Why Vermont’s largest power company is helping customers go off the grid

Most power companies encourage customer loyalty, but a first-of-its-kind program from Green Mountain Power program is helping customers go off the grid completely.
From the city to the country, Robyn Pratt and her boyfriend moved from Winooski to 10 acres in Milton last summer. With solar panels already on the house, they decided to put in a new Telsa Powerwall battery from Green Mountain Power. 
"Being in a more rural environment, we’re more likely to lose power for a long period of time," said Pratt.
With an off-grid program announced this week by GMP, customers like Pratt could cut the power lines, achieving true energy independence.
"If you think about it, we’re taking the grid in this case and just shrinking it down to your house and serving your energy that way, which can be in some locations more cost effective and even more reliable," said Josh Castonguay, Green Mountain Power.
The off-grid package is customized for the homeowner. It starts with an energy efficiency audit and would include solar panels, a Tesla battery and other home automation controls. For a small home, officials say customers would pay a flat monthly fee of around $200 for the life of the system. It’s energy independence with peace of mind that all parts, service and labor are covered.
Not your typical utility, GMP has put a major emphasis on energy efficiency. But jettisoning customers altogether?
Reporter Alexei Rubenstein: It’s a little unusual for a power company to try to wean their customers off them. What kind of a model is this?
Castonguay: Giving the customer the flexibility and that optionality around energy is just exciting. Customers that may not have thought about this before may not have wanted to do it, or have wanted to do couldn’t or didn’t want to maintain it, now have an option to do that.
All with without the need for fossil fuels. The off-grid package is another twist in GMP’s long-term efforts to reinvent models of power distribution and their own business model for the future.
Back in the spring, we introduced you to Troy Turner. The St. Albans GMP customer was one of the first in the state to get the Tesla battery. The initial idea was for Turner and the 700 others who signed up for the batteries to feed stored battery power back into the grid.
"You can charge it during the middle of the night and dispatch it when prices are the highest and when the grid system needs energy the most. It truly is a revolutionary step forward in terms of how we think about energy delivery," GMP’s Mary Powell said back in May.
But taking homes off the grid entirely, like Pratt is considering, is another way for the utility to save on the poles, wires and other infrastructure.
"The idea of this is you can maintain the same kinds of comforts that you would if you were grid-connected, you can use a heat pump, you can use those other devices that you normally wouldn’t to with an off-grid," said Castonguay.
Officials say it’s still too early to tell what kind of demand there will be for the off-grid program. Remote camps or others who don’t want to pay for new poles might be ideal and then there’s rural Milton.
"It wouldn’t really bother me that much if we had enough battery backup, if we were completely off the grid," said Pratt.
GMP has installed about 20 Tesla batteries so far. They’re expecting a next generation of the battery with double the storage to be available next year.

Alexei Rubenstein is reporter, producer and web editor for Channel 3 News.



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