Vermont businesses align in effort to lower peak energy use


WAITSFIELD -- Efficiency Vermont has launched a new initiative with Vermont industrial and manufacturing companies to help reduce peak energy usage.

With an initial investment of $2 million, Efficiency Vermont will work with 19 companies to lower peak electricity load by 10 percent this year. That, officials say, will help businesses across the state reap significant savings.

On a patio outside Cabot Creamery's administrative offices in Waitsfield on Thursday, Gov. Peter Shumlin, Efficiency Vermont Director Jim Merriam, Commissioner of the Public Service Department Chris Recchia, and representatives from Green Mountain Power, Cabot and other businesses, gathered to announce the start of Efficiency Vermont's Industrial Peak Initiative.

The program aims to save energy costs by lowering usage during peak energy demands that occur for short periods of time.

"As we face the need to reduce our power usage, to ensure that we're doing our part, not only to have a cleaner, more livable planet for future generations of Vermonters, but also to grow jobs and economic opportunity in this state by reducing power costs for companies like Cabot that are growing jobs," Shumlin told the small gathering.

Electric companies install infrastructure and calculate transmission costs based on the maximum amount of energy flowing through the system at a given time. The peak is reached for just 15 minutes over the course of an entire year, but accounts for 26 percent of 2013 energy costs for the 19 participating companies.

"What we're trying to do here is push it down without affecting the manufacturing processes that are going on," Merriam said.

It's an initiative, said Kristin Carlson, spokesperson for Green Mountain Power, which is partnering with Efficiency Vermont, "that shows you can have a cleaner, greener energy future while also lowering costs. It's really a no-brainer."

Efficiency Vermont, which is operated by the nonprofit Vermont Energy Investment Corp., will help businesses find ways to run high-consuming machines at different times, for instance. It also encourages companies to replace infrastructure with energy-efficient models, and advises them when their energy consumption is close to peak load, allowing them to modify their practices.

Recent advances in energy technology allow for real-time measurement of energy consumption and make adjustments accordingly.

"We have to build power lines, substations, infrastructure to meet that peak demand, which occurs at such a brief period," Carlson said. "And when you meet that peak demand, you're going to our dirtiest power generators, our dirtiest sources, to get that power, which is also the most expensive."

Starting with 19 companies in the industrial and manufacturing sector, including Cabot Cheese, Ethan Allen Operations and Keurig Green Mountain, Efficiency Vermont will start by analyzing peak usage -- when it occurs, whether it's triggered by weather or other events, and which pieces of equipment have the highest energy demand.

It could be as simple as advising a company not to run two HVAC units simultaneously, Merriam said. Electricity usage is generally highest between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Eventually, Efficiency Vermont aims to decrease each company's peak demand by 10 percent.

"It's really a shame when it's just 15 minutes because you know that's preventable. So that's what we're doing -- trying to knock those pieces off," Merriam said.

The goal, Merriam said, is to save the participating businesses $1.5 million a year. That's above and beyond the $5 million these companies are already saving through other energy efficiency improvements, he added.

Within the next few years, Efficiency Vermont hopes to extend the Industrial Peak Initiative to include the other 300 companies they work with.

It takes a year for GMP to adjust peak-load calculations and infrastructure, so most of the savings should come within a couple of years, Merriam said. But the efforts are expected to have implications nationally, as well.

"It's tough when we're in Vermont because we see what we're doing as just making sense," Carlson said. "But if you step outside of Vermont, programs like this are really leading the way nationally in trying to find creative ways to work with customers to save them money."

"I see this like a snow globe -- about to get shaken up with asking how can you help customers maybe generate their own power, generate cleaner power, do it at a lower cost, which is so important, and also use less energy," she said.


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