US Senator Bernie Sanders has joined with utility and environmental groups at a news conference in Vermont to laud the benefits of the smart grid being rolled out in the state.
Vermont received some $69 million in federal stimulus funds as part of the $4 billion national investment in smart grid technology. Supporters claim the upgrade to the analog electric system has already paid dividends in Vermont, helping to cut the outage response time in half after Tropical Storm Irene struck the state a year ago.
“The bottom line is that smart grid offers real benefits for consumers and the environment,” said Sanders, a member of both the Senate energy and environment committees.
According to a study by the US Department of Energy, smart grid technology can reduce carbon emissions from electricity use by up to 15% a year in the long run.
Besides giving households and businesses real-time information on their energy use, smart grids could also help utilities to avoid unnecessary power generation and introduce more solar and wind power without sacrificing reliability.
“We have only begun to scratch the surface of the benefits this technology has to offer,” said David Hallquist, chief executive of the Vermont Electric Cooperative, which serves consumers in 74 towns in northern Vermont. “On an individual level, consumers are better able to manage electricity consumption. On a utility level, VEC has significantly reduced its number of outages. And on a broader level, smart grid technology is helping us to integrate more renewable energy.”
Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, also participated in the news conference. “Vermonters want clean energy and the smart grid will help to make that possible,” said Burns. “Going door-to-door throughout the state we’ve found incredible support for wind, solar and other renewable resources. Smart technology allows those resources to be integrated into the grid while giving consumers the chance to make more responsible energy choices of their own.”
Despite Burns’ assessment, Vermont’s smart grid has run into opposition from some environmental groups in Vermont.
While acknowledging that smart grids have their benefits, Vermonters for a Clean Environment is worried the wireless transmissions that travel between homes and utilities could damage residents’ health.
Utilities have responded by saying those transmissions are no different from ones that support the use of mobile phones and baby monitors.
Annette Smith, the founder of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, is also reported to have voiced concern that data gathering by smart grids is an intrusion into consumers’ privacy.