Recent storms prompt federal funding for re-enforcing Vt. power grid

Published: Aug. 8, 2023 at 6:10 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Power outages can cause big problems during strong storms, and work is being done right now to prepare the electric grid for the worst. Roughly $6 million is coming down the pipe from the federal government to help Vermont do just that.

Think of the energy grid as your heartbeat-- it communicates with different entities, you rely on it and you know if it’s not working.

“One way we interpret resilience is the idea that when something pushes the grid to its limits and maybe things break or you get a blackout somewhere, that we can quickly bring it back online,” said Mads Almassalkhi, an associate electrical engineering professor at the University of Vermont.

Almassalkhi says Vermont has been working on grid resilience for decades, but more severe weather and an increased push for electrification have added stress on it.

“This ability of the grid to handle variability, from solar variability, from wind, changing peak demands on hot days and cold days, it is part of resilience,” added Almassalkhi.

The “grid” might feel more like a concept than a tangible network of electrical generators.

Louis Porter of the Washington Electric Co-op explains what millions of dollars can help with.

“Work in the substations to rebuilding power lines that are that are old or needed help or putting power lines underground, cleaning vegetation and trees that might impact the power lines changing transformers out,” Porter said.

Porter found out the scope of the work that needs to be done last year when a winter storm knocked out power for thousands last Christmas. Heavy, wet snow took down trees and power lines, leading to the most expensive restoration Washington Electric has seen.

“The impact of an outage is more significant, and people expect outages to be less frequent and less severe. You have two things coming together that are both making it more difficult for us to respond, but also our members are understandably expecting more performance,” said Porter.

Job expansion and retention is another important tool in maintaining the grid. TJ Poor with Vermont’s Department of Public Service says an additional $3 million will be paid out over the next five years to sustain the workforce.

“Train up folks as part of this and have that be done through utilities, the unions I support them, or nonunion workers, but then we can, you know, help build Vermont’s workforce and qualified folks,” Poor said.

Poor says the state will divide that $6 million among utility companies across Vermont, and he expects it will be awarded at the start of the New Year, with the goal of construction to kick off in the spring.