimately, this can produce important savings for customers.
The efficiencies resulting from the merger had impressive value for ratepayers throughout Vermont. GMP promised this to be $144 million over 10 years. Some of this would be in reduced electricity costs. There would be other forms of return, however, and ways to benefit everyone, especially those who needed it most, have been examined.
GMP has not limited its efforts to Rutland. It has been helping customers throughout its service area reduce their energy costs significantly. For that purpose, it is introduced and expanded programs to help with installation of solar panels, heat pumps, insulation, improved windows, air sealing, and more. GMP is also interested in extending distributed generation in other parts of the state, though no specific plans have been announced as yet.
One final point is that while GMP was doing these things, it somehow remembered to visit the Public Service Board with requests for permission to reduce our electric rates each year since the merger. Elsewhere, power rates have gone up, but in GMP’s territory, they have declined.
Capacity in kW
33 homes and businesses
Rutland Regional Ambulance
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
VT Farmers Food Center
Rutland Region TV-Peg TV
The Paramount Theatre
Rutland County Parent Child Center 9
College of St. Joseph
Electrical Maintenance Building
Energy Innovation Center
GMP Grove Street
GMP Solar Center @ Rutland Regional
NextSun Route 7 array
Next Sun Park Street array
NRG Residential Solar Solution
Grand Total, 51 projects