ENERGY STORY

Some solar panels are shown in Randolph surrounded by the winter landscape.

Green Mountain Power, the state’s largest utility, has partnered with Renewable Energy Vermont (REV) of Montpelier to provide upfront payment for customers who hook up energy storage batteries to the state’s power grid. The new program will offer incentives for GMP customers with home batteries to share access to their stored energy. GMP will use the customer’s stored energy to reduce demand on the grid during peak usage times, lowering costs for all customers. Customers enrolling the program will get bill credits of $10 per month while in the program.

This new initiative is exactly what state lawmakers had hoped would happen when they passed H.40 (Act 56) in 2015, the Renewable Energy Standards (RES). The law requires utilities to find creative ways to help Vermont reduce its carbon footprint.

The law mandates utilities to acquire specified amounts of renewable energy, in the form of renewable energy credits (RECs) or renewable attributes, and to achieve fossil-fuel savings from energy transformation projects, which may include programs to support building weatherization and to encourage the purchase and use of electric vehicles and electric heating systems.

Renewable energy, as defined in statute, is energy produced using technologies that rely on resources that are consumed at a rate that is at or below its natural regeneration rate including solar, wind, hydro, certain biomass and methane (sewage, landfill, anaerobic digestion).

The law also requires Vermont utilities to have increasing amounts of renewable power in their power portfolios, or to retire increasing amounts of renewable energy certificates. RES allows utilities to comply by offering programs to their customers that reduce carbon use in their households or businesses.

RES also requires utilities to purchase energy from small-scale, renewable power projects in their service areas through “net metering.”

Four years since the passage of Act 57, all Vermont’s electric suppliers are in compliance with the law and are confident they will meet future goals. According to a report filed by the Public Utility Commission (PUC) in December, all 15 Vermont utilities (12 municipal departments) met their RES obligations for 2017. Washington Electric Cooperative (WEC) in East Montpelier and the Burlington Electric Department are 100-percent renewable energy. The Act 56 target is 75 percent renewable by 2032.

“It took hard work and innovation and we are very proud Washington Electric Co-op was able to meet all tiers of the Renewable Energy Standards,” said WEC General Manager Patty Richards.

“It’s also important that the choices we make to meet the state’s standards don’t harm our low-income members,” Richards said. “We can offer extra incentives and support to folks who want to lower their carbon footprints, by weatherizing their homes or switching to an electric vehicle, for instance, but that may also need help with the upfront cost to make those purchases.”

Vermont Electric Cooperative (VEC) of Johnson has met, and in some cases exceeded, the first round of statewide renewable energy and fossil fuel reduction requirements, according to Chief Executive Officer Rebecca Towne.

“This is great news and we’ve achieved this while also delivering on our core mission of safe, affordable and reliable electricity for our members,” she said.

According to Towne, as part of their energy transformation effort, VEC currently offers credit incentives for pellet stoves, cold climate heat pumps, heat pump water heaters, electric and plug-in hybrid electric cars, electric forklifts, and zero energy modular (ZEM) homes.

“As the sources of energy that power the electric grid are getting cleaner, the electric system has emerged as a critical part of the solution to lower emissions for many of our energy needs,” Towne said.

GMP offers programs for electric vehicle charging, battery storage, and other devices that can be used to shave peak energy usage, driving down the cost of the regional grid while driving out carbon from the system.

“We are adopting new, clean, distributed-energy technologies on both sides of the meter and, together with our customers and Vermont energy companies, changing the way energy is delivered,” said GMP’s President and CEO Mary Powell.

The first two RES goals — more renewable energy and smaller carbon footprint by energy users — have not been a concern for the power companies. The third goal, however, the requirement that utilities purchase all the renewable energy produced in their service area, is concerning for them because that power is purchased at a much higher cost than its value.

“Washington Electric Co-op absolutely supports the move toward renewable energy and a greater use of solar panels, the problem is with the economics,” said Richards.

Currently, small-scale produced power comprises 6 percent overall and 20 percent of the peak of the energy supplied by WEC. WEC covers the extra cost to purchase energy generated from small-scale power by cost shifting to other customers.

Andrea Cohen, head of government relations for VEC, agreed with Richards’ statement about economics.

“The compensation is not competitive. We can purchase the power much cheaper elsewhere,” she said.

VEC has no problem with the units on private homes, the concern is with the large commercial operations, Cohen said.

Despite some concerns with the financing of net metering, Richards supports the law.

“The state’s goals fit with WEC’s mission. With WEC’s already renewable power sources, and our position on climate change, the RES incentives help us work with our members to transition away from fossil fuels in home heating and transportation, and switch to our 100-percent renewable electricity instead,” she said. “We’ve installed electric vehicle charging stations and helped weatherize homes. We give members cash for purchases like cold climate heat pumps, and we’re changing our rate structure to favor renewable power over fossil fuel use.”

The Renewable Energy Standards are divided into three categories or tiers.

The first tier (“Tier I”) requires utilities to procure an amount of renewable energy equivalent to 55 percent of their annual retail electric sales for the year 2017, increasing by 4 percent every third January thereafter, eventually reaching 75 percent in 2032.

The second tier (“Tier II”) requires utilities to procure an amount of renewable energy equivalent to 1 percent of their annual retail sales from distributed generation resources in 2017, increasing by three-fifths of a percent each year thereafter, eventually reaching 10 percent in 2032.

The third tier (“Tier III”) requires utilities to procure additional renewable distributed generation eligible for Tier II or acquire fossil-fuel savings from energy transformation projects equivalent to 2 percent of their annual retail sales in 2017, increasing by two-thirds of a percent each year thereafter, eventually reaching 12 percent in 2032.

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