Vt. State House is Nation's First to Install Batteries as Backup Power Source

The new technology replaces a 1960s generator that burned fossil fuels

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The Vermont State House in Montpelier became the nation's first state house to install batteries to serve as a backup power system, according to state officials and the utility Green Mountain Power.

"I don't think we're going to be the last," predicted Jennifer Fitch, the acting commissioner of the Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services.

Tucked in the basement of the historic building, brand new racks of large, rechargeable batteries replaced a 1960s backup generator that was about to fail. That generator burned fossil fuels.

The batteries will supply the State House with emergency power when needed, charging during off-peak times when power's the cheapest and greenest, energy experts behind the project explained.

"It makes me happy to know Vermont is, once again, being forward-thinking and creative," said Sen. Becca Balint, a Democrat from Windham County who will serve as president pro tempore of the Vermont Senate when the body resumes work this week.

In case of outages, which occasionally happen at the Vermont State House, the batteries will keep the lights on and the building running without burning diesel or propane.

And here's where the concept makes a bigger difference: at peak usage, Green Mountain Power can actually tap into the energy stored in the batteries, rather than drawing it from the regional grid.

That will reduce expensive demand and dirty power production, explained CEO Mari McClure.

"That lowers costs for everybody," McClure said during a press conference Tuesday.

GMP said flexing the company's network of a few thousand batteries in homes and businesses statewide saved customers $3 million last year.

"We really need to continue to build on this innovative work," McClure said.

The project at the Vermont State House was the result of a partnership between the Vermont Legislature, the Buildings and General Services team, GMP, and private sector businesses.

"We are just beginning the impact on the clean energy world," said Adam Knudsen of Dynapower, the South Burlington firm that produced the inverter used in the project. "Not just what Vermont does, but how Vermont can export that technology around the globe."

The state appropriation for the project was $450,000, according to lawmakers and a state buildings official who discussed the process that led up to the installation of the technology.

However, replacing the old generator would have taken some expensive ledge blasting, the Department of Buildings and General Services noted.

The state views the move as smart spending, to both reduce greenhouse gases and boost savings on electricity, Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, said in a prerecorded statement played during the press conference.

"The State House is just one building we own," Acting Commissioner Fitch of the Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services told NECN. "We actually own 240 buildings throughout the state. So when we do major renovations when we need backup power, we'll definitely be looking at this alternative."

Fitch noted that benefits and costs would be weighed on future renovations in other buildings, to see if the new technology would be an appropriate fit for the job.

Green Mountain Power said it hears from more utilities around the country each and every month asking how they, too, can deliver savings to customers and lighten their environmental footprint through the use of energy storage.

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