Energy & Environment

New weather model will prepare utilities for severe storms

A new, improved model for predicting the weather could help prepare for severe storms, aid power restoration efforts, and save customers money, the state’s transmission utility announced on Wednesday.

Tom Dunn, president and CEO of VELCO, joined state and private company officials to announce the Vermont Weather Analytics Center at a news conference at the State Emergency Operations Center in Waterbury on Wednesday.  Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Tom Dunn, president and CEO of VELCO, joined state and private company officials to announce the Vermont Weather Analytics Center at a news conference at the State Emergency Operations Center in Waterbury on Wednesday. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Vermont Electric Power Co. (VELCO) is building a Vermont Weather Analytics Center, a high-resolution forecast tool that aims to provide accurate, localized weather predictions. The two-year project will cost $16.6 million.

The project aims to predict weather up to two days in advance of storms, better manage the electric grid by predicting solar and wind energy generation, and perhaps boost tourism through better weather planning.

The tool could save electric ratepayers money by preparing utilities for power outages caused by ice and wind, for example, and help locate renewable energy generators in areas where resources are available to generate the most electricity, utility officials said.

Sue Minter, deputy secretary of the Vermont Agency of Transportation, said the tool will allow the state better prepare for extreme weather events by better distributing resources to areas that need them most.

“If we have the capability in the future to know what’s coming where and when with greater degree of certainty and assurance, we can pre-deploy more of our assets to the area of impact,” she said. “We don’t do that now.”

Minter, who was the state’s chief Irene recovery officer following the 2011 storm, said the new tool could help the state respond more quickly and effectively to weather damage, and at a lower cost.

Tom Dunn, president and CEO of VELCO, said the utility world has changed due to the increased frequency of severe storms.

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In 2013 alone, he said, Green Mountain Power and Vermont Electric Cooperative together paid $22 million responding to storms. During Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, VELCO had one-half mile of transmission lines wash away, he said.

He also said Vermont is now generating more renewable energy, but the grid operator, ISO New England, cannot view or predict the amount of renewable energy Vermont will generate on an hourly basis.

Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power, joined state and private company officials to announce the Vermont Weather Analytics Center at a news conference at the State Emergency Operations Center in Waterbury on Wednesday. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Mary Powell, CEO of Green Mountain Power, at a news conference to announce the Vermont Weather Analytics Center. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Mary Powell, the CEO of Green Mountain Power, the state largest electric utility, said the company sees huge benefits to reduce the cost of restoring power and keeping people safe by anticipating severe weather.

“But we also really see this accelerating the cost-effective adoption of a much more distributed renewable generation system in the future,” she said.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said the public-private partnership will make Vermont a “safer, stronger, greener energy state.” He also said the tools will help tourism because skiers can plan trips based on snowfall as ski mountains and other weather conditions.

The project builds on top of IBM’s Deep Thunder weather model. The weather model combines public satellite predictions with local data collected from sensors to provide a more granular weather forecasts. As more data is collected, it will become more powerful to predict local weather, Powell said.

She said the model is already being used. She said the Deep Thunder model predicted flooding in New York 48 hours in advance of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“What none of the [other] models took into account, and this one did, was what happens to the weather when it hits the density of that amount of concrete. So it was really what happens to weather as it moves and hits different ecosystems,” she said.

Eighty percent of the Analytics Center’s cost is being shared by New England electric customers because it will increase the reliability of the region’s electric grid, Dunn said. He said VELCO will pay for 20 percent of the project incrementally.

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John Herrick

About John

John Herrick joined VTDigger in June 2013 as an intern working on the searchable campaign finance database and is now VTDigger's energy and environment reporter. He graduated from the University of Vermont with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a minor in Spanish. He wrote for the Vermont Cynic, university’s student newspaper, before interning and later freelancing for the Burlington Free Press.

Email: [email protected]

Follow John on Twitter @herrickjohnny

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