Vt. utilities say $66 million federal grant would help pay for 'smart grid'

08/07/09 5:50PM By John Dillon
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AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
(Host) Vermont utilities have teamed up to apply for a $66 million federal stimulus grant to upgrade the Vermont electricity grid.

A major goal is to allow customers to adjust their energy use, depending on the time and cost of the electricity.

VPR's John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Utilities in Vermont were already looking at what's called smart grid technology. But if the grant is awarded by the U-S Department of Energy, the work would be done quicker, and in a more coordinated fashion among the state's 20 electric distribution utilities.

The $66 million grant would cover about half the cost of the proposed improvements to the transmission grid. The money would be invested in new metering systems, automation technology and security enhancements statewide.

Steve Costello of Central Vermont Public Service says the project will provide instantaneous feedback for electricity consumers.

(Costello) "In our case, what we would be doing is putting in a new meter at every home, that we could talk to at any time, communications two ways, and send price signals to customers in real time. And they would have an in home display that would actually show them when it was most efficient to use electricity, when it was more expensive to use electricity. And they could use their discretion to make adjustments to make their energy to both lower their bills and lower their environmental impact."

(Dillon) For the smart grid to work as planned, utilities would also need to implement a new rate structure that would reflect the varying cost of power throughout the day.

(Costello) "We would be looking at a whole host of new offerings for different time of day rates, including real time pricing potentially."

(Dillon) The smart grid would build on a statewide fiber optic network planned by the Vermont Electric Power Company. The VELCO fiber optic line is being extended to 270 utility substations.

Tom Evslin oversees the federal stimulus programs for the state of Vermont. He says the build-out of the fiber optic network will have major benefits for extending broadband Internet service all over the state.

(Evslin) "So it's the perfect distribution point for broadband because obviously the poles on which you would create the last mile of broadband radiate out from the substations."

(Dillon) The grant application is a competitive process. The application has the support of all the state's utilities and the Douglas administration.

Evslin said a big selling point is the coordination among the Vermont utilities.

(Evslin) "This extraordinary joint application covers everybody and will, I think, be very attractive to the Department of Energy, both because of what it does to meet their goal of lowering energy costs, lowering CO2 emissions, lowering use of foreign oil, but also because here in Vermont we can get that done quickly and we can be a great demonstration to the rest of the country."

(Dillon) Evslin said if the state gets the funding it will accelerate by about five years the development of smart grid technology in Vermont.

For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.

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