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Liberty Utilities Proposes Battery Program for Lebanon Homes



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Lebanon — A utility company doing business in Lebanon hopes to install hundreds of batteries in city homes this fall, as part of an ongoing effort to reduce energy prices.

Liberty Utilities is planning to launch a pilot program that would offer about 300 Lebanon homeowners subsidized prices on Tesla’s Powerwall home battery units. The home battery, which is used like a generator, stores energy for use during power outages and periods of high regional energy usage.

If the program is approved by state regulators, the batteries potentially could cut customers’ power bills in the region and save Liberty millions, according to company officials.

“It really is an exciting program,” Liberty spokesman John Shore said on Tuesday.

Under the program, Liberty customers would pay $1,000 upfront or $10 a month over 10 years for a single Powerwall, according to the company’s filings to the state Public Utilities Commission.

Liberty would subsidize the remaining $5,600 cost of purchasing and installing a Powerwall. The company also would retain ownership of the batteries.

Homeowners generally would have control over the batteries — for example, they could choose to charge their battery at night and use the energy during an outage, or they could choose to use it as their primary energy source during the daytime, when energy traditionally is most expensive.

The batteries can power a home for anywhere between eight and 20 hours, and come with a 10-year warranty, according to Tesla.

The company also would be able to take over the batteries during times when its system faces peak demand, discharging energy from the batteries rather than further stressing the energy grid.

The pilot program ultimately will be expanded to 1,000 Liberty customers — chosen on a first come, first serve basis — across the Granite State, Shore said. But Lebanon residents will be invited to join first, largely because Liberty is hoping to forgo infrastructure upgrades within the city.

The company’s substation on Crafts Hill in West Lebanon likely will require improvements if energy demands continue to grow, Shore said, adding the use of batteries could reduce stress on that system.

Liberty estimates the batteries could avert $640,000 in construction at the substation, a cost that likely would be passed down to customers.

Officials also hope the batteries could solve statewide energy issues.

Liberty has asked that the program also institute a new electricity billing system called a “time-of-use” rate structure, which would charge customers based on the time of day they utilize energy from the electric grid. If it’s approved, that rate plan would only apply to customers participating in the pilot program.

Rates currently are calculated using a single transmission cost that is passed down to customers to cover the price of moving electricity, Shore said. That fee, which usually is calculated in the high usage, summer months, has been increasing in recent years, he said.

By moving to a new rate structure, Shore said, customers using Powerwalls should see savings by collecting and storing energy when it’s cheapest.

It’s also possible that reducing the number of customers on the grid at peak times could in turn decrease Liberty’s overall transmission costs, he said.

Liberty predicts customers enrolled in its pilot program will save a total of $1.8 million over 10 years. The company also expects to save $700,000 a month, according to PUC filings.

It would spend about $7.3 million to install the Powerwalls, as well as $350,000 to upgrade and maintain a billing and metering system.

Last year in Vermont, Green Mountain Power began offering a heavily subsidized Tesla Powerwall to customers to help them store renewable energy while also trying to drive down transmission and capacity costs, especially during hot days where power demands are high.

GMP’s program installed 2,000 batteries in Vermont as of mid-January, according to Liberty’s testimony before the New Hampshire PUC. Liberty worked with GMP when planning its pilot program.

Officials have asked the PUC to render a decision on the pilot program by June 30.

Shore said customers would then be contacted over the summer and Liberty would look to begin rolling out the Powerwalls sometime around November.

However, it’s unclear whether the PUC will abide by that schedule or amend the program in its final decision.

Several solar companies have joined in the regulatory proceedings, arguing that the company’s proposed ownership of the batteries would discourage competition and customer choice.

“We believe that a competitive process would be the best route to do this better, cheaper and faster for all ratepayers, and for the individual ratepayer that has the battery storage as well,” Sunrun Inc. representative Chris Rauscher said during a January hearing before the PUC.

On Tuesday, Lebanon Councilor Clifton Below said that the city is concerned with Liberty’s potential monopoly over the battery program. And commercial businesses should have access to the batteries, not just homeowners, he added.

Below, a former PUC commissioner, also said he hopes the pilot program will be able to tie into a project the city is calling Lebanon Community Power.

That city project would allow utility customers to enroll in a “real-time pricing” energy rate that changes hourly, allows customers to purchase from renewable sources and potentially is cheaper than Liberty’s proposed “time-of-use” rates.

Overall, Below said, Liberty’s pilot program would be a step “in the right direction.”

“It definitely fits into helping customers in the system as a whole reduce energy costs, but it also helps us with the possible integration with a lot more renewables,” he said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.