Major power outages, as a result of severe storms and weather conditions, are of major concern to US power supply companies as they scramble to find ways to reduce and even avoid outage times for their customers.
Many are looking at the deployment of clean, distributed energy technologies that can support critical infrastructure, such as hospitals, public shelters, fueling and communications centers when the grid goes down as a result of a storm or other natural disaster.
After SuperStorm Sandy, The Clean Energy Group (CEG) launched the Resilient Power Project to support state and municipal efforts to deploy clean-energy, resilient power installations, and a number of states began designing programs to allocate public funds towards this development.
Municipal-led resilient power projects receive finance
Connecticut was the first to introduce its microgrids pilot program [Microgrid Makes Unstable Power Supply in Norwich A Thing of the Past]and now the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources (DOER) and the Patrick administration have awarded US$7.4 million to six municipal-led resilient power projects that will support critical infrastructure and services during natural disasters and other emergencies. These projects will ensure that public shelters, wastewater treatment plants, and other critical community facilities receive power during outages.
The awards are the first in a two-part, US$40 million state grant program which is focused on using clean and renewable energy solutions to achieve municipal resilience. The program is funded by Alternative Compliance Payment (ACP) funds, which are collected from electrical retail suppliers that are unable to meet their compliance obligations under the state’s Renewable and Alternative Portfolio Standard programs.
In addition to the six project grants, DOER has awarded 27 technical assistance grants to communities seeking funding to design resilient power projects. The communities receiving technical assistance awards may apply for project implementation grants in a second solicitation, for which awards will be announced before the end of this year.
The project implementation awards include one microgrid, three combined heat and power (CHP) projects, and two solar PV projects with battery storage. The critical facilities to be supported include schools and community centers that serve as public shelters, police and fire stations, wastewater treatment plants, a municipal fueling station, and a hospital. The projects are located in Berkeley/Taunton, Boston, Lawrence, Northampton, South Essex and Springfield.
Massachusetts resilient power programme
There are a number of significant innovations in the Massachusetts programme which could serve to provide a basis for similar programmes in other states:
• Municipal-led Proposals: When it comes to critical infrastructure and resiliency, municipalities are often in the best position to identify and prioritize the need, as well as to implement projects that frequently involve municipal facilities such as water and wastewater treatment plants, public schools, community buildings, municipal fueling stations and others. Targeting grants to municipal-led projects engages the state’s cities and towns in the resiliency discussion, and helps to ensure the success of projects that are deployed.
• Technical Assistance Fund: Among the state resilient power programs announced thus far, the Massachusetts program includes a carve-out fund for technical assistance. This will help municipalities define their needs and design project proposals. Often, municipalities do not have in-house expertise in such advanced energy systems such as solar and storage and microgrids. Some may not be able to pay for the engineering expertise need to develop a project proposal. DOER put together a technical assistance team and encouraged municipalities to apply for a technical assistance grant in Round 1 of the solicitation. Those who were awarded technical assistance in Round one are now eligible to apply for project implementation funds in Round two.
• Casting a wide net: The Massachusetts program does not focus on a single technology, such as CHP, nor does it require a specific size of system, such as microgrids, which tend to be larger than some municipalities need or could support. This agnostic approach allows each project to be tailored to the need of the municipality that will host it.
More resilient urban energy infrastructure is being developed for public safety as well as economic and energy security reasons, says Robert Thornton, president & CEO of the International District Energy Association (IDEA). “We know from experience that robust CHP/district energy microgrids on our college campuses deliver highly reliable and resilient energy with lower environmental footprint. It’s time that cities and communities had the same access to proven technologies like CHP/district energy microgrids.”