Sanders sees ‘revolution’ in energy

Bernie Sanders, Green Mountain Power
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., left, visits the Stafford Hill solar farm in Rutland on Friday and checked out a battery storage facility with Josh Castonguay, Green Mountain Power’s chief innovative executive. Photo by Alan Keays/VTDigger
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders stood outside a field filled with solar panels in Rutland and told 17-year-old Cameron Wilk that he was looking out at a revolution.

“When you’re my age, this is going to look obsolete, old-fashioned,” Sanders said Friday afternoon to Wilk at the site of Green Mountain Power’s Stafford Hill solar farm.

“This is the future,” the independent senator from Vermont said just a few feet away from 7,700 solar panels. “It’s going to become more efficient, the country is going to move to sustainable energy.”

“This is pretty revolutionary stuff,” Sanders told Wilk, a senior at Rutland High School.

“Yes it is,” Wilk replied.

Sanders has used that term before. Kicking of his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president in Burlington in May 2015 the senator called for a “political revolution.”

He almost beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the nomination, powered by a message that included reversing income equality, providing universal health care, and boosting the minimum wage.

Sanders traveled to Rutland on Friday to tour GMP’s operations and a cutting-edge solar storage project.

The visit was part of a two-day series of events the senator held across Vermont on Thursday and Friday. The tour featured several town hall meetings in several locations, including St. Johnsbury, Springfield and Randolph, drawing large and boisterous crowds along the way.

In Rutland, his stop was a much more toned-down affair, as he mingled and posed for photos for GMP employees at the utility’s Post Road facility. Instead of speechifying behind a podium, Sanders shook hands and answered questions as he walked around the facility.

Workers showed him the latest technology inside GMP’s command center before the senator donned his winter coat and headed out to visit the solar farm a couple miles away.

“This is just a real-time representation of the transmission system in the state of Vermont,” Matthew Ethier of Green Mountain Power told Sanders as they looked at displays depicting the utility’s power system.

Should a thunderstorm roll through and knock out electric service to customers, Ethier said he would watch it all play out right in front of him.

“Sometimes we get crews there even before a call,” he said.

The senator walked around the solar site with GMP’s Mary Powell, the utility’s CEO. They were joined by about three dozen people, including a retinue of reporters, a few high school students, and GMP employees.

The Stafford Hill solar farm has the ability to produce 2.5 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to power 2,000 homes, according to utility officials. The project also provides for 4 megawatts of battery storage.

The solar panels and battery storage system is set up as a “microgrid.” That, utility officials said, allows it to serve as a backup power source for an emergency shelter at nearby Rutland High School.

The microgrid is able to disconnect from the larger electricity grid during outages, allowing electricity from the solar panels and batteries to power the shelter.

And, as GMP stores more and more solar energy, through the state-of-the-art control systems the utility is able to tap into that storage at times of high demand and avoid having to pay the expensive cost of electricity during peak period.

‘That’s the thing with storage, it’s amazingly flexible,” said Josh Castonguay, GMP’s chief innovative executive. “It provides us a ton of value.”

Powell, the utility’s CEO, said during periods of peak demand the utility can tap into that solar storage.

“Most of what they’re going to call on, actually probably all of it, is going to be fossil-fired fuel generators, that can come on in a minute, fire up those engines, spew out all that carbon, and they’re also higher cost,” she said.

“We’re saying, Oh, my gosh,’ we can use storage that’s powered by solar and provide that same benefit.”

Sanders said he has seen GMP come a long way since he started following the utility.

“I can remember way back when, when Green Mountain Power was a very, very conservative corporation, much more concerned about their profits than the needs of their customers or the environment,” Sanders said. “That has changed.”

He talked of Vermont leading the way in New England with solar production and the capacity to store the power that it creates.

“So, the day is going to come when solar is going to be able to provide electricity for us 24 hours a day,” Sanders said. “That is revolutionary and that is extraordinary.”

If you read us, please support us.

Comment Policy

VTDigger.org requires that all commenters identify themselves by their authentic first and last names. Initials, pseudonyms or screen names are not permissible.

No personal harrassment, abuse, or hate speech is permitted. Comments should be 1000 characters or fewer.

We moderate every comment. Please go to our FAQ for the full policy.

Alan J. Keays

Recent Stories

Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Sanders sees ‘revolution’ in energy"
  • Matthew Davis

    Good to see this type of innovation happening here in VT!

    • Willem Post

      The electricity output of the 2.5 MW PV system is highly variable, especially during variable cloudy weather.
      Such power needs to be damped before being fed into a distribution grid or a transmission grid. The battery system does the damping.
      The energy inflows and energy outflows have about a 20% overall loss. The battery system is rated at 2 MW/2 MWh, lithium ion, and 2 MW/2.4 MWh, lead acid, which would enable storing beteen 10 am and 2 pm and discharging from 5 pm to 9 pm, during peak hours.
      The turnkey cost of the battery plant is about $5 – $6 million, part of which should be charged to PV system owners, the disturbers, but will be charged to all ratepayers.

      • Robert Lehmert


  • Paul Drayman

    That is something to celebrate. The storage capability is a notable accomplishment (storage technology still in its infancy) The micro-grid design is the direction the electric power industry must go as an intricate piece of an overall strategy to not only make Vermont energy independent, but also to move the state toward real reliance on renewable sources of electricity generation.
    In my estimation, however, the micro-grid needs to be the constant source of power and the NE grid, the back-up. While we are almost totally reliant on NE, we are using a system that is 85% fossil fuel. That figure will not change more than a point or two, even with significant additions to the grid from RE in Vermont.
    The way that will happen is by Vermont setting reasonable goals in a State sponsored effort. Not to turn the program loose to the RE industry in its current form, but to encourage and facilitate installations (primarily solar) on homes and small businesses and to help communities plan and construct micro-grids. These independent power sources (solar, hydro, bio and yes even small wind) will be based on the needs of the individual or groups of communities and those towns will control siting. Expert assistance from companies like GMP and financing from or guaranteed by the Sate with “0” or low interest rates will be necessary.
    Toss out all the massively confusing hocus-pocus that the RE industry and the State legislature have currently concocted to promote RE development. If you’re not sure what I mean by that statement or not convinced, I refer you to the VTDigger article of March 13, entitled “CONFLICT OVER PSB AUTHORITY COMING TO A HEAD THIS WEEK”.

    • Willem Post

      You mentioned: to make Vermont energy independent.
      Such an aspiration has major physical implications, some which are listed below.

      For Vermont to be energy independent it would have to disconnect from the NE grid and not use it as a crutch, and not import any energy from out of state.
      It would need very large electrical and thermal energy storage to ensure energy would be available 24/7/365, year after year.
      That energy would be provided mainly from our own, instate wind and solar systems, and a little from our hydro plants and bio plants.
      That would take up several hundred miles of ridgelines for 500-ft tall wind turbines and tens of thousands of acres of open area for PV systems.
      The electricity cost of such a set up would be at least 20 c/kWh, plus utility mark up, plus taxes, surcharges, and fees, for a total of about 35 c/kWh, which would make Vermont even less competitive.

      • Edward Letourneau

        You are correct, and the details of the technology are ignored by all the dreamers.

      • Robert Lehmert

        Defining “energy independent” in such a narrow way necessarily leads to exaggerated claims. Your definition is not consistent with Vermont’s actual goals. You might want to become familiar with the 2016 Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan:[http://legislature.vermont.gov/assets/Legislative-Reports/Executive-summary-for-web.pdf ]

        To quote from Governor Shumlin’s introduction: “In the last five years, Vermonters have embraced this effort with enthusiasm, expanding our in-state renewables by over 250 megawatts of electric capacity. We’ve improved on our already nationally recognized work in electric
        efficiency, and expanded efforts to advance thermal efficiency. We added over 100 MW of new wind generation, and repowered hydropower at several existing Vermont dams in an environmentally sound manner. By far, the greatest growth has been in solar — with net metering at homes, farms, businesses, and throughout communities
        accounting for nearly 90 MW alone. All this while keeping the cost of electricity at or below the rate of inflation and securing electric bill reductions in three of the last four years for a vast majority of Vermonters.”

        • Kathy Leonard

          Robert Lehmert. You refer to Vermont’s actual RE goals, but go on to describe 100MW of new wind — which cannot be considered renewable, per Vermont’s legal guidelines.

          • Robert Lehmert

            Thank you for your comment. The portion of my comment in quotations is, as stated, quoted from the 2016 Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan and is therefore, not my characterization as renewable or not.

      • Paul Drayman

        Mr. Post, I’m not sure where you are going with your comments. Are you saying that we should continue with reliance on fossil fuels or nuclear because RE is too expensive? To respond, have you read my statement? If you have and also previous comments by me you would know I support development of renewable energy, but just not the way it is being rolled out today. We cannot go to energy independence over night. The goals set by the Legislature are ridiculous. They create a situation in which the energy future of Vermont is turned over to the RE industry which is determined to convince us to launch ahead with current RE technology. It is “not ready for prime time” and that direction is, by necessity, tied to the NE grid.
        We need to proceed carefully. The new solar generator in Rutland is addressing some important aspects of future energy production. One is creating a “Micro-Grid” which is detached (in this case can be) from the NE grid. I believe that micro-grid development must be the dominant model and the NE grid, a safety net. Secondly, in order for renewable energy to ever come of age we must make major advances in storage or other invention that addresses the storage issue.
        I do not want to see 500 acre parcels of solar panels, but I do feel that, in the absence of other promising technology, if a community is convinced that this is what they need and they decide where it will be sited, then so be it. As far as wind towers, we would not need to see hundreds of miles of them on our ridge lines, because these would not be sited in, say, Irasburg or some other rural town, to send power to Burlington and other power hungry cities. Each town or group of towns would generate their own electricity. I mentioned small scale wind towers as part of a mix.
        We could make some progress right now, but to become independent, we need innovation in storage and a different way of thinking about RE production than the industry is pushing now. We could make a dent in it by creating tangible incentives to put solar panels on most homes and small businesses. I think that would be a reasonable goal as a first step.

        • Willem Post

          You mentioned moving to make Vermont energy independent.
          I merely indicated the physical implications, the capital cost, $billions, of just the storage, and the likely cost of energy, c/kWh.
          I am well aware of the implications, as I wrote some articles on the subject.

          • Paul Drayman

            Thanks for your response. Can we make this technology easily accessible to the average Vermonter by facilitating conversion to solar. It seems to be the most promising and least invasive and also has the capability to be easily updated as advances are made. I don’t see the price of billions ($) at the moment. There would be an immediate savings on electric bills of at least 50% without “net metering”. Not meaning to oversimplify, but simplicity is what is needed and what I feel will be successful.
            My question to you for this conversation thread is, what is your suggestion for a solution to future energy production in Vermont?.

          • Willem Post


            Vermont should have at least 50% of its electricity from Hydro-Quebec.

            It is the lowest cost of all renewables and it has the least CO2 of all renewables, much lower in cost and CO2 than wind and solar.

            Also it is steady electricity, not variable like wind and solar.

            Having many solar systems on a distribution grid causes significant disturbances during variable cloudy weather, which need to be smoothed by battery systems.

            GMP, and many other utilities, installed such a battery systems and also use them to shift solar energy from midday to late afternoon.

            Such a set up is a much more expensive approach than getting more electricity from H-Q.

  • Robert Lehmert

    This is very encouraging. I wanted to share an interesting alternative to grid scale storage that might be appropriate for Vermont. It is a system which stores energy by using gravity and a series of modules on rail, each of which is moved up a slope when there is excess power and released down the slope when power is required by the grid. The train motors become electrical generators regenerating potential energy and pushing the electricity back into the electrified rail and ultimately back to the grid. It is similar to storing power by pumping water uphill, but requires far less land.

    A large-scale deployment of this kind of system could handle 500 MW or more, which would require just under 13 kilometers of track. Such a system could be built on Vermont’s slopes which already have electrical transmission wires, minimizing the amount of slope that would need to be cleared in order to build the system. Stored energy can be “released” within the same hour, week or many months after storage with no degradation over time, without performance degradation in bad weather. A California-based company, Advanced Rail Energy Storage (ARES) has built a demonstration system — see http://www.aresnorthamerica.com/grid-scale-energy-storage .

    • Paul Richards

      “Such a system could be built on Vermont’s slopes…”
      I have a better idea; rather than blast our National Forrest’s, cover our fields, meadows and wetlands with ugly billboards and put tracks and rails on our slopes let’s embrace the newest nuclear technologies which are the only viable solution to our base load needs. We can and should continue to put solar panels on rooftops.

      • Matthew Davis

        Great idea! Except where are you going to find the investors…?

        • Paul Richards

          Finding investors would be easier if everyone would take off their blinders and embrace the new technologies in this area. The government is so hell bent on their scheme to extract more money out of us in the name of global warming, climate change, renewable energy or whatever you want to call it today that nothing will change there anytime soon. The government run media and educational system have already spent a lot of time an energy indoctrinating the citizenry on their scheme with great success so it would be hard to turn the ship now. Besides it’s the best fleecing scheme they have ever devised and they are not about to reverse course. It’s a sure winner for them.

          • Matthew Davis

            Your conspiracy theories aside, I actually agree that small scale nuclear should be pursued here in VT. However, financially it doesn’t add up. Compare it to wind which has a much higher EROI and which is considerably cheaper to install, maintain and decommission, and has no fuel costs. The new technologies are certainly appealing in many ways, but the market is the market…

      • Robert Lehmert

        I’m sure you have many better ideas, but I’m not convinced “the newest nuclear technologies” are an answer for Vermont’s needs. Why don’t we wait until somebody else tries those before fixating on that. So far as your comment about blasting and National Forrest’s [sic], you could install a system like ARES on brownfields or abandoned quarries.

  • Felicia Scott

    Why is Mr. Sanders wandering around Vermont? I thought his interests were elsewhere. And why tour a useless snow-covered solar factory when he could go over to the Green Mountain National Forest where his foolishness has brought even greater destruction? He could even get a chance to practice his Spanish with those Spanish wind developers he sold a portion of our state to.

    • Robert Lehmert

      My home has a SunCommon pv system, 18 panels, engineered to produce an annualized net bill of zero. Our cash flow on the system we purchased is about identical to our old GMP bill, about $125. Our bill in February was $38, despite the snow and short, cloudy days. So much for “useless snow-covered solar” panels.

  • Edward Letourneau

    What is the plan when the energy demand “duck curve” comes to Vermont?

    • Willem Post

      Part of the solar peak production would be absorbed by the battery systems, which would charge during solar peak hours, about 10 am to 2 pm, and discharge during peak demand hours, about 5 pm to 9 pm, thereby partially eliminating the duck curve.
      The cost per kWh of such shifting is expensive, and made worse by the about 20% round trip overall energy loss.
      A part of that battery system cost should be charged to PV system owners, the disturbers, but is instead charged to all rate payers.
      GMP will have reduced ISO-NE capacity charges and reduced transmission charges, and income from the 2.5 MW solar system
      The capacity charges are expected to increase due to generating electricity during peak demands with a constrained gas supply.

      • Edward Letourneau

        I’ve worked on utility scale energy storage systems so I understand the systems. What the real world has found is storage capacity that cannot meet the demand curve. The proposed solutions include more pumped storage (which Vermont will never allow) and teaming battery systems with gas turbines. Mostly that is intended to provide instant power to stabilize the grid for 10 to 20 minutes until the gas turbines reach optimum efficiency. Vermont won’t accept gas turbines either. Who pays is another issue, but wrong headed Vermont will likely dump it on the rate payers as you suggest.

      • Robert Lehmert

        Peak demand hours for conventionally generated electricity have shifted to the middle of the night in response to the daytime generation of sustainable energy. This was discussed at the Renewable Energy Vermont Conference in October. You should come to the next one October 11 – 13. It was an exciting program.

        • Willem Post

          The peak electricity GENERATION by conventional plants has shifted to the middle of the night, because solar is zero and wind, especially during summer, often is near zero as well.

          The peak electricity DEMAND is from about 5 to 9 pm.

          The batteries reduce GMP’s grid demand, as seen by ISO-NE, and GMP’s capacity and transmission charges, as imposed by ISO-NE.

    • Paul Drayman

      These problems with RE technology, engineering and proliferation are major reasons why we need to proceed, but with a plan. A dream of 90% renewable can only be achieved if the crucial issue of storage is resolved or a viable alternative is invented. Developers, in-state or out (even out of country as we know), buying up property or existing Vermont property owners, both wishing to create an income source, then selling the scheme to us is backwards and has led to the bitter divide we have today.

  • Daniel Burks

    As the nation begins to suspect some nefarious behavior on the part of UN-IPCC socialists (….since 1988) and has come to recognize that Government Agencies have been funding ONLY one side of the climate change question to the repeated tune of $2-3 Bn a year (a quite reliable academic income stream if you approach your topic correctly), the enlightened Bernie Sanders sees an opportunity…..no, a ‘revolution’ in renewable energy.

    The cold facts are that no energy and freight intensive industry can afford to consider residency in New England $18.44/kwh, (VT $17.22/kwh), with the nation’s average electricity rate at $12.32/kwh. Net metering, an insidious reverse Robinhood ploy, will only accelerate that rate disparity if it is permitted to continue.

    • Edward Letourneau

      Its actually worse in vermont because the state has tacked on funding for Energy Efficiency and some other things. — None of which help the people who actually have to pay the bills.

      • Robert Lehmert

        That’s ridiculous. You can lead a horse to water, but if the horse refuses to drink, it’s the horse’s fault. Since we sealed up and insulated, my home costs under $500 a year to heat and we never use air conditioning. Now that we have swapped out the old appliances and lighting, our electric bill is taken care of by the PV system on our roof. We increased the comfort of our home during both summer and winter, and increased its value. Also — just FYI– our PV system reduces the charge for Efficiency Vermont on my electric bill.

    • Robert Lehmert

      Source for your numbers, please.

      • Daniel Burks

        US Department of Energy, State Rates (all users) December 2016 ytd.

        • Robert Lehmert

          You state that “no energy and freight intensive industry can afford …” but you then quote the residential rate of $0.1722 per kWh.

          According your source, the commercial rate is $0.1432 per kWh and the industrial rate is $0.1001.


          Also, please note that in all rate categories, Vermont has rates which are lower than Massachusetts, which has significantly more industry.

          One final point — the really energy intensive industries such as Network Server Farms operated by Google and Apple — have all converted or are converting to solar.

  • Jay Eshelman

    Re: “The Stafford Hill solar farm has the ability to produce 2.5 megawatts of electricity.”

    We only need 80 more of these solar farms to provide one quarter of Vermont’s annual power demands…if they operate at maximum capacity throughout the year.

    • Robert Lehmert

      Vermont has already installed 250 mW of solar in the past 5 years. The price has plummeted.

      This is within our grasp.

    • Willem Post

      These solar systems would produce 80 x 2.5 x 8766 x 0.14 = 2,454,000 MWh/y, which is more than one quarter of Vermont’s electricity needs.* Capital cost about $700 million. Land area about 14000 acres.

      The problem is almost all of electricty would be generated between 10 am and 2 pm

      Storing what is not consumed in battery systems for consumption during peak demand hours, 5 pm to 9 pm, would require several billion dollars of battery systems. There would be an overall round trip loss of 20% with this set up.

      * Total supply to utilities was about 6,100,000 MWh/y in 2016. In 2050, Vermont’s electricity supply to utilities and user self-generation would total about 10 million MWh/y, after almost all vehicles are electric and almost all buildings are heated and cooled with heat pumps.

  • rosemariejackowski

    Anyone who supports the military and the F-35 is not an environmentalist. The Pentagon is the greatest threat to the environment on the planet.