Sanders sees progress in siting U.S. energy lab in Vermont

By:  Joel Banner Baird

Businesses, ratepayers and researchers would get a boost from a Vermont-based satellite station for the U.S. Department of Energy Sandia National Laboratories, Sen. Bernie Sanders said Thursday in Burlington.
 
Although no timetable has been set, a $1 million planning grant for a local site has spurred planning measures to fuse one of the nation's leading scientific establishments with local innovators in the Green Mountain State.
 
"We're at the beginning of something that could be of extraordinary significance to Vermont and the rest of the country," he said.
Sandia's vast technological expertise in energy efficiency, renewable energy and electric grids (particularly "smart-grids") would accelerate Vermont's leading role in those fields, he said.
 
Sanders said he anticipated further support from the Department of Energy as the project gains steam.
 
The New Mexico- and California-based laboratories are two of 21 national research centers for that department; a Vermont site would be the first in New England.
 
Sandia is government-owned and operated under contract by Lockheed Martin - a major defense contractor. The lab, founded in 1949, has roots in the Manhattan Project, which had helped develop the atomic bomb during World War II.
 
But Vermont will not play host to Sandia's weapons-development projects, said Richard Stulen, vice president of Sandia's California Laboratory for Energy, Climate and Infrastructure Security in Livermore.
 
The state stands to benefit from cutting-edge research into a more secure smart grid - one that can fend off hackers while negotiating between widely dispersed, renewable power sources, he said.
 
Vermont's single statewide transmission utility (VELCO) and its collaborations of distribution and generation utilities make it an ideal place to create a model that be scaled up to suit the rest of the country, Stulen said.
 
Likewise, the Department of Energy was attracted to Vermonters' lively engagement with forward-looking renewable energy technology and their willingness to tinker with related policies and regulations, he said.
 
Stulen said it was premature to discuss the full scope of the satellite lab, but he said dozens of employees would be engaged in Sandia's research and development facility.
 
The lab's commitment to energy security, he said, would extend to helping local businesses achieve a global competitive edge.
 
Thursday's meeting in Sanders' office concluded two days' of field trips by Sandia officials, who discussed possible collaborations with Northern Power Systems (wind turbines) in Barre; LEDdynamics (solid-state lighting) in Randolph; VELCO (the state distribution utility) in Rutland; and Green Mountain Power in Colchester.
 
In Burlington, the Sandia team met with Scott Johnston, executive director of nonprofit Vermont Energy Investment Corporation; and University of Vermont President Dan Fogel.
 
Sanders first met with Sandia officials in 2008. Last fall, a delegation came to Vermont at his invitation and paid visits to NRG Systems (wind measurement) in Hinesburg, the McNeill woodchip plant in Burlington and Middlebury College, which has undertaken a number of renewable energy projects.