Powering Strong Communities

Stowe Electric Department Gets Federal Funds To Restore Hydro Plant

The Stowe Electric Department in Vermont plans to use a $1.2 million federal grant to restore a hydroelectric plant.

The funding is one of several requested by Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders on behalf of Vermont projects and included in the annual Senate Appropriations bills released in August. The bills have passed the Senate and will go before the House shortly before being signed into law by the President.

Sanders’ Congressionally Directed Spending (CDS) requests for Fiscal Year 2023 target needs across Vermont in the areas of childcare, infrastructure, clean energy and water, farming and agriculture, education, health care, homeland security, and housing.

The grant for the Stowe Electric Department falls under the heading of Homeland Security because it is intended to help improve the resilience of critical infrastructure in Stowe.

The public power utility intends to use the grant to upgrade and rebuild a sluiceway and other infrastructure at the Smith Falls hydro plant damaged in 2011 by Tropical Storm Irene.

“We have been working with Vermont’s Congressional delegation for about three years and we’re thankful that Sanders’ Office supports our proposal,” Ellen Burt, general manager of Stowe Electric Department, said.

The utility plans to apply for a hydro license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission this year and hopes to have a combined 162kW/411,000 kWh hydro and 94.5kW/94.23 MWh solar on Stowe’s Operations building online by the end of next year.

The restored hydro station is part of a larger plan being implemented by the Stowe Electric Department. The utility built a 1-megawatt (MW) solar farm that was energized in August 2016. Stowe Electric Department plans to incorporate the solar farm and the restored hydro plant into a net-zero microgrid project that is undergoing a feasibility study with the help of an APPA DEED grant.

The hydro and solar plants would give Stowe Electric Department three behind-the-meter renewable resources. The electric power from both resources would feed into the same substation that serves critical infrastructure in Stowe, such as police, emergency response, and the town’s high school, which is also designated as an emergency shelter.

It is always a good idea for a utility to build their own behind-the-meter generating resources because they avoid transmission and capacity costs, which have been rising, Burt said.

Burt said Stowe Electric Department began thinking about installing a microgrid in 2017 after a particularly powerful windstorm knocked power out in the town for about a week. “More and more storms like this are going to happen in the future,” she said.

Stowe Electric Department won a $63,000 grant from the American Public Power Association for the engineering study for the planned microgrid. After the engineer’s report is completed, Stowe Electric Department will begin looking for and buying the needed equipment and have the microgrid in service in 2024.

Sanders’ requests in the appropriations bills also includes funds targeted for other energy projects in Vermont. They include $500,000 for Clean Energy Group to install solar energy and battery storage systems at several community health centers, $7,000 for the Brandon Senior Citizens Center to install a solar array, $57,000 for the Worthen Library in South Hero to install 125 230-watt solar panels and, under the military construction heading, a $1.17 million grant for the planning and design of a secure, integrated, primary voltage, feeder-level microgrid that would include battery storage, a 750-kW photovoltaic solar array and a smart grid control system.