Vermont Gets $69 Million For 'Smart Grid'

10/27/09 5:50PM By Bob Kinzel
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AP Photo/Toby Talbot
(Host) Vermont has been awarded a $69 million federal grant that could revolutionize how consumers pay for electricity in the future.

The so-called "smart grid" project is expected to lower power bills, boost renewable energy development and expand broadband coverage in the next five years.

VPR's Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The Vermont grant is part of a $3.4 billion program announced by the Obama Administration to improve energy efficiency and conservation efforts around the country.

The goal is to provide consumers and businesses with real-time information about the cost of power so that they can choose to run high energy appliances in non-peak periods of the day.

It's done by linking utilities and their customers through a broadband network that will utilize a new fiber optic system in the state's transmission system.

Senator Patrick Leahy helped secure the Vermont grant. He thinks the overall impact will be huge:

(Leahy) "If you lower the cost of our energy and if you increase the ability to communicate around the state, you're going to bring jobs into some of the rural areas where there weren't jobs. They'll be good jobs. ... In many ways, this is like in the ‘30s and ‘40s with rural electricity."

(Kinzel) Kerrick Johnson is vice president of VELCO, the organization that owns most of Vermont's transmission system. He thinks the Vermont project serves as a national model.

(Johnson) "The reason why Vermont succeeded in this competition of ideas is that what we're hoping to actually lower electrical rate costs, increase system reliability and better integrate renewables across the state. Those are lessons that can be applied not just in New England but indeed across the nation."

(Kinzel) Steve Costello is a spokesperson for Central Vermont Public Service - the state's largest utility.  He says CVPS will launch several pilot projects in the Rutland area that will install new smart grid meters in every home.

(Costello) "Potentially, real-time pricing, dynamic pricing and certainly peak load control programs that will allow consumers to get out of the market, if you will, when the price of electricity is very high and save energy and save money. For example, on a really hot summer day, the price of electricity in New England typically skyrockets. And consumers who are willing and able to reduce their demand could see some significant financial rewards for doing that."

(Kinzel) And Costello says an important element of the pilot programs is to try to answer several key questions.

(Costello) "Where we study how much it costs to get somebody to change a habit and what's the best communication method, whether it's an email, an in-house display or maybe a text message. We're going to be investigating all of those types of things."

(Kinzel) Costello says CVPS hopes to have their first pilot program in place in 2011.

For VPR News, I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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