Karen Glitman: Vermont needs a shave

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August has brought its share of warm, humid days. Many Vermonters rely on electric-powered air conditioning (AC), heat-pumps, and fans to get relief from the heat. These cooling solutions make us more comfortable, but with the exception of heat pumps, these products can use a lot of electricity — and when many people crank up their ACs all at once, that power can get expensive. For example, on the hottest summer day in 2016 - Aug. 11, when it reached 96 F — Vermonters used 20 percent more electricity than on an average summer day.

If you cool with AC and you don't have solar or other self-generated electricity your electric bills could be higher in the summer. But what's driving that cost isn't just your use, it's also the electric rate.

Here's how it works. On the hottest summer days, the utilities and grid operator need to purchase enough electricity — often by using expensive, fossil-fuel backup generators — to ensure that we have the power we need. Utilities pay more to bring these "peak generators" online.

This doesn't just drive costs up on the hottest days, it drives up electricity costs throughout the year. Why? Because rates are set based on the system's ability to meet peak demand. If we reduce peak demand, we can optimize use of the poles, wires, and power plants we have today. We can avoid future expansion and put those dollars to better use elsewhere. It's no wonder that utilities, consumer groups, and environmentalists are focused on "peak shaving." The cost savings and environmental benefits are significant.

Vermont's electric efficiency utilities, Efficiency Vermont and Burlington Electric Department, are working year-round to reduce our summer and winter peaks. New efficient technology makes it easier than ever for customers to reduce and shift their energy use, and save money.

Take the example of the McKnight Lane housing development in Waltham. A team of partners — Addison County Community Trust, Clean Energy Group, Cathedral Square, Efficiency Vermont, and Green Mountain Power — worked collaboratively and installed battery-storage and occupant-accessed energy management systems in 14 new, high-performance modular homes, manufactured by VERMOD Homes. The batteries are remotely accessible and can be managed by Green Mountain Power as needed to lower peak demand, keeping use and bills more stable throughout the year.

By the end of 2017, Efficiency Vermont must shave 41,300 kilowatts off Vermont's summer peak. We are more than 90 percent of the way to meeting that goal. And we do it through a mix of innovation, like McKnight Lane, and proven solutions — like offering incentives for weatherization and providing energy management services for businesses, among dozens of other affordable products and services.

We're making progress, but neither we, nor our state's utilities, can do it alone. It requires individual choices — buying ENERGY STAR appliances and using less energy during the hottest part of the day — to maximize the impact we collectively have on rates.

So when these final weeks of summer make you reach for your air conditioner, consider putting the temperature a couple degrees higher. You can visit www.efficiencyvermont.com for other simple energy saving steps. These acts will save you — and the rest of us — a lot of money. We're all in this together.

— Karen Glitman is the director of Efficiency Vermont.

The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Bennington Banner.



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