How Green Mountain Power Makes Grid Defection Work for Them

(3BL Media/Justmeans) — Why would a utility company encourage its customers to produce their own power with the ability to completely disconnect from the grid? The fact that one New England power company is doing just that, and doing well as a result, is a testament to just how convoluted the electricity game has become, now that rooftop solar has literally turned everything upside down.

For starters, it’s not your average utility. Vermont’s Green Mountain Power (GMP) was founded in 1997 with the mission to “use the power of consumer choice to change the way power is made.” They are “committed to sustainability every step of the way,” and offer only products with an environmental benefit and … a zero-carbon footprint.”

Green Mountain Power, the first energy utility to become a certified B-Corp, is a wholly owned subsidiary of GazMetro, a publicly traded Canadian corporation. Earlier this year, GMP was named one of Fast Company’s ten most innovative companies in the energy sector.

On their website’s home page, they advertise Tesla’s Powerwall battery.

The idea of encouraging customers to put solar on their rooftops and install Tesla Powerwall batteries, so that they can run independently, was the brainchild of Mary Powell, who became CEO in 2008. Powell was recently named one of the 25 most influential women of the Mid-Market by CEO Connection, based on her ability to influence innovation and change. She recognized that by allowing customers to produce their own power during peak daytime hours, when the sun is shining, the utility could reduce the amount of external power that they purchase from the regional transmission system, at the time when it is most expensive. The utility also has the ability to draw power from the network of residential batteries when needed. This give-and-take system, in which provider and customers essentially work together to ensure that demand is met, also saves the utility the expense of investing in large scale energy storage.

Customers first receive an energy efficiency audit in partnership with Efficiency Vermont. A solar energy system including a solar array, battery storage, and home automation controls,  is then specified to meet the home’s requirements. Customers may also have a generator to use as backup for short periods of time. They will then pay a flat monthly fee for power used to smooth out fluctuations.

The Tesla software that comes with the batteries, helps to manage that interaction, and is designed to incorporate the inclusion of electric vehicles as well. Meanwhile, Rutland now has the most solar per capita of any city in New England.

“The opportunity for us,” Powell told the NY Times, ”is to lead the transformation of an electric system that depends on power along big transmission lines, ‘to a community-, home-and business-based energy system.’”

In addition to rooftop solar and purchases from the regional grid, which is largely powered by hydro, along with a bit of nuclear, Green Mountain owns an 11-acre solar farm and two wind farms. Renewable power is sold for renewable energy credits (REC) which helps to lower the cost of power for their customers.

While still somewhat of experiment, this model could set an example, in a marketplace where instead of war is breaking out among stakeholders, regulators, investors and customers all seem to be getting what they want.