Cutting-edge microgrid coming to Panton
PANTON — Green Mountain Power (GMP) will break ground this spring on what it called a cutting-edge utility microgrid in Panton, pioneering a new way to keep the power on for residents, farms and municipal buildings in the town center during power outages.
A microgrid is essentially a smaller grid that can operate independently, disconnecting from the larger grid during outages.
GMP officials said Panton is the perfect place for this innovative work because it leverages GMP’s existing 4.9-megawatt solar facility with utility-scale batteries already up and running in the town. This project is unique because GMP is believed to be the first utility in the country to island a distribution circuit using inverter-based sources with no reliance on fossil fuel generation backup.
“It is heartbreaking to see the impacts of extreme weather across the country, and it’s a sad but important reminder that we must innovate to build resiliency to protect from extreme, unpredictable weather,” said Mari McClure, GMP’s president and CEO. “That’s why this project is so important. We are building solutions now that allow our cities and towns to stay connected and powered during outages. With microgrids powered by clean energy and paired with batteries to store and deploy that power when it’s needed, we’re keeping the power on for our customers, while also reducing our carbon impact.”
In the event of storm damage or a prolonged grid outage, the Panton microgrid will enable backup power from the batteries and solar panels to flow to a network of customers served by the traditional grid. The concept is called “islanding,” and it creates backup power that can work independently from the larger electric system when needed.
In Panton, the tracker solar panels follow the sun, and can stretch the battery backup power for days, if necessary.
This will keep power on during outages for about 50 customers in Panton to start, with the planned possible expansion of the coverage area to include another 900 customers on that circuit. The batteries are also used to lower costs for all GMP customers during peak energy times.
“We’re excited about the next phase of this project with GMP, and we’re proud to be on the leading edge of innovation with a microgrid like this,” said Panton selectboard Chair Howard Hall. “It is good news for Panton and knowing the power can stay on will provide great peace of mind.”
Resiliency zones like the one created by Panton’s microgrid are a core feature of the proactive GMP Climate Plan — a package of infrastructure initiatives approved by Vermont’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) last year to make communities even more resistant to outages and help ensure they can recover more quickly if outages occur.
The PUC approved the microgrid phase of the Panton project in the fall of 2020. GMP’s solar and energy storage facility in Panton first came online in 2019, and since then, GMP engineering and innovation teams have worked on the pioneering approach to this phase of the project, which is expected to be fully constructed and working for customers by the end of June.
This year, GMP will be working with three additional towns that are among those most affected by outages due to severe weather, to create resiliency zones. Using outage data, GMP outreach is underway to determine interest from possible towns to join the program. GMP plans to build on this work, adding more resiliency zones in more towns every year.
“We will continue to accelerate the deployment of solutions like this to make Vermont cleaner and more resilient, and improve the lives of our customers,” McClure said.
GMP also continues to deploy batteries in customers’ homes and businesses. Today there are about 3,000 home battery systems that provide power to customers during outages, and save millions for all customers by driving down cost and carbon emissions on peak energy days. GMP offers two home battery programs: The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and Powerwall programs developed in partnership with local solar companies. GMP’s BYOD for Business program also helped Vermont’s State House become the first in the country to have battery backup.
A few years ago GMP completed a 5-megawatt solar array on a Panton farm not far from the town’s office building and highway garage. As part of an effort called eVolve Panton that grew out of discussions with the town’s selectboard, GMP agreed to partner with Efficiency Vermont to offer Panton home, farm and business owners energy audits and design work; help fund and design energy improvements to Panton’s town buildings; and install a car-charging station and solar lighting at the park-and-ride lot across the road from Panton Town Hall.
Then GMP turned to providing a battery-backed emergency backup system to town and surrounding buildings, one that can also supply energy to the larger grid when needed.
That effort centers on a $3 million, 1-megawatt Tesla battery that is strong enough to serve the area around Panton’s town buildings in the case of an outage.
Green Mountain Power serves approximately 266,000 residential and business customers in Vermont.
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