The Mountain Times

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Response to GMP pilot program heats up

Program expanded due to high interest, but now closed to additional customers
RUTLAND - Due to an extraordinary customer response, Green Mountain Power is expanding plans for what is believed to be the first utility-sponsored heat pump rental program in the country, but has closed the pilot to new customers effective Aug. 6.
"The pilot clearly tapped into something, because the response has been flabbergasting," said Steve Costello, GMP's vice president for generation and energy innovation. "We had hoped to get 200 customers to participate in the pilot, and thought it might take a few months to develop that much interest. More than 500 customers have expressed interest in just a few days, dramatically exceeding our expectations.
"As a result, with support from the Department of Public Service, we have expanded the pilot to include all customers who have responded to this point, but we are closing the pilot to additional customers for now," Costello said. "We hope to be able to expand the pilot to a larger program after we have more experience with heat pumps and customers' experiences with them."
The pilot effort, centered in Rutland, is intended to save customers money and demonstrate the comfort air-source heat pumps can provide in a cold-weather climate.
The rental program includes installation of air-source heat pumps in homes and businesses with no up-front costs for the customer, and is expected to save participants hundreds of gallons of heating fuel and thousands of dollars each year.
Employees in GMP's Energy Innovation Center contacted all customers who voiced interest in time to take part. Once a customer decides to go ahead, a contractor will be scheduled to do the installation.
"We have been amazed by the customer interest," Costello said. "Customers we've spoken with are focused on reducing their reliance on foreign oil, cutting their carbon emissions and reducing high heating bills. We believe air-source heat pumps can do all that, while improving customer comfort year round."
Cold climate heat pumps, also known as mini-split heat pumps, are ductless heating systems that also provide air conditioning during hot weather. Installed in less than a day, a heat pump includes an outdoor unit that works as a heat exchanger, like the compressor in a refrigerator, and is connected with copper tubing to a small interior unit.
In cold weather, gas within the copper tubing extracts heat from outdoor air down to temperatures of about 13 below zero, and the warmth is brought inside. In hot weather, the process reverses to cool the building. GMP plans to heat its Energy Innovation Center largely with air-source heat pumps.
Under the pilot program, GMP will pay to install heat pumps in customers' homes and small businesses, and rent them to the property owners for about $45 to $50 per month.
Through a heat pump summit last fall and a program with Efficiency Vermont and NeighborWorks of Western Vermont to package weatherization with heat pump incentives, GMP has developed relationships with numerous installers in the HVAC, plumbing and home performance industries.  Six models are available through two manufacturers, Mitsubishi and Daikin.