Advancing Energy Storage Technologies to Meet Clean Energy Goals in Massachusetts

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

Energy storage is a clean energy technology with many potential benefits to the electric grid and all segments of the energy market. Massachusetts’ Advancing Commonwealth Energy Storage (ACES) grant program, part of the Baker-Polito Administration’s Energy Storage Initiative (ESI), was created to jump-start the energy storage industry by piloting innovative, broadly-replicable demonstration projects with multiple value streams, thereby priming Massachusetts for increased commercialization and deployment.

In December 2017, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) awarded ACES grants totaling $20 million to 26 demonstration projects spanning nine use cases and 14 business models, which will collectively add 83 MWh to the grid where only 7 MWh currently exists. This is expected to accelerate the adoption of storage technologies, provide benefits to customers and utilities, highlight market and regulatory barriers, and help Massachusetts reach its goal of 200 MWh of energy storage installed by January 1, 2020.

The ACES Program is Massachusetts’ first substantial investment in energy storage projects and is designed to significantly catalyze the market. While technology demonstration programs are common, this program is unique in its business model demonstration objectives.

A Strategic Statewide Commitment to Advancing Energy Storage

In the first phase of the Massachusetts Energy Storage Initiative (ESI), DOER and MassCEC produced an energy storage study, State of Charge, which presented a broad view of energy storage technologies in order to inform future policy and programs. The study, published in 2016, provided insights into Massachusetts-specific opportunities to advance energy storage, an analysis of grid conditions in Massachusetts, and lessons from other states.

The ACES Program is part of ESI’s second phase. MassCEC and DOER worked in partnership to create the ACES Program, which was designed to educate customers, utilities, consumers, policy makers and a variety of industry stakeholders on the benefits of energy storage; encourage appropriate regulatory and market reform to broaden the monetizable use cases available to energy storage; and help de-risk future investments in energy storage projects.

One of the innovative features of the ACES Program is the focus on demonstrating how storage systems can achieve benefits that are currently non-monetizable, thereby addressing a significant barrier to the development of the storage market that was identified by the State of Charge report. These currently non-monetizable benefits include cost reductions in the wholesale market; provision of ancillary services; lowered energy prices; services to the transmission and distribution grids; increased renewables integration; reduced peak demand; resiliency benefits; and greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

A Wide Array of Projects Demonstrate the Range of Benefits from Energy Storage 

The ACES projects demonstrate nine diverse energy storage use cases and a variety of benefits. The program’s focus on replicable business models is expected to accelerate storage commercialization by showcasing adoptable and achievable examples of projects that provide multiple benefits and positive economic returns. Most projects provide both system benefits and customer benefits, and some address specific local energy challenges. ACES grantees provide a foundation for the industry to demonstrate storage services and benefits for which no markets currently exist or where there are no existing methods for storage providers to be proportionally compensated for the services their systems provide.

ACES projects span a variety of use cases, including transit, behind-the-meter commercial and industrial solar+storage, municipal light plant assets, medical facility applications, and a merchant co-located with traditional generation plant, among others. Examples of replicable business models include owner owned and operated energy storage systems, storage-as-a-service, developer or third-party financed systems, and energy storage system leases.

While there is significant representation of lithium-ion (the commercially dominant battery technology) among the awarded projects, the range of technologies among the ACES projects is more diverse than in the current U.S. energy storage market, representing zinc-iron flow, vanadium-redox flow, ice thermal, and flywheels. Most of the ACES projects involve integration with other clean energy technologies such as solar photovoltaics, demonstrating the many benefits of pairing energy storage with renewable energy.

And while it represents a significant investment of public funds, the ACES Program also leverages significant private investment. Awarded projects are required to provide at least a 50 percent cost-share, enabling the program to extend the impact of its grant funds even further. For the 26 projects under ACES, total investment amounts to approximately $20 million in DOER grant funds and $31 million in leveraged cost-share.

Jump-Starting an Industry

Broad replicability was a critical requirement of selected projects in order to prime Massachusetts for increased commercialization and deployment of storage technologies. To further promote the replicability and analysis of storage technologies, MassCEC intends to publicly share anonymized and aggregated lessons learned from the projects at periodic intervals, to inform future project design and implementation. This valuable project feedback is expected to span the market, regulatory, and policy landscapes and will be of benefit to industry, policymakers, and customers. MassCEC also plans to hold periodic stakeholder meetings to share these lessons and foster discussions in an interactive setting.

The data collection, project reports, and insights from ACES projects will provide Massachusetts the opportunity to implement policy and market mechanisms to address barriers to large scale energy storage deployment. The ACES Program is expected to demonstrate that storage is ready to enter new markets at a time when efforts are underway to incorporate storage into existing programs such as the Alternative Portfolio Standard, energy efficiency plans, and the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) incentive program. Additionally, Order No. 841, issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), now requires Independent System Operators and Regional Transmission Organizations to revise market rules to allow energy storage to participate and to take the operational attributes of storage into account. This FERC rule is opening new energy markets to participation by energy storage.

The ACES Program is expected to have long-lasting impacts on the energy storage industry. Its successful demonstration of monetizable and non-monetizable benefits will help support new energy storage applications and markets in the Commonwealth and beyond.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center and the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources were awarded a 2018 State Leadership in Clean Energy Award for the ACES Program. A report featuring a detailed case study on this award-winning program is available at: https://www.cesa.org/projects/state-leadership-in-clean-energy/2018.

The Clean Energy States Alliance will host a webinar highlighting the ACES Program on Thursday, August 9th. Speakers from MassCEC will present. Read more about this free webinar and register at:  https://www.cesa.org/webinars/building-markets-energy-storage-in-massachusetts-and-offshore-wind-in-rhode-island/

 

This blog post was also published in Renewable Energy World.

The MPRB Solar Demonstration Project: A Unique Collaboration Brings Solar to Diverse Communities

Author: Samantha Donalds, Clean Energy Group | Project: Clean Energy States Alliance

Photo Credit: Ray Colby / Sundial Solar.With a grant to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB), the Xcel Energy Renewable Development Fund supported the installation of 200 kW of solar PV in the Minneapolis parks system to model the seamless incorporation of renewable energy into public amenities. The PV installations demonstrate a wide variety of solar designs and are featured in high-traffic public areas, with the potential to reach the parks’ 23 million visitors per year. The project includes education and interpretive components, while demonstrating an environmentally friendly and sustainable solution for public works or park projects to mitigate energy costs, reduce carbon emissions, and promote local solar businesses.

The MPRB Solar Demonstration Project had four specific goals: first, to install 200 kW of photovoltaic capacity throughout the Minneapolis park system; second, to utilize Minnesota-made solar panels to support the local solar industry; third, to demonstrate the value of different solar designs such as canopies where roof-mounted solar facilities are not feasible due to structural, historical, or other barriers to traditional solar installations; and fourth, to promote the use of solar through education and interpretive programs that increase the awareness of solar.

The Xcel Energy Renewable Development Fund, which is financed by Xcel Energy electric ratepayers, promotes the start-up, expansion and attraction of renewable electric energy projects and companies in the utility’s service area.

Engaging Diverse Communities in Solar Education

Minneapolis is an economically and ethnically diverse city. One of the objectives for this project was to spread the solar installations among all six of the city’s park districts to reach people who may not readily have access to solar in their neighborhood. Spreading out the installations has reached neighborhoods with varied characteristics. Three of the five MPRB Solar Demonstration Project sites are in areas where residents’ annual income is below the poverty threshold and where 50 percent or more of residents are people of color. The other two sites draw from a regionally diverse pool of visitors.

The project leverages the potential audience at some of the most popular, heavily used, public facilities in Minneapolis to show the park system’s visitors several creative examples of urban solar energy installations. Each site contains interpretive signs to help educate park users. Those signs, combined with a multi-pronged digital campaign that include a social media video, rooftop news conference, and periodically updated web page, amplify the reach of the solar demonstrations.

The project went through an extensive community engagement process to consider public priorities and receive community feedback. More than 50 proposed sites were evaluated for the best potential for visibility, safety and security, environmental impact, structural challenge, and budgetary limitations.

Ultimately, five sites were selected.

Parade Ice Garden Arena: The arena has the greatest electrical usage of any of the MPRB facilities. A 153-kW roof-mounted ballasted array is expected to produce about 184,000 kWh per year, roughly 15 percent of the building’s annual power consumption. The arena’s electricity demand reaches its highest point on hot summer days when solar output is also at its highest, thereby reducing energy demand at a crucial time. The solar array, along with several recently completed energy efficiency upgrades at the arena, saves taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars each year while cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Webber Park Natural Swimming Pool: This pool became the first public natural swimming pool in North America when it opened on July 24, 2015. It is unique in that it uses filters and plants, rather than chemicals, to cleanse its water. The unique characteristics of the pool draw visitors from across the community. A 4.6-kW roof-mounted solar array was installed and is expected to produce about 6,433 kWh per year, roughly 15 percent of the facility’s total electricity usage.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center: This 18.5-acre park serves the King Field neighborhood in the southwest part of the city. It provides recreational opportunities to many communities of color and offers important services to low-income residents, such as free meals for youth during the summer. The 6.2-kW roof-mounted solar array is expected to produce about 8,670 kWh per year, which is roughly 10 percent of the facility’s total electricity usage.

East Phillips Park Cultural and Community Center:  A 6.5-kW wall-mounted solar array is expected to produce about 9,089 kWh per year, roughly 10 percent of the center’s total electricity use. This installation demonstrates the use of solar in a challenging location: because the gymnasium roof did not have the structural integrity to support solar panels, a wall-mounted array was used. The site was selected because the facility is used year-round, with a variety and levels of program activities ranging from community recreation to cultural events that support the great ethnic diversity of the neighborhood.

Lake Nokomis Main Beach: A 7.4-kW solar canopy array was installed at the beach to provide much-needed shade for beachgoers. The solar array is expected to produce about 10,348 kWh per year, which is roughly 15 percent of the beach’s total electricity use during the summer. In the winter, the solar array will deliver power to the grid. As a regional resource, the beach draws visitors from all over the city and metropolitan area, including visitors from around Minnesota.

Public Education and Program Results

The MPRB Solar Demonstration Project highlights several varieties of solar installation (roof-mounted, wall-mounted, canopy) across a variety of unique, diverse urban environments. Each installation had a unique design feature. For example, helical pier foundations were used for the canopy at Lake Nokomis to accommodate the unstable, sandy soil conditions, and custom racking was designed for the East Phillips array to allow wall mounting.

To date, the solar arrays installed via the MPRB Solar Demonstration Project have displaced 288 megawatt hours of traditional electrical power and provided 130 registered renewable energy certificates (RECs). The environmental benefits from the generation of this renewable energy include a reduction in air emissions of 214 metric tons equivalent of CO2. The project has provided an interpretive program and educational opportunities that highlight the installed arrays’ energy output, carbon offsets, and other educational features as a way to increase solar demand in Minnesota.

The project has also supported the local clean energy economy: two Minnesota-based solar installation firms were hired to install the five arrays, and all the solar panels were manufactured in Minnesota. Additionally, 27 percent of the total project expenditures were allocated to City of Minneapolis Target Market Program businesses and Minnesota Unified Certification Program Disadvantaged Minority Owned Business Enterprises.

The RDF grant of $969,741 awarded to the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board contributed significantly to the $1,119,741 program budget. The program has educated millions of park users about the viability of solar technologies, reduced carbon emissions, and supported local economic development, which are excellent results for Minneapolis and for Minnesota. This project could readily be replicated in other locations.

The Xcel Energy Renewable Development Fund was awarded a 2018 State Leadership in Clean Energy Award for the MPRB Solar Demonstration Project. A report featuring a detailed case study on this award-winning program is available at: https://www.cesa.org/projects/state-leadership-in-clean-energy/2018/.

 

The Clean Energy States Alliance hosted a webinar highlighting Minnesota’s MPRB Solar Demonstration Project on August 2, 2018 – slides and a recording are available at: https://www.cesa.org/webinars/expanding-solar-pv-finance-and-markets-in-connecticut-and-minnesota/

This blog post was also published in Renewable Energy World.

Connecticut Green Bank and PosiGen “Solar for All” Partnership – Bringing the Benefits of Clean Energy to LMI Communities

Author: Maria Blais Costello, Clean Energy Group | Project: Clean Energy States Alliance

PosiGen customer in New Haven, Connecticut.

There are many barriers to going solar for low- to moderate-income (LMI) communities and homeowners, including access to financing, real and perceived credit-quality issues, inability to fully realize public incentives, education gaps, and contractors’ customer acquisition strategies.

The Connecticut Green Bank is addressing these barriers through its Solar for All program, an exemplary model to bring energy solutions to scale in LMI communities. This unique public-private partnership pairs the Green Bank’s LMI solar financing resources with energy efficiency and solar products offered by PosiGen, a clean energy company that serves LMI communities. The program offers LMI homeowners a solar lease paired with energy efficiency measures, regardless of participants’ income or credit. Since the partnership launched in 2015, over 900 low-income verified households have signed up to go solar, and solar penetration in Connecticut’s low-income communities has increased 188 percent.

Program Background and Development

The Connecticut Green Bank was established through legislation in 2011 and is the country’s first full-scale Green Bank. It supports clean energy deployment across several sectors, including single-family residential homes, multifamily properties, and commercial and institutional buildings. It is a state-supported institution that works with private-sector investors to create low-cost, long-term sustainable financing to maximize the impact of public funds.

In 2012, the Green Bank launched the Residential Solar Investment Program (RSIP) to provide up-front rebates and performance-based incentives (PBIs) for solar PV installations on owner-occupied residential properties through a declining block model. Within two years of launching the RSIP, Connecticut had experienced tremendous growth in its residential solar market, expanding from 16 MW approved in 2012-2013, to 33 MW in 2014 alone. Despite this success, only 11 percent of projects approved in 2014 were located in census tracts with a median income less than 80 percent of the area median income. While the RSIP was successful from the start in stimulating residential solar investment and development, it served few low-income customers.

To rectify this disparity, in 2015 the Green Bank established a unique LMI PBI within the RSIP that was approximately three times higher than the market rate PBI. Because LMI homeowners frequently do not have a large enough tax burden to take advantage of the federal solar tax credit for owned systems, this incentive is available to third-party-owned solar PV installations that serve LMI customers. The LMI PBI enables qualified contractors to offer more affordable pricing to customers. To qualify for the program, contractors must respond to an open RFQ with their proposed product pricing, marketing strategy, and general qualifications. The additional program requirements ensure that Green Bank-supported LMI solar projects will have a positive economic benefit for customers, are able to leverage all available revenue streams, and provide strong consumer protection. In 2017, the total RSIP program budget was $12.3 million, $2 million of which was devoted to LMI solar project incentives.

Recognizing that contractors interested in serving LMI solar markets may face unique challenges, and to spur early market development, in 2015 the Green Bank also issued a solar financing RFP to identify PV system providers for underserved markets. The purpose of this financing opportunity was to help the selected provider(s) establish solar businesses in Connecticut focused on LMI customers and to further ensure that contractors utilizing the LMI PBI would be successful in reaching underserved markets.

PosiGen responded to both opportunities and was approved by the Green Bank to participate in the LMI RSIP and the financing opportunity. Financing from the Green Bank allowed PosiGen to rapidly scale up an LMI-focused solar lease and energy efficiency product for Connecticut homeowners. The Green Bank provided a direct credit enhancement in the form of $5,000,000 of subordinated debt to PosiGen’s Connecticut lease fund, as well as $3.5 million in working capital loans to address timing gaps associated with third-party tax equity financing.

PosiGen’s solar lease and an optional energy savings agreement allows Connecticut homeowners to install additional energy efficiency upgrades and pay for them over time; it is available to customers regardless of income or traditional measures of creditworthiness. PosiGen’s model includes an alternative underwriting approach to qualify customers, and a community-based marketing model that targets LMI communities – two key ingredients to reaching this market segment.

The combination of low-cost Green Bank capital with the LMI PBI provides security to PosiGen investors and enables the company to offer an attractive lease product to customers. PosiGen’s alternative underwriting approach circumvents many of the real and perceived credit-quality issues LMI homeowners face, and a lease offering for LMI homeowners allows customers to receive the full value of the federal investment tax credit in the price they pay for solar.

To further bolster chances of success within Connecticut’s LMI market, the Green Bank provided strategic support to PosiGen on community partnerships, outreach, and general market research. In 2017, Green Bank worked with PosiGen and C+C Consulting to complete an updated Connecticut LMI solar customer segmentation analysis which provided key insights into market segments, size, geographies, and messaging. The Green Bank also worked with Yale University and Experian to analyze a large dataset of Connecticut residents’ credit and financial health. Both of these market analyses helped the Green Bank and PosiGen quantify market potential, hone outreach strategies, target efforts, and measure success.

Program Results

The subordinated debt and working capital loans Green Bank provided to PosiGen supported the company in attracting over seven times more private investment than the Green Bank’s term financing contribution. These investments have supported a fund of $37 million for PosiGen’s Connecticut solar lease installations. The Green Bank support through the RSIP program’s LMI PBI provides an additional stream of high-quality cash flows that further attracts third-party capital into PosiGen’s Connecticut program. In addition, by driving down the cost of capital through its participation in the financing structure, the Green Bank allows PosiGen to offer a more competitive solar lease product and achieve deeper savings for LMI customers.

Customers who go solar with PosiGen in Connecticut pay $60-$110 a month for a 4.5-8 kW system and receive an average net savings of $450 each year. This equates to over $690,000 in solar savings annually across PosiGen’s 1,540 solar homes, of which 900 are verified low-income.

Connecticut’s Solar for All partnership demonstrates leadership and innovation in the way it tackles multiple barriers to LMI solar access while delivering a product that has real impact on household-level energy burdens. By taking a multi-pronged, strategic approach to addressing many of the barriers and needs of the state’s LMI communities, the Green Bank and PosiGen have created a model that works for Connecticut homeowners and that could be replicated by other states that want to provide solar benefits to LMI customers and meaningful reductions to LMI energy burdens.

Connecticut’s Solar for All partnership was a recipient of a 2018 “State Leadership in Clean Energy Award,” presented by the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA).  You can learn more about this program and other award recipients at https://cesa.org/projects/state-leadership-in-clean-energy/2018/.

 

CESA hosted a free webinar featuring Connecticut’s Solar for All partnership on August 2, 2018 – slides and a recording are available here.

This blog post was also published in Renewable Energy World.

Declining Battery Storage Costs Raise Questions About the Role of Natural Gas

Author: Seth Mullendore, Clean Energy Group | Project: Resilient Power Project

The Mira Loma Battery Storage Project in California. Photo Credit: Southern California Edison

Evidence is building in support of battery storage as a serious challenger to the perceived dominance of natural gas in our current and future energy system. Batteries are beginning to complete head-to-head with natural gas peaker plants, and they’re starting to win.

Peaker plants are designed to fire up whenever electricity demand rises above the level that baseload fossil plants, nuclear, and renewables can satisfy – think hot summer days when air conditioners are turned up full blast or cold winter nights when heating demand skyrockets. There are more than 1,000 peakers currently in operation across the U.S. Most of these are powered by natural gas, and many of them are located in communities already burdened by poor air quality and public health issues.

Because peak events often don’t last very long, typically no more than a few hours, batteries are well-suited to step in as a peak demand resource (they’re already being widely deployed to manage customer peak demand). Batteries can also be developed more quickly than traditional power plants, they can be deployed close to the load and distributed throughout dense urban areas, and they don’t produce any harmful emissions, particularly when paired with renewable generation.

Most industry experts agree that battery storage can meet the same system needs as a gas peaker plant. As Abe Silverman, vice president for the regulatory affairs group and deputy general counsel at NRG Energy, which operates both traditional and renewable power plants, put it, “We could replace every gas peaker in the U.S. with batteries right now if we wanted to, but it probably wouldn’t make economic sense everywhere.”

It’s that second part, the economics of batteries versus gas, that is still up for debate.

The thing batteries and renewable have going for them is that their cost is largely based on technology trends. The cost of batteries, solar, and wind have all been declining at an impressive pace, and prices are predicted to continue falling over at least the next decade. The cost of natural gas generation, on the other hand, is closely tied to the commodity price of natural gas, which goes up and down depending on market conditions.

According to independent analysis – GTM Research/Wood Mackenzie, National Renewable Energy Lab, Rocky Mountain Institute, Bain & Company, and Raymond James & Associates to name a few – the intersection between falling battery prices and rising natural gas prices is likely to occur within the next few years.

In the real world, it’s already happening.

In 2016, California deployed 100 megawatts of storage to avoid summer blackouts that could have hit the Los Angeles area due to a major gas leak at the state’s Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility. The projects were installed in a matter of months. The following year, a proposed gas plant in Oxnard, California was scrapped when the California Independent System Operator determined that a mix of batteries and distributed generation could meet local needs without negatively impacting the air quality and health of already disadvantaged surrounding communities.

Also in 2017, the Hawaiian utility Kauai Island Utility Cooperative made news when it signed a long-term contract for solar power delivered during peak evening hours after the sun has begun to set. The 28-megawatt solar facility paired with 100 megawatt-hours of battery storage will meet evening demand at 11 cents per kilowatt-hour, far less than fossil-fuel generators on the island.

Tucson Electric Power set a mainland record for solar paired with storage with a 20-year power purchase agreement rate below 4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. The Arizona project pairs 100 megawatts of solar with 120 megawatt-hours of storage.

It’s around this time that experts began forecasting the eventual decline of natural gas peakers. But those victories were just the beginning.

Arizona added another two battery peaker projects to its power mix in 2018. Arizona Public Service tapped a 65-megawatt solar and 135-megawatt-hour battery system to meet peak demand between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. The solar+storage project directly beat out bids from natural gas peakers. Salt River Project then put a 20-year power-purchase agreement into place for a 10-megawatt / 40-megawatt-hour battery system battery system to deliver peak energy to the Phoenix metro area.

That 4.5 cent rate set by Tucson Electric in 2017 is starting to look expensive by 2018 standards. First, Xcel Energy reported solar+storage bids ranging from 3.0 to 3.2 cents per kilowatt-hour for projects in Colorado. Then a 101-megawatt solar project paired with 100 megawatt-hours of battery storage in Nevada posted an electricity price of 3.1 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Now, California utility Pacific Gas & Electric has proposed more than 2.2 gigawatt-hours of battery storage to replace three existing natural gas peaker plants. The proposal includes what would be the largest battery system in the world. Southern California Edison has received approval to deploy 125 megawatts of solar and storage resources as alternatives to new gas plants.

All of this is welcome news to advocates opposing new gas development, but there is currently no long-term strategy in place to support and accelerate this growing movement. Battery prices will continue to decline, strengthening its role as an alternative to gas. But without policies in place to ensure open, market-based solicitations for energy resources, many utilities will be slow to embrace batteries as an alternative to traditional peaker plants. Local voices must be backed by detailed analytics to make this transition to clean energy solutions a near-term reality.

Clean Energy Group has been following these trends through our energy storage project work. We are beginning to survey the landscape across the country for opportunities to catalyze peaker plant replacement strategies in collaboration with national partners and local environmental and social justice organizations. As part of that effort, we will be hosting a webinar, Replacing Peaker Plants with Battery Storage, on Thursday, July 19th. Clean Energy Group will be joined by PSE Healthy Energy, experts on peaker emissions and health impacts, and CAUSE, who led opposition against the proposed Oxnard peaker plant. (See https://www.cleanegroup.org/webinar/replacing-peaker-plants-with-battery-storage/ to register or learn more about this free webinar.)

As Mark Dyson of Rocky Mountain Institute stated in reference to their report, The Economics of Energy Portfolios, “Renewables and demand response and batteries are about to do to gas what gas has done to coal.”

How long that process takes will depend on the actions of advocates and policymakers today.

 

This blog post was also published in Renewable Energy World.

NYSERDA’s Clean Energy Communities Program Provides Funding and Technical Assistance to Support Local Clean Energy Development

Author: Maria Blais Costello, Clean Energy Group | Project: Clean Energy States Alliance

Local governments play a critical role in affecting energy choices in their communities, but many local governments in New York State were not aware of available clean energy initiatives and funding opportunities. Those that were aware of the opportunities often struggled with how to prioritize and implement actions that would have the greatest impact. NYSERDA’s Clean Energy Communities program addresses these challenges by helping local governments earn recognition and grant funding to demonstrate their clean energy leadership and to implement clean energy actions, save energy costs, create jobs, and improve the environment. In addition to providing tools, resources, and technical assistance, the program recognizes and rewards leadership for completing clean energy projects.

The Clean Energy Communities program provides local governments with a simple, but robust and flexible, framework to guide them through implementation of high-impact clean energy projects. It is designed to help save energy and money, in the municipalities’ budgets, as well as within homes, businesses, and community institutions. It guides communities looking to save money, foster a vibrant economy, and improve the environment by providing funds, but also by providing access to technical assistance. Dedicated and knowledgeable Clean Energy Coordinators from regional planning organizations provide free on-demand support, step-by-step guidance, case studies, model ordinances, and project development assistance.

NYSERDA has identified 10 high-impact actions for local governments to take. By completing four of the ten actions, a town, city, or county earns the Clean Energy Community designation. Additionally, the jurisdiction can apply for a grant, with no cost share, of between $50,000 and $250,000 to support additional clean energy projects. Since Governor Andrew M. Cuomo launched the program in August 2016, more than 400 communities from across the state have completed more than 1,150 high-impact actions. These communities represent more than 16 million New Yorkers, over 84 percent of the state’s population. To date, nearly 200 communities have earned the Clean Energy Community designation.

The high impact actions are:

  1. Benchmarking – Adopt a policy to report the energy use of municipal buildings
  2. Clean Energy Upgrades – Achieve 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from municipal buildings
  3. LED Street Lights – Convert at least half of the jurisdiction’s street lights to energy efficient LED technology
  4. Clean Fleets – Install electric vehicle charging stations or deploy alternative fuel vehicles in the municipal fleet
  5. Solarize – Undertake a local Solarize campaign to increase the number of solar installations
  6. Unified Solar Permit – Streamline the approvals process for local solar projects
  7. Energy Code Enforcement Training – Train compliance officers in energy code best practices
  8. Climate Smart Communities Certification – Get certified by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
  9. Community Choice Aggregation – Put energy supply choices in the community’s hands
  10. Energize New York Finance – Establish a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing program for businesses and nonprofits

The program is designed to provide grants to a total of 163 communities. Grant funding with no local cost share is available to support clean energy projects—up to $250,000 for large communities (+40,000 population) and up to $100,000 for small/medium communities (0-39,999 population). Grants are awarded to the first 18 communities in each of the state’s ten Regional Economic Development Council regions. Within each region, funding is set aside for large and small/medium-sized communities so communities in each region are only competing against those of similar size in their region. Once all the grants are claimed in a size category or region, communities may still earn the Clean Energy Community designation but are not eligible for grant funding.

To help local governments prioritize and implement the high-impact actions and navigate the program, expert guidance is provided by Clean Energy Communities Coordinators, at no cost to the local government. The Coordinators are funded by NYSERDA and based at regional planning organizations that have long-standing relationships with local governments in their regions. Their services include meeting with municipal staff, answering questions, preparing LED street light cost-benefit reports, providing assistance with software for tracking municipal energy use, and identifying grant opportunities for electric vehicles and charging infrastructure.

Coordinator and community discussions are documented in customer relationship management (CRM) software. This allows program staff to track engagement with communities. Clean Energy Community Coordinators are currently in active discussions with nearly 600 communities. While 1,151 actions have been completed as of late June 2018, participating communities are either considering or executing nearly 2,000 additional actions. Having this level of granular information collected with the CRM software allows for robust analysis to better understand the pipeline of high-impact actions and anticipate needs. NYSERDA has employed a wide range of data analytics and visualization to help target program resources. For example, this information allows the Coordinators to apply different strategies and tactics for moving a community from being “inactive” to “engaged” and from “engaged” to “participating” and from “participating” to “designated.” Applying a sales approach to high-impact action engagement has helped maximize the impact of the program.

The Clean Energy Communities program offers online toolkits for each of the 10 high-impact actions, with resources including step-by-step guides, calculators, case studies, and model language that communities can incorporate into legislation. These toolkits ensure that community clean energy programs will continue after funding is expended.

Once a community earns the Clean Energy Community designation, it has three months to submit a proposal for use of the grant. NYSERDA evaluates proposals to ensure they present a sound approach; reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions; transfer knowledge to the broader region and state; are innovative and replicable; and leverage public and private dollars and/or generate economic development benefits. More than 100 grants have been awarded for projects that include converting street lights to LED, installing solar on municipal buildings, purchasing electric vehicles, and making energy upgrades to wastewater treatment facilities.

Cost Effectiveness

NYSERDA’s Clean Energy Communities program is a three-year initiative with the capacity to award $16 million in grants to local communities. The program is supported by an additional five-year, $9 million contract for the network of Clean Energy Community Coordinators who will meet with municipal staff, to provide technical assistance, answer questions, prepare reports, and identify additional grant opportunities.

Program Results and Replicability

Clean-energy actions completed so far through the program include:

  • 243,978 street lights converted to LED
  • 612 electric vehicles deployed
  • 670 electric vehicle charging points installed
  • 357 municipal officials trained in Energy Code enforcement
  • 192 laws passed to track and report the energy use in municipal buildings
  • 215 communities have streamlined the permitting process for local solar projects

NYSERDA estimates that the actions taken to-date have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 126,000 tons annually – equivalent to taking 27,000 cars off the road.

The Clean Energy Communities program is replicable in other states, nationally and globally. Communities can take many practical steps to address their energy challenges. While the Clean Energy Communities program is based around high-impact actions that address the needs of New York jurisdictions, the program design could easily be adapted to include different high-impact actions applicable to other locations.

The Clean Energy Communities Program was a recipient of a 2018 “State Leadership in Clean Energy Award,” presented by the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA). You can learn more about this program and other award recipients at https://cesa.org/projects/state-leadership-in-clean-energy/2018/. For more information about the Clean Energy Communities Program, visit NYSERDA’s website at https://nyserda.ny.gov/All-Programs/Programs/Clean-Energy-Communities.

CESA will host a free webinar featuring NYSERDA’s Clean Energy Communities Program on July 11, 2018 from 1 – 2:30 pm ET. You can sign up to attend here: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/8985566754115395074.

 

PHOTO: Members of the Town of Chatham’s Climate Smart Committee with the electric vehicle charging station they had installed as part of the Clean Energy Communities program. Photo Credit: Town of Chatham, NY.

This blog post was also published on Renewable Energy World.