by Angela Chagnon
The state of Vermont is partnering with Sandia National Laboratories to implement a statewide Smart Grid system. The new system will replace the state’s electric grid, and electric meters now on homes and businesses will be replaced with Smart Meters (see previous True North article on Smart Meters here).
Sandia National Laboratories a government research and development lab, has locations in New Mexico and California. Their website explains:
“Sandia is a government-owned/contractor operated (GOCO) facility. Sandia Corporation, a Lockheed Martin company, manages Sandia for the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.”
Details about the Vermont partnership were discussed during the opening remarks of a two day conference titled “Powering the Future: The Vermont Smart Grid and Beyond”, held at the Sheraton Hotel in South Burlington on May 17 and 18. The U.S. Department of Energy sponsored the event.
The speakers included Senator Bernie Sanders; Dan Fogel, President of UVM; Governor Peter Shumlin; New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman (via video); and Patricia Hoffman, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy.
Senator Pat Leahy and Rep. Peter Welch did not attend, but sent representatives from their respective offices.
Domenico Grasso, Vice President for Research at UVM, began the remarks. “This particular conference is designed to look at how we can deal with safe, reliable, and clean energy in the future in a holistic perspective,” he said.
Fogel referred to the Vermont-Sandia partnership as a “first step” to implementing an energy plan that would benefit Vermont. He praised Vermont’s Congressional delegation and state utility companies for their work in submitting the winning application for a $69 million federal ARRA grant for the Smart Grid system.
He also credited Senator Bernie Sanders, “who began creating early connections between Vermont and the Sandia National Laboratories over three years ago”, with making the Smart Grid vision possible in the state.
What exactly is the Smart Grid vision for Vermont? Rick Stulen, Vice President of Sandia National Laboratories, explained the goal of the Smart Grid system.
“Part of what we’re about here in the next two days is about changing culture,” Stulen said. “It’s about changing human behavior. It’s about making sure that the energy conversation and the awareness of energy is a part of our daily lives in ways that it is not, quite frankly, today. It’s about this intersection between technology, policy, and people.”
Stulen went on to lay out the role Vermont’s government will play in the implementation of the system. “The policies that the state brings to this, the resources that the state brings to this through [Governor Shumlin’s] office will be an integral part, I believe, to the solutions that we will put together for the nation–for the area and also for the nation.”
Senator Sanders applied his typical ‘we’re going to save the world’ remarks to the proposed project.
“This is a big deal,” he gushed. “We have before us an extraordinary opportunity to not only do great things for the state of Vermont to help people, but be a leader for the nation. And have the rest of the country look back on what we are doing in terms of energy, to the Sandia-Vermont project, and say ‘thank you very much for the ground-breaking work that you did.’ ”
Sanders said that Vermont had taken “an important step forward” to establish a Sandia-Vermont Center for Excellence, which will be a laboratory operated by the Department of Energy.
“We are embarking, as all of you know, on a project which will, within a few years, make us the first state in the United States to provide almost universal smart metering in businesses and homes throughout the state,” Sanders continued. “I was proud to work with Senator Leahy and Congressman Welch to support Vermont’s efforts to compete for federal stimulus funds to accomplish our goal.”
Sanders said that the $69 million would be used to update Vermont’s grid and place smart meters in “every home and business in our state.” He also said that Vermont utilities had provided matching funds of $69 million “for a total of $138 million project, making this one of the largest infrastructure projects in the modern history of our state.”
“However, we are going to face certain questions which the Sandia-Vermont Center for Excellence will help Vermont and the nation address,” Sanders remarked. “These are some of the practical issues out there that we’ve got to solve.”
Issues of cyber security, how to prevent older/lower income people from paying higher energy bills and other problems that arise will be addressed by experimentation at the Center for Excellence.
In other words, Vermonters will be used as guinea pigs to work out the bugs for this project. And the bugs in Smart Meters have cost some consumers a pretty penny. One story from California describes how “a farmer was charged $11,857 for running a piece of equipment that was never turned on.”
“What we are undertaking today is of huge consequence,” Sanders declared. “Not only for our state, but to our country.
“This state for many years has played a leadership role in a number of areas,” he continued. “We are small, we know each other, we work well together. If we can pull off half of what I believe we can, this will be a significant step forward throughout the United States of America in terms of taking on one of the great challenges that we face. And that is energy, combating global warming, and making our society cleaner and more sustainable.”
Sanders announced that he had introduced legislation in Washington to place “10 million solar rooftops throughout this country”, referring to the plan as “real distributed energy.” He said he did not expect it to “happen tomorrow”, but he hoped it would happen “sometime in the not too distant future.”
Click above to see video from the conference