MONTPELIER — Last week, Vermont successfully connected and tested a brand-new backup power system for the Statehouse that will reduce carbon emissions and costs for the state. By Tuesday morning, the state was in position to actually make money off of it.
During a media presentation Tuesday, state officials and key players in the project announced that the Vermont Statehouse has become the first in the U.S. to use a battery backup system in the event of a power loss. Instead of using a traditional fossil fuel generator, the state is expected to save taxpayers $44,000 over the next 10 years with the battery.
Through Green Mountain Power’s (GMP) Use Your Own Device program, in which businesses are paid for their batteries’ power during peak usage times, the Statehouse battery will connect to the electric company’s grid and provide the ability for the state to sell energy back during those hours — reducing costs to save GMP customers a collective estimate of $18,000 over the next 10 years.
Additionally, the new backup power system is projected to cut carbon emissions by 6,388 pounds each year, the equivalent of not using 326 gallons of gasoline. The previous generator used for power outages, which was installed in the 1960s, not only had to use diesel fuel during those outages, but it also had to be turned on each week to test and make sure it still worked.
“Not only is this a cutting-edge solution that reduces both carbon emissions and costs, but it also increases reliability,” said Gov. Phil , through a pre-recorded video message. “As I've always said, with out-of-the-box thinking, common sense and collaboration, we can address tough issues like climate change and do our part to reduce carbon emissions, without hurting the economy.”
The project was over two years in the making after the House Committee on Corrections and Institutions started putting together a budget to replace the old generator with something similar. Committee Chair and Rep. Alice E. Emmons (D-Springfield) said it was the suggestion of Rep. Curt Taylor (D-Colchester) to investigate creating and implementing a battery-powered system instead.
Tasked with making the battery was Northern Reliability, based in Waterbury, which has built systems on every continent of the world including Antarctica.
“For us, putting a system in the basement is not a big deal, but having it be the first statehouse in the country was really exciting,” said Northern Reliability CEO Jay Bellows. “The fact that this was all done during a global pandemic is just really impressive… I think it's just a sign of all the great things that can come out of Vermont when we all put our heads together on a project.”
Another private enterprise from the Green Mountain State that worked on the new system was Dynapower out of South Burlington. Dynapower provided the inverter, the part that allows the battery to go from alternating current — such as that used when an appliance is plugged into a house’s wall — to direct current, the type that’s used in a battery-powered object like a flashlight.
Finally, Virtual Peaker from Louisville, Kentucky, was tapped to provide the software that allows the battery to communicate with GMP for power sharing. Virtual Peaker was one of five winners of Green Mountain Power’s inaugural Inspire Space contest in 2016.
“This project also highlights how important it is to have the private sector be part of the solution, because government can't fix climate change alone,” said Scott. “We have to work with our partners who are nimble and can easily innovate. I realize this project is just one small step in reducing carbon emissions, and I know we have much more work to do. But I'm proud of what we've done here today. I look forward to seeing how we continue making Vermont a leader in creating technology.”
Once the battery system was manufactured, Norway & Sons, Inc. out of Barre City, was brought in as the electrical contractor to complete the project.
“The best part is that this system was designed and installed by Vermonters, creating jobs,” said Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services Acting Commissioner Jennifer M.V. Fitch. “I want to thank all of our partners that helped make this vision a reality.”
A sum of $450,000 had been appropriated years ago when the discussion about replacing the generator began, and State Program Energy Manager Daniel Edson said the battery project was able to stay within that appropriation. State officials didn’t have an exact comparison of costs on hand Tuesday, but they said that the original appropriation took into account a projected need to blast rock ledge outside the Statehouse, since the new generator would not have been housed in the basement, as well as installing waterproof casing to protect it.