The Offshore Wind Hub: A Comprehensive Resource for State and Federal Offshore Wind Documents

Author: Dana Drugmand, Clean Energy Group | Project: Offshore Wind Accelerator Project

Earlier this summer Massachusetts put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) for long-term contracts for offshore wind energy totaling 400 MW. This solicitation follows passage of “An Act to Promote Energy Diversity” by the Massachusetts legislature in August 2016 calling for 1600 MW of offshore wind by 2027. The full text of this legislation, as well as the complete RFP document, can both be conveniently accessed from one site.

That site is the Offshore Wind Hub – a go-to repository of information and official documents pertaining to offshore wind. Scoping and feasibility studies, siting documents, project proposals, and relevant legislation are just some of the many resources contained in this online library. The database houses hundreds of documents related to technology, finance, economics, siting, and policy on offshore wind for states along the U.S. Atlantic Coast, and is searchable at the state and federal level and by topic.

As the offshore wind industry looks to take off in the U.S., the Offshore Wind Hub promises to be a useful tool for finding important offshore wind information, including the latest updates as well as documents going back to 2002. Policymakers and regulators, industry participants, students and researchers, and environmental advocates may find the Offshore Wind Hub particularly helpful in their work.

And while the Hub currently focuses on offshore wind along the Atlantic Coast, the plan is to expand the geographic reach to include other regions such as the Pacific Coast and Great Lakes. New content will also be added detailing the current status of U.S. offshore wind leases and proposed projects, likely in the form of a clickable map with pinpoints for each lease area.

As an open-access resource, the Offshore Wind Hub provides salient and free information to the public, and in turn accepts contributions of relevant documents. To submit a resource, use this form or write to OSWStaff@northeastwindcenter.org.

The Offshore Wind Hub is a project of the Northeast Wind Resource Center and is managed by Clean Energy Group, with participation by the Business Network for Offshore Wind and the Maine Ocean & Wind Industry Initiative. The US Department of Energy and the John Merck Fund provide partial funding for the project.

Five Ways States Are Accelerating Renewable Energy

Author: Dana Drugmand, Clean Energy Group | Project: Clean Energy States Alliance

Many of the initiatives to move our energy system towards clean, renewable power emanate from the state and local levels. A few cities have already reached the 100 percent clean energy mark, with many more committing to eventually meet that standard. State policies and programs, meanwhile, have been instrumental in furthering the renewable energy revolution. From passing Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) and energy storage policies to supporting green energy financing and business incubator programs, the states have and will continue to play a key role in leading the clean energy transition. Here are five ways they are doing so:

1) Setting Strong Standards

California is an indisputable leader when it comes to clean energy, and its RPS policy is no exception. It requires electricity suppliers to source 50 percent of their power from clean, renewable energy by 2030. So in only 13 years, half of all the state’s electricity will have to come from the sun, wind, and other renewable resources. According to the California Energy Commission, the state is on track to meeting its 2030 RPS, with approximately 27 percent of retail sale electricity in 2016 generated by renewables. There is currently a bill in the state legislature, already passed by the Senate, that calls for 100 percent clean energy for electricity by 2045.

Several other states have also committed to ambitious targets. New York adopted the same target as California for its Clean Energy Standard, 50 percent by 2030.  In alignment with this goal, the state recently announced an initiative to invest up to $1.5 billion in major renewable energy projects, the largest clean energy procurement by any state to date. Vermont has a goal to reach 90 percent renewable energy by 2050. Hawaii has gone even further with its standard, requiring 100 percent of its electricity to come from renewables by 2045.

2) Offering Innovative Financing

Connecticut has found a way to make the financing of clean energy deployment more accessible and affordable for consumers and businesses. In 2011 the state legislature created the Connecticut Green Bank, the nation’s first green bank. It uses public funds to attract private capital investment in green energy projects. By leveraging private investment, the Green Bank significantly increases the total amount of financing available for clean energy projects. The Connecticut Green Bank has supported in total over $1 billion in clean energy investments to date. This translates into 200 MW of additional renewable energy capacity. Among the Green Bank’s most successful initiatives is the Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) program, which allows commercial property owners to pay for clean energy or efficiency upgrades over time through their property taxes. As stated on the CT Green Bank’s website, “The model works. We are deploying more clean energy more quickly and efficiently than ever, while making optimal use of public funding.”

Several other states have adopted the green bank model. But states are also finding other ways to offer innovative financing and to encourage private investment to enter the clean energy market. The Maryland Energy Administration’s Game Changers Program awards grants that support innovative technologies and energy storage projects. Grant awards range from $50,000 to $250,000, and the goal is to promote the replication of “game changing” technologies and systems that are driving the clean energy market in the state. In Washington State, the Clean Energy Fund provides grant funding for nonprofit revolving loan programs that help home and building owners access capital for efficiency and clean energy projects. The Clean Energy Fund also offers funding for smart grid and energy storage technologies, clean energy research and development, and renewable energy manufacturing facilities.

3) Supporting Clean Energy Businesses

The clean energy industry has seen significant growth in Massachusetts, expanding by 75 percent between 2010 and 2016. Part of this success is due to incubator and internship programs supported by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. Through MassCEC’s IncubateMass program, clean energy start-ups have been able to benefit from the business support and mentoring services of incubator facilities. MassCEC’s funding of these facilities directly supports early-stage clean tech and clean energy companies, affording them access to lab and office space, specialized equipment and other resources. Clean energy companies also benefit from MassCEC’s emphasis on workforce development. The Clean Energy Internship Program places hundreds of college students and recent graduates with participating clean energy companies across the Commonwealth. The young trainees receive valuable, paid hands-on work experience, made possible by funding that MassCEC provides. The host companies in turn receive a boost to their workforce. Many of the interns go on to gain full-time employment with their host companies or elsewhere in the industry. Since the program’s launch in 2011, MassCEC reports that it has placed 1,805 interns at 317 companies.

New York is another state that has established a strong incubator program for clean energy businesses. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) funds six incubators across the state. Each is affiliated with an in-state university. Texas also has a university-affiliated incubator, the Austin Technology Incubator at the University of Texas at Austin. ATI’s Clean Energy Incubator was started in 2001 and remains one of the longest-established energy and clean tech incubators in the country.

4) Transforming and Modernizing the Electric Grid

New York has undertaken one of the boldest and most comprehensive initiatives to overhaul its electricity markets and infrastructure to support the increase in renewable energy deployment. Launched in 2014, Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) is Governor Andrew Cuomo’s strategy to build a cleaner, more affordable and more resilient energy system. REV seeks to alter the traditional utility business model and centralized power grid in order to accommodate more distributed generation, support innovation in storage and smart grid technology, and accelerate energy efficiency and clean energy measures. The three core pillars of the REV strategy are regulatory reform led by the state’s Public Service Commission, market activation led by NYSERDA, and leading by example in deploying clean energy solutions led by New York Power Authority. Together REV’s 40+ initiatives represent a commitment to completely transforming the state’s energy system.

Other states are actively working on reforms and upgrades to the power grid. According to the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center’s “50 States of Grid Modernization” report, over half of the states are currently involved in grid modernization activities. California was the top-ranking state in the 2016 Grid Modernization Index, which tracks state progress on modernizing the electric grid and awards points based on state plans and policies, level of customer engagement, and deployment of grid modernization technologies. Illinois received the number two overall ranking and the top score in terms of state support (in 2011 the state legislature passed the Energy Infrastructure Modernization Act). Texas followed up at the number three spot and scored first in the grid operations category. Maryland and Delaware rounded out the top five.

5) Mandating Energy Storage

In 2015 Oregon became the second state to pass a law that sets a target for developing energy storage – a key piece of the puzzle when it comes to developing an electricity system with very high penetration of intermittent renewable energy resources, such as solar and wind. The Oregon storage law requires utilities to procure by 2020 energy storage systems capable of storing at least 5 MWh of energy and directs the Public Utilities Commission to issue guidelines for this procurement. Furthermore, the law directs the Commission to examine the potential value of storage, including as a complement to other resources.

California adopted the first energy storage mandate in 2013, requiring 1.3 gigawatts of storage by 2020. Massachusetts passed an energy diversity law in 2016 that directed the Department of Energy Resources (DOER) to evaluate whether to pursue energy storage targets, and DOER is now moving ahead with mandatory storage targets. Nevada recently passed legislation requiring its Public Utilities Commission to consider mandating storage procurement. The Commission has until October 1, 2018 to decide on this. Additionally, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval signed into law a measure establishing an incentive program for solar energy storage.

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These are just a few of the many ways that states are pursuing a clean energy future. We can expect continued progress and innovation in the years ahead. To read about additional examples of state clean energy leadership, see Clean Energy Champions: The Importance of State Programs and Policies. And you can learn about more recent state activities by listening to webinar recordings on the Clean Energy States Alliance website.

 

This blog post was also published in The Energy Collective.

How One Small US Town Will Save Millions with a Microgrid

Author: Todd Olinsky-Paul, Clean Energy Group | Projects: Clean Energy States Alliance, Resilient Power Project

The little U.S. town of Sterling, Massachusetts is getting a lot of attention these days. Not only has the Sterling Municipal Light Department (SMLD) been winning awards for its new solar+storage microgrid, the town is also getting visitors from Germany, Japan, Norway and many other countries who want to check it out.

The visitors come to see an innocuous-looking metal shipping container at the utility’s electrical substation; the container houses two megawatts (MW) of lithium-ion batteries, capable of nearly four hours of continuous maximum discharge. The batteries, along with a 3-MW solar array, can be islanded in case of a power outage and will support the town’s police station and emergency dispatch center for at least two weeks – more with solar recharging – meaning Sterling’s first responders will be able to help people in need if a natural disaster knocks out the regional grid. But these resilient power benefits, however important, are not the reason for all the attention.

Sterling is in the spotlight because its municipal utility has shown it can use the new battery system to control rising power costs and achieve payback well within the system’s operational life. In fact, the $2.7 million battery system will pay itself off in about two years, with grant funding from Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and U.S. Department of Energy Office of Electricity (DOE-OE). But even without the grants, the system would still achieve a payback period of fewer than 7 years, which is pretty good considering that the batteries come with a 10-year performance warranty and are expected to continue to function significantly longer than that.

Reducing One Major Peak

According to an upcoming paper by Sandia National Laboratories, which along with the Clean Energy Group/Clean Energy States Alliance (CEG/CESA), provided technical assistance to the Sterling energy storage project, the biggest energy cost savings potential from the batteries comes from reducing Sterling’s electricity demand during a single annual peak demand hour for the New England region. This regional peak demand hour generally occurs in July or August, and each utility in New England is assessed an annual fee for capacity services based on its individual demand during that one hour; and as utilities in the region are painfully aware, the cost of capacity has risen precipitously, and is expected to continue rising.

Green Mountain Power (GMP), using a similar battery and solar microgrid in Rutland, Vermont, demonstrated the value of capacity charge savings during the 2016 regional peak, on August 12. In one hour that day, GMP saved $200,000 in capacity fees by discharging its batteries (supplemented with PV generation) to offset electricity purchases. Sterling Municipal Light Department will attempt to do the same in 2017 and each year thereafter. This will benefit the town’s ratepayers, but it also benefits the entire New England region by reducing regional peak demand during the hottest days of summer.

A second source of significant cost savings for SMLD can be achieved by using the batteries to reduce utility transmission charges. These charges are assessed based on a single peak demand hour each month. As with the annual peak, if a utility reduces its demand during the monthly regional peak, it reduces its share of transmission costs for the entire month. In December 2016, SMLD successfully discharged its batteries during the monthly peak, saving its ratepayers $17,000 for one hour. That’s a significant savings for a municipal utility with an annual budget of 8.2 million. SMLD repeated this performance in February and March and, with the batteries now fully operational, SMLD hopes to continue to hit monthly peaks on a regular basis. Hitting peaks in 10 months out of 12 would mean transmission cost savings of $170,000 annually.

Savings of $400K per Year

In addition, SMLD will use its batteries to engage in arbitrage – that is, charging the batteries from solar or from the grid during the night when prices are low, and discharging them for self-consumption when grid power is priced the highest. And SMLD can use the batteries to provide frequency regulation, a grid-balancing service that regional grid operators pay for on a daily basis.

With all these cost savings and revenues, SMLD conservatively estimates the economic benefits from the batteries are worth $400,000 per year to utility’s ratepayers. Of course, that doesn’t include some of the most significant unpaid benefits of the system, such as integrating the large amount of solar PV on Sterling’s system, reducing emissions from fossil-fueled power plants, and providing backup power in case of a natural disaster that knocks out the regional grid. It’s no wonder Sterling’s success is being closely watched by many other municipal utilities and electric coops in New England, several of which are actively working to build their own battery systems.

The Electric Grid of the Future

For more than 100 years, our electric grids have been based on big, centrally-located fossil fueled and nuclear generating plants, sending one-way flows of electricity down transmission lines to distribution utilities and their customers. In New England and many other regions, the whole system is regulated by the Independent System Operator (ISO), which makes sure that electricity supply exactly meets demand in real time. Because historically there has been no way to store electricity, balancing the grid has meant that every day, the ISO signals expensive and highly polluting gas ‘peaker’ plants to ramp their generation up and down, following a fluctuating load. Even when peaker plants aren’t actively delivering power, they are paid to be on standby.

If the above scenario sounds inefficient, it is; and all this excess generation (and excess transmission capacity) is extremely expensive. In fact, according to the recent State of Charge report from the state of Massachusetts, the top 10 percent of electricity demand hours each year account for 40 percent of the state’s electricity system costs – over $3 billion annually.

That’s all about to change. If a small municipal utility like Sterling can save big money by relying on its own batteries rather than remote and expensive peaker plants, other utilities can do the same. And when enough utilities install batteries, it will change the face of the grid. It will mean more renewables can be deployed, without the intermittency that can cause instability; more grid services can be provided by distributed resources close to load, increasing competition, reducing inefficiencies and opening markets; and more municipalities can take control of their energy purchases and costs. It will also mean more energy resiliency in local communities, where solar+storage can provide critical backup power during emergencies.

That’s a new electricity business model that lowers costs, is good for the environment, and potentially saves lives.

Economics in Depth

The economic case for the Sterling energy storage system was explored in a webinar last spring, with guest speakers from SMLD, Sandia, and DOE previewing Sandia’s paper on the topic.

The Sterling energy storage system was supported with grants from Massachusetts DOER and U.S. DOE-OE. Technical support was provided by Sandia National Laboratories and CESA as part of the Energy Storage Technology Partnership (ESTAP); and by CEG with support from the Barr Foundation.

More information and resources on the Sterling energy storage project is available here.

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This article was originally published in Renewable Energy World.