Tesla brings innovation to town

Powerwall battery installed by GMP

By Tom Benton

Staff Writer

The Facts

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ST. ALBANS TOWN – If you think “Franklin County” and don’t think “technical innovation” – think again. Local homeowner Troy Turner became the recipient of Green Mountain Power (GMP)’s first Tesla Powerwall yesterday, a cutting-edge, rechargeable lithium-ion battery that can store backup power, akin to an electric generator.

Turner is the first person in the state, and one of the first in the country, to receive the device.

GMP is the first utility in the nation to install Powerwalls. GMP President and CEO Mary Powell said offering the Powerwall is about “embracing a consumer-led revolution for clean energy, and more energy independence. The Powerwall is just the first step.”

Powell said the Powerwall is garnering so much attention on its own that the company might not even advertise it. She said the company is now oversubscribed: 700 customers have expressed strong interest in the Powerwall, but GMP’s initial order consists of only 500.

Once GMP announced that order, selecting the first person to have this revolutionary new device installed boiled down to a very old idea: first come, first serve.

“We just started calling people and went right down the list,” said Betsy Bloomer, the director of GMP’s Energy Innovation Center. “Whoever got back to us first, got it.”

That was Turner.

“I’m fired up about this because we do lose power here,” Turner said. “Being around farms and being a bit rural, we do lose power from time to time.”

Turner is a physician’s assistant, transitioning into woodworking from home. He tells a story about putting finish on a large woodworking piece, only to have the power go out, forcing him to start over.

But first and foremost, Turner is the father of a 16-month-old child. He said he fears losing power for his child’s sake: it would mean losing the ability to run a breast pump, and a longer outage might mean the loss of the family’s refrigerated breast milk, which he calls “liquid gold.”

“It’s really about staying safe with my family,” Turner said. “I do like technology, and being cutting-edge, but I’m not a tech guy.”

So why the Powerwall? “With a gas generator, there’s the fumes,” he said. “You could die from the exhaust. With any generator, there’s the cost, and I’d have a huge unit in my yard, and there’s the noise.”

The Powerwall stores 7 kilowatts of power. Multiple Powerwalls can be “stacked” to increase power storage. One could power an average home for four to six hours. Powell said that GMP’s average power outage lasts 2.2 hours, “so one unit would cover anything but extreme weather outages.”

The question for most people, of course, will be cost. It’s $6,500 to buy a Powerwall outright. But to lease one through GMP, it will cost customers only $1.25 a day, a total of about $37.50 a month – with no upfront cost. Turner said pricing like this makes cost a non-issue.

“I’m not paying anything,” he said. “Just the cost to run it, which is cheap. No overhead, no upfront, no upkeep or maintenance.”

Powell said GMP will “work with customers to fill the battery when too much energy is on the grid. People can actually get paid to take excess energy off the grid. That’s part of the idea of new energy, eliminating energy peaks.

“The Powerwall is a lot safer than using a fossil fuel backup. This is a chance for people to really get into energy and get sophisticated about it.”

Josh Castonguay is GMP’s Chief Innovation Executive. He said, “Before the Powerwall is put in someone’s home, it’s tested for overheating, underheating – it’s put through anything to make sure it’s fine and it can take it. If there’s a short circuit, it shuts down. It’s no different than your lithium-ion phone.”

Castonguay said users can download new firmware and software for the Powerwall within their own homes. He did note that GMP monitors the devices to make sure they’re adequately performing, and that Tesla receives usage information for each device.

That doesn’t worry Turner. He said he heard a story from a Tesla Motors driver – Tesla receives usage information from their electric cars as well. “Tesla actually called them,” Turner said. “Tesla said, ‘You have time, but your car needs to be fixed.’”

Castonguay said each Powerwall is guaranteed for 10 years, after which the unit can be recycled.

Turner hopes his experience with the Powerwall will answer potential customers’ questions.

“They might say, ‘It doesn’t matter, I don’t have the money,’” he said. “But I don’t either. I’m not paying for it.

“My brother said I need to put him as my beneficiary, so if anything happens he’ll get it.”

Powell said GMP hopes to have more Powerwalls in Franklin County within a couple months.

“Can I get one?” she asked Bloomer.

Those interested in buying or leasing their own can get more information or sign up online at www.greenmountainpower.com.