In the past 12 months, Vermont has endured an unprecedented number of damaging storms.
In December, a powerful winter storm known as a bomb cyclone brought 70 mph wind gusts, freezing temperatures and left more than 75,000 people without power two days before Christmas. In July, catastrophic and historic flooding across the state made national headlines. Roads and bridges were washed away, and power was knocked out for days until flood waters receded and crews could repair the damage.
“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, president and CEO of Green Mountain Power (GMP), the state’s largest electric utility.
To boost the resiliency of its system and to reduce costs for both the company and consumers, GMP has announced a Zero Outages Initiative, which aims to ensure all customers, whether they are city dwellers or those living in remote areas, experience zero power outages by 2030.
Microgrids are a key component of the initiative
The multiyear initiative will create layers of resilience through the undergrounding and storm-hardening of power lines as well as the deployment of energy storage batteries and microgrids.
GMP will use circuit-level resiliency data, community vulnerability data from the Centers for Disease Control, topography and other metrics to prioritize and develop resiliency plans for each of the utility’s 300 circuits.
The company expects to complete the work in two phases, first addressing customers in rural central and southern Vermont.
According to GMP’s filing with regulators, phase one of the Zero Outages Initiative will be accomplished over the next two years. During this phase, the utility expects to invest $250 million in undergrounding and storm-hardening power lines and $30 million on energy storage projects, including microgrids and residential batteries for those living in remote locations.
Plans for phase two, which should launch in 2026, have not yet been filed, but GMP expects to integrate emerging technologies like bidirectional charging, which allows homes to use electric vehicle batteries as a power source.
“Projects to reinforce the grid and integrate energy storage are more important than ever,” said Jeff Schlegelmilch, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Climate School. He delivered a similar message during his keynote address at Microgrid 2022, Microgrid Knowledge’s annual industry conference.
More than just resilience: Lower costs and improved safety are other expected benefits of the initiative
Building resilience into the grid is essential because it facilitates broader well-being, Schlegelmilch added.
But resilience can also reduce costs to both the utility and the customer. The Zero Outages initiative is expected to ultimately do just that.
GMP, which provides electricity to more than 75% of the state, said the three worst storms in its history in terms of damage occurred in the last 12 months. Those repairs cost the utility more than $45 million.
Over the past 10 years, storms in the GMP service area caused $115 million in damage – with 40% of those costs hitting in just the last two years.
“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,” Schlegelmilch said.
“This will be a game changer,” said Mike Tyler, a GMP line worker based in Rutland, Vermont. “For customers, the lights stay on for them, and then for us in the field, it increases safety. … Our exposure to the most severe elements will be reduced with Zero Outages, and our neighbors stay powered up.”
A first of its kind initiative
GMP believes its Zero Outages Initiative is a first of its kind in the U.S.
The initiative will build on steps the utility has taken to improve its resilience and create a large energy storage network. In addition to 50 miles of underground lines GMP has installed in rural residential areas, the company has several active microgrids, including installations in Panton and Rutland, Vermont. It also employs utility-scale batteries and a vehicle-to-grid system powered by electric school buses.
GMP has already installed 5,000 batteries in customers’ homes and recently saw its request to lift the enrollment cap on its residential battery program approved by Vermont regulators, a necessary step to achieving zero outages.
“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,” McClure said.
Track news about utility microgrid projects. Subscribe to the free Microgrid Knowledge Newsletter.