Rutland Herald Editorial: A solar city
The promises and plans emanating from Green Mountain Power would be hard to believe were it not for the company's record of keeping or exceeding its promises.
At a press conference on Wednesday company officials unveiled a long list of energy projects that could make Rutland a national laboratory for innovation, as well as an exemplar in community betterment. It is an ambitious and far-sighted vision that has been embraced by Mayor Christopher Louras and other city officials. Sen. Bernard Sanders was on hand to lend his support.
GMP made big promises when it absorbed Central Vermont Public Service, the Rutland-based utility that was the largest in the state. One was to make Rutland the “solar capital” of New England. That meant it wanted to install the greatest solar capacity per capita of any city in the region — which amounted to 6.25 megawatts by 2017.
The utility is moving so quickly that it will reach that goal by next year, and so it has announced a much more ambitious goal — 10 megawatts by 2015.
Among the other new goals is a grid resiliency pilot project. One hopes that as the utility pursues the development of widely distributed power sources it also pioneers grid mechanisms allowing the region's broader system to receive power from diverse sources. There will be other solar developments, including 40 solar collectors and streetlight monitors.
GMP hopes that its innovations will draw others to Rutland to pursue the technical challenges that the company hopes to pioneer. These include residential heat pump technology and a pilot project to use ice to cool large buildings. It is ingenious but simple. The ice storage unit would create ice at night when power is cheaper and then use the ice during the day to cool the building, when power is more expensive.
The company plans to provide a mechanism for homeowners and businesses to make thermal improvements or sustainable energy investments and to pay for them on their utility bill. It also wants to expand its Cow Power project to small farms and to use local food waste for power generation.
Steve Costello, GMP's vice president for generation and energy innovation, is the guiding force behind the company's efforts in Rutland. And his vision goes far beyond the generation of electric power. For Costello GMP's solar city initiative is a path-breaking exercise in civic improvement. He has enlisted the support of Police Chief James Baker, who understands that to address the problems of drugs, crime, poverty and derelict neighborhoods, the city must promote the welfare of the city as a whole.
Costello has been the animating spirit behind the Gift-of-Life Marathon, the blood drive that was the signature of CVPS and which he has brought with him to GMP. The blood drive, Costello says, is about more than blood. It is about breathing a spirit of pride and ambition into the life of the city. That's what GMP, with the leadership of Costello, is hoping that the utility's energy programs do for the city.
It's hard to overstate the potential for these efforts for the city and the region. It could happen that the name of Rutland becomes synonymous with cutting edge technology, sustainable energy and climate change awareness. In the past the Springfield and Windsor region was a place of cutting edge technology, known as Precision Valley, and when their industries fell into decline the region's self-image suffered. Similarly, Rutland was an industrial center, home to the Rutland Railroad, among other industries. But those industries declined, and so did the city.
Something electric is happening in Rutland, and it involves more than the flow of electrons. Downtown Rutland is becoming a nexus for the utility's energy efforts, and it is promising more. They are promises we have every expectation will be kept.