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.