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Here’s the good news: renewable energy has grown to nearly 10 percent of New England's energy mix. A new offshore wind farm project in Rhode Island promises to open a door for the development of even more renewable energy.

But here’s the rub: we can’t control when the sun shines and when the wind blows. In fact, we can’t even forecast the weather that well...yet.

What that means is that an old-fashioned power grid, built for the 20th Century, has to deal with times when we have far more energy from renewables than we need, and others where we still have to burn fossil fuels to power ourselves.

In this five-part series from the New England News Collaborative, we’ll explore new ideas in energy storage and production; we’ll consider the challenges faced by current energy demands; and we’ll cover the battle over where to put the wind turbines, solar panels, and yes, even the fossil fuel plants that keep our lights on.

Solar is big business across Vermont, including in the Northeast Kingdom. Credit: Angela Evancie, VPR

Solar Surge Poses Big Challenges For The Grid

New England now gets nearly 10 percent of its energy from renewable sources -- with more on the way. But that change is posing challenges for the region’s electric grid. 

We’ll start in Vermont, where solar power is booming. From small projects that supply a home or two, to massive, multi-acre arrays that produce enough energy to power a small town, solar is both changing the landscape and transforming the way we buy, sell, and transmit electricity. To find out how, John Dillon from Vermont Public Radio visited a small, member-owned utility in northern Vermont. 

Burrillville power plant protesters standing outside the Rhode Island Statehouse. Credit Ambar Espinoza / RIPR

Burrillvill power plant Protesters standing outside the Rhode Island Statehouse. Credit Ambar Espinoza / RIPR

As Renewables Boom, Sparks Fly Over Natural Gas

Even with the boom in renewable power, New England still getsabout half its energy from natural gas -- that’s a huge jump from a few years ago. The fracking boom in the U.S. meant a big investment in gas-fired plants. But many environmentalists are pushing back, worried about spending money on fossil-fuel infrastructure, just as renewables like wind and solar are taking off.

Rhode Island Public Radio’s Ambar Espinoza looks at the controversy over whether to build another gas-fired plant in a small Rhode Island town.

BNE Energy CEO Greg Zupkus looks up at one of his company's wind turbines in Colebrook, Connecticut on the state's only commercial wind farm. Credit: Ryan Caron King, WNPR

Wind Power Developers Look to Water Company Land

Wind power is about to go big-time in New England, with the opening of the first offshore wind farm in the U.S., located off the Rhode Island coast. And onshore wind projects already dot the region. But Connecticut hasn’t joined the movement. The state doesn’t have a lot of wind or a lot of available space, and only recently lifted a ban on wind turbine projects.

WNPR’s Ryan Caron King goes to the tiny town of Colebrook, Connecticut to find out why wind power hasn’t taken off yet, and whether another natural resource -- water reservoirs -- might be the solution.

A grid-scale diesel generator near Mike Elkins' furniture-making company can quickly deliver 500 kilowatts of electricity to the Boothbay area. Credit: Fred Bever, MPBN

A grid-scale diesel generator near Mike Elkins' furniture-making company can quickly deliver 500 kilowatts of electricity to the Boothbay area. Credit: Fred Bever, MPBN

How a Local Power Project Disrupted a Powerful Utility

A major transformation in the way energy is made, delivered, and used is happening right now, and it’s disrupting the traditional business model of electric utility companies. That model includes building big infrastructure projects to transmit electricity.

Maine Public Radio’s Fred Bever reports on how a startup company’s big idea to save and make energy locally averted the need to build a costly new transmission line.

powerlines-vpr-masterson-20160819-no-logoThe Humble Water Heater as Energy-Saving Star

Renewable energy has grown to nearly 10 percent of New England's energy mix. But here’s the problem: we can't control when the sun shines and the wind blows. That means sometimes extra renewable energy gets dumped, or a wind plant is told to power down.

Vermont Public Radio's Kathleen Masterson reports on a startup that is hoping that it can use a humble appliance in your basement -- your water heater -- as a storage device for extra electricity.