Vermont plan for 'smart' meters getting $69M

By:  Neal P. Goswami
Bennington Banner

BENNINGTON -- A Vermont plan to install electricity smart meters and other technologies to improve energy efficiency and reduce energy costs will receive nearly $70 million in stimulus money.

100 projects nationwide

President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that $3.4 billion in grants through the U.S. Department of Energy have been awarded to 100 projects across the country. The grant money is aimed at modernizing the power grid. Many of the projects will allow for the installation of "smart" electric meters in homes, automatic utility substations and thousands of new digital transformers and grid sensors.

"We can begin to see what a clean energy future will look like. We can imagine the day when you'll be able to charge the battery on your plug-in hybrid car at night, because your smart meter reminded you that nighttime electricity is cheapest," Obama told a Florida audience Tuesday.

Vermont's "eEnergy Vermont" plan, which will receive $69 million, aims to use Smart Grid technology to create jobs and boost efficiency and energy conservation. It is also expected to facilitate the expansion of broadband Internet access throughout the state.

The Vermont plan has three areas of focus:

* New automated metering and smart meters will allow utilities to introduce peak and time-of-use pricing and enhance outage management systems;

* Customer systems, such as in-home displays, will provide real-time feedback and information about home energy usage;

* Automation of the electric distribution and transmission; system grid will allow Vermont utilities to build a more reliable and secure grid that can automatically adjust and react to system conditions.

The project will create a real-time link between electricity producers, transmitters and consumers by boosting the number of smart meters in the state from about 28,000 to 300,000. Customer will have in-home displays and digitally controlled appliances.

The $3.4 billion in total grant money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be matched with $4.7 billion in private investments, according to officials. The smallest grant awarded was $400,000 and the largest $200 million.

Similar plans throughout the country will promote energy-saving choices for consumers, increase efficiency and boost renewable energy sources like wind and solar, according to the White House.

Smart grid improvement funding announced Tuesday should reduce electricity use by 4 percent by 2030, resulting in a savings of more than $20 billion for businesses and families, the Obama administration said.

"The smart grid is all about empowering the consumer ... to control their electric usage and lower their usage and save money," Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt, said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "It's exactly what we need to be doing to cut down on greenhouse gases."

The statewide application was a joint effort by all Vermont utilities, the Department of Public Service, the Office of Economic Stimulus and Recovery, and Vermont's congressional delegation. The Vermont Electric Co., the state's transmission utility, was the lead applicant.

Vermont's congressional delegation sent a letter of support to U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu in September for the proposal. The letter was followed up with a meeting of the delegation and Chu in the Capitol Hill office of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., earlier this month.

Both Vermont senators lauded the announcement Tuesday. "The benefits of this investment will ripple through our economy and our energy system and will clearly support Vermont businesses, consumers, and our environment," Leahy said. "Vermont's determination to be a leader in this new era will create jobs and foster cleaner, smarter energy."

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Green Jobs and the New Economy Subcommittee, said the money will help further the state's effort to create more green jobs.

"These investments help move our state and our nation toward energy independence and will create many good-paying jobs," he said.

Central Vermont Public Service Corp. President Bob Young said the utility expects to receive more than $31 million of the funding for its SmartPower program. Young said CVPS will undertake several studies and pilot projects in Rutland before implementing the SmartPower program statewide. The pilot projects are expected to begin in 2011.

"These studies will give us a wealth of information that will help us help our customers reduce their energy consumption, cut peak loads, and reduce our collective environmental impacts," Young said.

Young said CVPS would have implemented some pilot programs even without the stimulus funding, but the additional investment will help speed up the process.

Vermont's grant was the only one awarded on a statewide basis. The grant will cover half the cost of the $138 million in improvements planned by Vermont utilities. Welch credited Vermont utilities for working together rather than against each other.

More than 400 applications from across the country totaling $17 billion were submitted.