By MADELINE HUGHES
Reporters filled Carole McCay’s Hinesburg living room Tuesday morning to report on the installation of a battery.
But it’s not just any battery. The intimate home setting was where Green Mountain Power and Renewable Energy Vermont announced an energy partnership to help install home batteries across the state. The companies are starting a “Bring Your Own Device” incentive that pays for up to half of the upfront costs of a home battery. This is the most generous incentive program – an $850 credit per kilowatt – in the country, said Mary Powell, President and CEO of Green Mountain Power.
McCay’s home battery was one of the devices in the program.
“The payoff is for our environment,” McCay said with a smile as she watched SunCommon electricians plug in a Tesla Powerwall to her electrical system. “Anything I can do to reduce my carbon footprint makes sense for me, Vermont and everywhere.”
McCay had been looking into a home battery for years, she said. In January, she was notified a battery was available. After incentives, McCay paid $9,000 for the battery and installation, she said.
“Since I don’t pay (for electricity) already I didn’t need the credits,” McCay explained. She has had solar powering her home for about three years, and has not paid an electric bill since, she said. The benefit to her is that “Green Mountain Power will use it at peak times and they will replenish it,” she explained.
The battery at McCay’s house is fed by her solar panels, instead of all of the excess sunlight energy going directly to the electrical grid. This saves energy for power outages, because the battery works as a generator, powering the whole house, or just a select part of the house.
“People are surprised that when the grid goes down, solar doesn’t work,” said Paul Lesure, co-owner of Green Mountain Solar. With batteries paired with solar “there’s a giant clean, green generator on the roof.”
The batteries are installed inside the house next to the electrical box. The solar is fed into the box through the home electrical system. If the power goes out, the battery can be used, and it regenerates electricity while the sun is shining.
Lesure’s company is one of the many partnering with Green Mountain Power in the home battery endeavor. He started his solar company in his Hinesburg garage two years ago. Now, the company is located on Commerce Street, and last year they installed six batteries in area homes.
These incentives “really launch us into the future,” he explained. “Before people had to pay the full, up front costs for battery systems. The new program incentivizes growth in the industry.”
Which is what Green Mountain Power is hoping for. The current program is limited to about 600 home installations. However, the company hopes the cost savings generated by utilizing green energy will help pay for the program to continue, Powell said .
“We hope to offer this as a base service to users” after the current program ends, Powell said. Using the home batteries during peak times will create savings, she said, which will be invested into clean energy.
The batteries are also connected to the electrical grid so they feed electricity to the system during peak hours. Peak energy events occur when many people are using lots of energy – heating their homes in extreme cold weather or cooling their homes during extreme heat. Those events are when Vermonters are most dependent on carbon-based energy as well, Powell explained.
Batteries are also available for homeowners not using solar power. They will store energy during non-peak hours and use energy during those times. It is also a safer version of a generator, Powell said, noting that during power outages one of the safety tips Green Mountain Power tells its customers is to safely use a generator.
“These aren’t your old school, off-the-grid systems,” Lesure explained. “We tailor them to individual homes’ needs. With the batteries being grid-interactive, they help support the grid as a whole. These really help lower peak hours when we use the dirtiest fuel, and it helps users become independent from that.”