Vermont Utility Proposes Revolutionary Approach to Ensure Reliable Electricity Supply

Vermont’s Green Mountain Power has updated Herbert Hoover’s famous promise of “a chicken in every pot” for the 21st century with “A battery for every home.” And it just might work.

In a groundbreaking departure from traditional utility practices, Green Mountain Power, a Vermont-based electric utility serving 270,000 homes and businesses, has unveiled an innovative proposal aimed at securing a reliable electricity supply for its customers. The company’s plan, filed with state regulators, aims to reinforce the grid’s resilience and reduce power outages by installing batteries at most homes, particularly during extreme weather events.

The Green Mountain Power proposal includes the purchase of batteries, burying power lines and strengthening overhead cables. By doing so, the utility believes it can achieve greater reliability while keeping costs lower than building new power lines and additional power plants.

An increase in the frequency of storms and power outages, along with concerns about escalating electricity costs, influenced Green Mountain’s application. This summer, Vermont suffered through cataclysmic flooding, just months after one of the harshest winters on record.

Recent natural disasters across the country have highlighted the vulnerabilities of the existing electric grid. They have also underscored the urgency of transitioning away from fossil fuels, the leading contributor to climate change. As a result, many utilities are investing heavily in grid improvements and cleaner energy sources, often with government incentives.

But a report by the Brattle Group suggests that substantial savings could be achieved by focusing on smaller-scale energy projects like home batteries and rooftop solar panels, which are faster to implement. Green Mountain Power’s proposal aligns with these recommendations and could serve as a model for addressing power outages and improving grid resilience across the country. High costs associated with large-scale projects risk raising electricity rates, potentially making it challenging for customers to afford energy. As part of their analysis, Green Mountain Power determined that investing in battery-equipped homes would be more cost-effective and quicker than traditional grid improvements.

Under the plan, Green Mountain Power intends to invest an estimated $1.5 billion over the next seven years, with recovery through electricity rates.

The utility will control the batteries, enabling them to optimize energy storage during periods of high renewable energy production and release electricity during peak demand. Initially, Green Mountain Power will focus on providing batteries to the most vulnerable customers, burying power lines, and reinforcing cables to prevent outages caused by falling trees.

Power outages cost U.S. utilities an estimated $150 billion annually, with the modernization of electric grids potentially costing trillions of dollars. Green Mountain’s approach, with an initial investment of $280 million, could provide a cost-effective solution and set a precedent for the industry.

Green Mountain Power’s initiative is a significant departure from conventional utility practices, aiming to enhance grid resilience and ensure uninterrupted electricity access for customers. If approved, this approach may pave the way for more innovative solutions in the energy sector, with the potential to significantly reduce power outages and long-term electricity costs.

Is the world’s largest deposit of lithium buried in a Nevada volcano?

The U.S. may have just found the solution to one of its biggest renewable challenges inside a long-extinct volcano.

Lithium powers our smartphones and electric vehicles, with increasing demand anticipated for the next-generation batteries vital for storing renewable energy as we shift away from fossil fuels. As solar, wind and hydropower technologies advance, lithium remains the premier medium for storing electricity.

And although lithium is a common element, it’s not easy to find in high enough concentrations to mine. And much of our current supply of lithium comes from places that use questionable mining methods. So securing a consistent source for the element is a big deal.

Approximately 16.4 million years ago, a volcanic eruption in the vicinity of the present-day Nevada-Oregon border yielded a unique geological phenomenon. According to a recent publication in Science Advances, beneath the remnants of this ancient volcano lies a substantial lithium deposit(1). Scientists estimate the deposit contains between 20 metric tons and 40 metric tons of the metal. (2) That would make it the largest known deposit on earth.

While the feasibility of extraction and refinement remains uncertain, the implications of this discovery could extend to contemporary geopolitics and the evolution of renewable energy.

The company behind the discovery, Lithium Americas, anticipates commencing mining operations at the site in 2026. Nevertheless, the ease and cost-effectiveness of extracting usable lithium from the clay-rich deposit remain uncertain, necessitating investment to determine the viability.

The situation is complicated by political factors, as the region where the lithium deposit was found is claimed as unceded ancestral land by both the Paiute and Shoshone tribes. These tribes, environmental activists and local ranchers have recently filed lawsuits to prevent the establishment of an open-pit lithium mine in the vicinity, with the outcomes of such legal battles remaining uncertain.

Even once the lithium is extracted, processing it to a usable form poses a challenge, with the U.S. significantly trailing China in processing capabilities. While the Biden administration has allocated nearly $3 billion for lithium battery manufacturing through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the scale of investment required to match China’s industry remains substantial.

But economists find reason for hope in the discovery. In a Washington Post Oped (3), Tyler Cohen points out that when a commodity goes up in price, people and businesses put more effort into finding more of it. That has sometimes contributed to our climate problems, as we continue to find new sources of pollutants like coal, natural gas, and petroleum. But that same rule will likely apply to lithium, which should help us in the energy transition.