Sanders and Sandia Announce New $15 Million Energy Lab at University of Vermont | News | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice
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Sanders and Sandia Announce New $15 Million Energy Lab at University of Vermont 

Sanders announces Vermont contract with Sandia in partnership with UVM.

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By the summer of 2013, Vermont will be the first state in the nation to have near-universal electrical smart-grid coverage — and Sandia National Laboratories is setting up shop at the University of Vermont to make it all happen.

That was Sen. Bernie Sanders' announcement at a press conference in his Burlington office this morning. Gov. Peter Shumlin, Green Mountain Power CEO Mary Powell, UVM President John Bramley and Sandia Vice President Rick Stulen joined Sanders to announce a three-year, $15 million commitment to open the first-ever national laboratory in New England in Burlington. 

The new lab, dubbed the Center for Energy Transformation and Innovation (CETI), will make as the centerpiece of its work the rollout of smart meters throughout the Green Mountain State, enabling all the state's utilities to better manage energy consumption and better integrate renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, into the power grid. The $15 million commitment comes in addition to the $69 million already allocated to Vermont from the federal government to roll out smart meters statewide.

As Vermont shifts from its reliance on fossil fuels to more renewable energy sources, "with those technologies comes an intermittency that we have to figure out how to manage," Sandia's Stulen explained. "So, if the state and the country [are] to achieve penetration greater than 30 to 40 percent of renewables, we need to understand how to manage that in a way that everybody has the power they need all the time."

In effect, Stulen added, smart meters will "turn the grid from a one-way street to a two-way street," where small, locally generated power is fed back into the grid and effectively managed. Smart metering also provides the grid with "increased resiliency and reliability" in an uncertain energy future. Managing that uncertainty also means anticipating "cyber challenges" that open up as home and business utility meters go online and thus are potentially susceptible to cyber attacks.

Sanders and Shumlin both describe the lab as a major driver of new sustainable energy development as well as job creation. Although neither offered a prediction about how many new jobs could potentially be created by CETI's presence at UVM, "The history of where national laboratories are located is a history of economic development," Sanders said.  

Pointing to last spring's record flooding, as well as to the foot or more of rain Vermont received during Tropical Storm Irene, Shumlin noted that extreme weather is the "wave of the future" that can be "both a challenge and an economic opportunity for Vermonters, if handled properly."

Similarly, UVM's Bramley sees enornous opportunities for the CETI lab to open up new avenues of research at UVM.

“This helps us to engage around the STEM [science, technology engineering and math] disciplines," he said, "but it also relates to behavioral science and modeling and complex systems and all the other things that we’ve really tried to make a feature of the future of the university."

Responding to a question about Sandia's relationship with Lockheed Martin — the defense contractor whose proposed partnership with Burlington got Mayor Bob Kiss into hot water earlier this year — Stulen clarified the often misunderstood relationship between the national energy lab and the nation's largest defense contractor. Sandia, he explained, like all national laboratories, is contractually required to have an oversight partner from the private sector, and Lockheed is Sandia's partner. However, he emphasized that Lockheed doesn't "function in the mission space of the labs at all" because of "firewalls" that have been set up between between the two.

Photo by Ken Picard

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Ken Picard

Ken Picard

Ken Picard has been a Seven Days staff writer since 2002. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the Vermont Press Association's 2005 Mavis Doyle award, a general excellence prize for reporters.

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