Electric microgrid, first of its kind in U.S., coming online in Vermont

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In the next month or so, a renewable energy project that’s attracting national attention will come online in Addison County, Vermont.

Green Mountain Power has built a first-of-it’s- kind electric microgrid into a solar power plant in Panton. If severe weather cuts off nearby homes from the main power grid, the microgrid can keep them from going dark.

“Right now, our goal for the Panton microgrid is coming on late this summer, in time for the winter season,” Josh Castongua, GMP’s vice president of engineering and innovation, said. “It’s all coming together. A lot of the equipment is being installed as we speak and tested and commissioned, and all of that sort of thing.”

The Panton microgrid won’t use fossil fuels as a backup power source. A rechargeable battery will do that job.

“It benefits our residents immensely by producing a 50-home grid of security with energy backup; it’s beneficial,” Panton Selectboard Chair Howard Hall said. “We also get tax revenue from the solar field.”

Hall noted that the tax revenue adds up to about $44,000 per year — nearly ten percent of the town’s $450,000 annual budget.

The effort to build the microgrid very close to Panton Corners has been about five years in the making.

“They came to us, and that was approximately 2016,” Hall said. “We had a discussion where they were interested in putting in a 40-acre solar field into one of our fields off of Panton Road.”

“There was the solar component, which was in 2016, where we started just under a five-megawatt solar project,” Castonguay said. “Then we decided to add battery storage to it, and then we decided, ‘now let’s move even further and add this microgrid project’.”

The microgrid has cost GMP about $700,000 to build. The project recently was featured in Time magazine.

“We are making an outsized footprint in the work we’re doing in energy — as a state, not just GMP, but with our partners — the fact that it gets that attention and kind of is understood what’s happening here is amazing for all Vermonters,” Castonguay said.

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