Vermont Leading the Way to a Smarter Grid

Erin LaVoie

Smart electricity use means less pollution and more money in our pockets. Tools to make this happen are being deployed in Vermont, which has committed to putting a nearly universal smart grid into operation by 2013. A smarter grid can smoothly integrate energy efficiency and renewable energy resources so our homes, businesses, cars, rooftop solar and smart appliances all work in concert to meet our power needs and reduce pollution. This commitment stems in part from a 2008 settlement between Conservation Law Foundation and Vermont’s largest utility, obligating the utility to implement advanced metering technology, “as fast as it reasonably can.”

Roughly 32,000 Vermonters already have some version of smart meters installed in their homes through utility programs. Expanding on the programs will happen rapidly and soon through the utilities’ partnership with the Department of Energy. The project costs $138 million total, of which half, or $70 million, comes through the DOE from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act stimulus, and half from Vermont utility companies.

Smart meters record the energy use of a home or business and communicate that information to the utility for monitoring, This two-way system of communication enables customers to make better choices about how to use power. Vermont utilities and customers can rely on time-based-rates, meaning the price of energy depends on the time of day and demand for power. This allows customers to lower the demand, lower bills, and ultimately lower the price of electricity for everyone by using more power at low-demand times of the day.

For example, with information about energy use easily available through the smart meter and accessible on-line, utility customers can run a clothes dryer or dishwasher during off-peak hours, when the price of energy is low, saving money and lowering congestion on the electric grid. Smart meters also improve utility service by reducing meter reading costs and allowing utilities to more quickly pin point and respond to outages.

At peak times of the day, when the most electricity is being used, it is often powered from the dirtiest sources. Smart meters have the potential to help us cut emissions by reducing our reliance on these dirtier sources.

As Vermont’s grid becomes smarter, so must utility programs in order to make the most of this technology. Going forward, CLF is pushing to ensure Vermont’s smart grid investments will have the flexibility needed to assimilate new technologies that enable smart appliances, integrate hybrid electric vehicles, and facilitate smaller renewable energy projects. Vermont is already a leader on delivering electric energy efficiency. Leading on smart grid is another tool to capture even greater financial and environmental benefits for the state and the region.

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