The reality of implementing 100% clean local energy

Cities can set ambitious goals for 100% clean local energy, but making sure these goals are politically feasible requires buy-in from community stakeholders. Every city and county in California has a General Plan that guides development and land use for the next 10, 20, or 25 years. The City of Menlo Park’s most recent General Plan update is of particular interest because it lays out a 100% renewable energy requirement for new developments in designated areas. This leading feature puts Menlo Park at the forefront of clean energy leadership and is supportive of California’s statewide carbon reduction goals.

An essential part of Menlo Park’s General Plan and M-2 Area Zoning Update is the flexibility it gives developers in meeting the 100% renewable energy requirement for the M-2 Area (see map below).

The M-2 Area sits along the San Francisco Bay between Highway 101, Highway 84, and Willow Road — and it is currently home to Facebook’s headquarters, life science companies, and other businesses. Given the strong demand for office space and housing in the Bay Area, Menlo Park City Council updated the General Plan to allow the development of 2.3 million square feet of new office space and 4,500 housing units in the M-2 area. However, the City Council wants to ensure that new construction in the area will help Menlo Park meet its greenhouse gas reduction goal, a 27% reduction from 2005 levels by 2020, in the City’s Climate Action Plan.

The stakeholder process

During the General Plan update, Menlo Park initially proposed that new developments should meet 80% of their energy needs through on-site renewable energy generation. A number of developers expressed support for renewable energy in principle but also raised concern that meeting this requirement would be challenging, given the energy intensity of some of the new buildings and the shading from existing tree cover. With input from Menlo Spark, the Clean Coalition, and the Environmental Quality Commission, the City of Menlo Park devised language for the General Plan update that allowed flexibility in how future development could meet the renewable energy requirement, while increasing the requirement from 80% to 100%.

New commercial construction will be required to conduct a feasibility study for on-site renewable energy generation, but developers are only required to implement 30% of the maximum on-site feasible renewable energy generation capacity for the property. Developments can utilize any combination of the following options to fulfill the remainder of their 100% renewable energy requirement:

  • Installation of on-site renewable energy (such as solar PV on rooftops and/or parking lots)
  • Purchase of 100% renewable electricity through Peninsula Clean Energy or Pacific Gas & Electric in an amount equal to the annual energy demand of the new construction project
  • Installation of local solar, or other renewable energy, within the City of Menlo Park in an amount equal to the annual energy demand of the new construction project
  • Purchase of certified Renewable Energy Credits equal to the energy demand of the project each year

Installation of renewable energy projects within the City of Menlo Park (the third option listed) ensures flexibility for developers while securing benefits throughout the Menlo Park community. For example, a property developer could pay for a 25-kilowatt solar PV system installation on the Boys & Girls Club building in Menlo Park to help meet their renewable energy requirements. This Boys & Girls Club location currently spends about $3,000 a month on electricity, and in this scenario, having on-site solar would reduce their energy bill and free up funds to be spent on programming for local children. When the City included this option in the list they were aiming to provide flexibility for development and a scalable benefit to the community.

Upcoming test case

Given the suite of options the City is giving developers to meet the renewable energy requirements, it will be interesting to see which combination of options developers pursue. Diane Bailey, the Executive Director of Menlo Spark, believes that once developers see the results of their property’s on-site renewables feasibility study, they may find it easier to install a much greater amount of renewable energy up front. Soon there will be a test case to see how developers decide to meet City planning goals.

Growth of electric vehicle charging infrastructure

Beyond the renewable energy requirement for new development in the M-2 zone, Menlo Park’s General Plan is also driving greenhouse gas emissions reductions from building and transportation sectors. The City’s General Plan requires certain ratios of electric vehicle (EV) charging spaces to total parking lot spaces, which will undoubtedly expand adoption of EVs in the City.

The transportation sector currently contributes 37% of the California’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Since California’s electricity generation portfolio is relatively low-carbon already, and on a trajectory to become even less carbon-intensive, widespread adoption EVs is a key strategy for reducing statewide GHG emissions.

Electric vehicle charging infrastructure (EVCI) will be a key element of the Peninsula Advanced Energy Community (PAEC), which is an initiative launched by the Clean Coalition in partnership with a number of collaborators, and funded under the California Energy Commission’s Electric Program Investment Charge. Advanced Energy Communities (AEC) use energy efficiency, renewable energy, energy storage, and EVCI to advance clean local energy. The benefits of AECs include:

  • Minimizing the need for new energy infrastructure costs such as transmission and distribution upgrades;
  • Supporting grid reliability and resiliency by incorporating technologies such as energy storage; and
  • Establishing projects that can be replicated and scaled-up to further drive down costs and provide affordable access to renewable energy generation.

The Menlo Park General Plan and M-2 Zoning Area Update’s vision for clean local energy to drive reductions in GHG emissions has set the stage to make Advanced Energy Communities a reality. Other communities are watching to see how these new requirements will be applied and what they can learn from Menlo Park’s experience.

The Peninsula Advanced Energy Community (PAEC) is a groundbreaking initiative to streamline policies and showcase projects that facilitate local renewables and other advanced energy solutions like energy efficiency, energy storage, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The PAEC will create pathways to cost-effective clean local energy and community resilience throughout San Mateo County and the City of Palo Alto; and beyond. The PAEC is a collaboration between the Clean Coalition, the California Energy Commission, Pacific Gas and Electric, and an array of municipalities, emergency response jurisdictions, schools and universities, and corporate entities. For more information, please visit www.clean-coalition.org/PAEC.

Palo Alto is aiming high by going low… carbon

While federal energy and climate policy is undoubtedly important, action is often driven at the local level. And innovative cities, like Palo Alto, California, are leading us into the clean energy future.

In April of this year, the City of Palo Alto passed an ambitious greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goal that will see an 80% reduction of GHG below 1990 levels by 2030. This municipal goal complements and accelerates California’s groundbreaking Assembly Bill 32 (AB 32), also known as the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which called for an 80% reduction of GHG emissions below 1990 levels by 2050. In September, the State of California, under the leadership of Governor Jerry Brown and the California Air Resources Board, updated AB 32 with Senate Bill 32, which includes the interim goal of reducing GHG emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. While California is impressively increasing its ambitions, the City of Palo Alto is staging to get twice those results.

The City of Palo Alto is pursuing a variety of strategies to meet its bold clean energy and GHG emissions goals. Since 2015, the City’s entire electricity supply has been covered by carbon neutral sources, including hydropower. The City offsets power from any remaining carbon emitting sources by purchasing Renewable Energy Credits. With the costs of renewable energy steadily dropping, the City is continuing to increase the amount of solar in its portfolio. According to Pat Burt, Mayor of Palo Alto, the City was able to contract for future solar power at 3.7 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), not including about 3 additional cents per kWh to cover the anticipated costs of transmission.

Palo Alto has a specific focus on expanding its local renewable energy capacity with a goal of providing 4% of its total electric energy consumption from local solar by 2020. Working in close partnership with the city officials and staff at City of Palo Alto Utilities, the Clean Coalition helped design a feed-in tariff program, known as Palo Alto CLEAN, to support local solar installations. Under Palo Alto CLEAN, a standardized power purchase agreement (PPA) streamlines the process for selling local renewables to the utility at a fixed rate for up to 25 years. Importantly, this program made it possible to contract for solar canopies totaling 1.3 megawatts atop four City-owned parking structures. Net energy metering was not viable at these sites, since the parking structures have tiny loads and net energy metering does not allow annual generation to significantly exceed site load.

“Palo Alto CLEAN standardizes the process for selling local renewable energy to the utility and overcomes all of the challenges associated with load size, property ownership, and multi-tenancy,” said Ed Shikada, Assistant City Manager and Interim Director of Utilities. “Now that the first round of City-owned properties are successfully contracted, future projects can leverage the deal structure and associated contract documentation to facilitate far easier experiences. Ultimately, the solar parking structures are a key milestone and provide a showcase for more projects in Palo Alto and far beyond.”

In addition to its aggressive pursuit of renewable energy, the City of Palo Alto is also working to support wider adoption of electric vehicles (EV) and switching from natural gas appliances to electric appliances. As part of the deal to bring the solar canopies to the City-owned parking structures, Palo Alto was able to significantly advance its EV goals by having the project developer install, at no cost to the City, 18 Level-2 EV chargers and lay the wiring for an additional 80 charging stations.

In the latest example of Palo Alto leadership, the Palo Alto City Council unanimously approved the Carbon Neutral Natural Gas Plan this month. The plan further supports Palo Alto’s clean energy and GHG goals by levying an increased charge, of no greater than 10 cents per therm, on natural gas usage. The money raised through this plan will help the City continue to reduce its reliance on fossil fuels through offsets, as well as through legal and programmatic options for investing in local electrification projects, such as the use of EVs for municipal fleets and incentivizing broad community adoption of more energy efficient electric appliances like heat pumps, induction cooktops, and electric dryers. The total cost of the natural gas charge translates to an additional $3.58 per month on a typical household’s utility bill — a negligible price for supporting the clean energy future.

The Clean Coalition is building upon this innovative work in Palo Alto through our latest initiative. The Peninsula Advanced Energy Community (PAEC) is a groundbreaking initiative to streamline policies and showcase projects that facilitate local renewables and other advanced energy solutions like energy efficiency, energy storage, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The PAEC will create pathways to cost-effective clean local energy and community resilience throughout San Mateo County and the City of Palo Alto; and beyond. The PAEC is a collaboration between the Clean Coalition, the California Energy Commission, Pacific Gas and Electric, and an array of municipalities, emergency response jurisdictions, schools and universities, and corporate entities.

The Peninsula Advanced Energy Community (PAEC) is a groundbreaking initiative to streamline policies and showcase projects that facilitate local renewables and other advanced energy solutions like energy efficiency, energy storage, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The PAEC will create pathways to cost-effective clean local energy and community resilience throughout San Mateo County and the City of Palo Alto; and beyond. The PAEC is a collaboration between the Clean Coalition, the California Energy Commission, Pacific Gas and Electric, and an array of municipalities, emergency response jurisdictions, schools and universities, and corporate entities. For more information, please visit www.clean-coalition.org/PAEC.

Clean Coalition policy team success in 2016

The Clean Coalition is actively engaged in a suite of policy activities — filing over 50 comments in state-level regulatory proceedings and advancing initiatives to accelerate the transition to clean energy. In the coming year, we will continue to improve the planning, procurement, and interconnection of local renewable energy.

Planning

This year, the Clean Coalition policy team continued its pioneering work on California’s Distribution Resources Plans (DRP), through which California’s largest utilities have begun proactively planning for distributed energy resources (DER). The DRP process is an essential step to enhance grid transparency and streamline the deployment of clean energy projects. The Clean Coalition contributed to developing the Interconnection Capacity Analysis maps and the Locational Net Benefits Analysis, which will together work to guide development of resources toward the most beneficial areas of the grid to maximize DER value for customers and suppliers.

Building upon grid planning principles and methodologies implemented in California, the Clean Coalition is also contributing to New York’s energy transition. Policy team members are guiding both the selection of an interim successor to net energy metering, as well as the long-term task of developing rates to compensate DER for their locational and environmental benefits.

Procurement

An integral element of the Clean Coalition’s work in achieving its overarching objective by 2020 — when at least 25% of all electricity from newly added generation capacity in the United States will be from local renewable energy sources — is deploying local renewables in the built environment. Under the California Public Utilitities Commission’s (CPUC) Green Tariff Shared Renewables (GTSR) program, the Clean Coalition achieved a victory in convincing the CPUC to allow sub-500 kW renewable energy projects to participate. Prior comments in the GTSR proceeding have shown that the most suitable multi-family rooftops and parking lots for siting solar contain less than 500 kW of capacity on average. The Clean Coalition is pleased with this outcome and knows that allowing some sub-500 kW projects will expand the reach of this program to disadvantaged and underserved communities.

California’s groundbreaking Renewable Energy Market Adjusting Tariff has been stymied by a requirement for a project interconnection commitment in order to be eligible to receive a contract, but with no assurance of receiving that contract. The Clean Coalition and the Bioenergy Association of California seized upon the opportunity to address this catch-22 in the special category of bioenergy procurement and successfully fixed the issue. The adopted standards allow projects to establish project viability, seek, and accept contracts, without creating undue barriers to market entry. This improvement is demonstrating a solution that can be widely adopted.

Finally, the Clean Coalition played a significant role in refining California’s new regulatory mechanism incentive pilot, which the CPUC unanimously approved in December in the Integrated Distributed Energy Resources proceeding. The pilot requires each utility to identify at least one grid-scale project — and authorize up to three additional projects — where the deployment of DER would displace or defer the need for significant capital expenditures on traditional distribution infrastructure. This is designed to begin testing alternative utility business models by exploring how an incentive for DER will affect the utilities’ sourcing behavior. Changing utility sourcing behavior may be achieved by granting the utility a financial return comparable to that it would realize from traditional capital investment even when contracting for less costly third party owned DER resources instead.

Interconnection

For many years the Clean Coalition has spearheaded improvements to the CPUC’s Rule 21, which regulates interconnection, operation, and metering requirements for distributed generation in California and serves as the foundation for standards in many other states. In 2016, the Clean Coalition improved predictability in the interconnection process by successfully advocating for enhancements to utilities’ Pre-Application Reports, and the publication of Unit Cost Guides with both unit and scenario cost information. The Clean Coalition achieved a further major improvement in cost certainty, establishing the option for developers to lock in utility estimates of interconnection costs and avoid the risk of surprise increases after an agreement is signed. Together, these important tools will assist in guiding distributed generation project applicants through the interconnection process with significant risk reduction and improved pricing transparency, predictability, and consistency.

In New York, the Clean Coalition worked to better define the methodologies and goals involved in the state’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) initiative. The team leveraged their experience leading Rule 21 reform and the implementation of California’s DRP, to inform the REV effort and development of technical requirements. Clean Coalition staff now have sitting positions on two New York Public Service Commission working groups that are working to reform the state’s interconnection policies and technical practices.

Since its inception in 2009, the Clean Coalition has significantly impacted policies that accelerate the deployment of local, renewable energy to address climate change and secure economic, environmental, and resilience benefits for communities. The coming year will likely experience less federal leadership on smart energy policies, but the Clean Coalition is ready for the challenges ahead and will redouble its efforts to ensure California and other states across the country advance strong state-level policies.

Peninsula Advanced Energy Community launches, will provide framework for the future of clean energy

13 groups have received grant money from the state of California to design Advanced Energy Communities (AECs) over the next 18 months. AECs will establish replicable approaches that leverage energy efficiency, local renewables, electric vehicle charging stations, and energy storage to provide more affordable, cleaner, and resilient power. The California Energy Commission (CEC) is funding these grants, through a program known as The EPIC (Electric Program Investment Charge) Challenge, to identify barriers to the rapid deployment of AECs. Of the initial 13 projects funded, the top four will receive additional funding to build out their AEC designs.

The Clean Coalition is proud that its Peninsula Advanced Energy Community (PAEC) was one of the 13 projects selected for funding by the CEC. The PAEC, which focuses on southern San Mateo County, will address policy, permitting, and financing barriers impeding the development of AECs. The broader PAEC region includes all of San Mateo County and the City of Palo Alto, and other project collaborators include core school districts, emergency response districts, Pacific Gas & Electric, SamTrans, Facebook, Stanford University, and Kaiser Permanente.

First two design projects

The City of Atherton’s new Civic Center will be an early focus of the PAEC. Atherton’s existing Civic Center, which dates back to the 1920s, is outdated and inefficient. With PAEC support, the new Atherton Civic Center will be Zero Net Energy (ZNE) — showcasing cutting edge energy efficient electrical and mechanical systems that dramatically reduce energy usage and incorporate local renewable energy generation that at least matches the annual energy usage across the new Atherton Civic Center. Electric vehicle charging and energy storage are anticipated to complement the ZNE buildings, which will be 100% electric with zero natural gas or other fossil fuels being utilized.

Another component of the PAEC is the design of a solar emergency microgrid — an essential asset for communities seeking enhanced resilience of their local power grid. In the event of a power outage or natural disaster, a solar emergency microgrid can island from the larger grid to provide continuous power to a critical facility, such as an emergency response command center, hospital, or police station. Local renewable energy, battery backup, and load shedding solutions are key elements of a solar emergency microgrid.

Part of a larger sustainability effort

In alignment with the CEC’s AEC effort, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 32 into law this fall, laying out an ambitious goal of reducing California’s greenhouse gases emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. To achieve this target, the state needs to accelerate deployment of energy efficiency, local renewable energy, electric vehicles, and energy storage. The EPIC Challenge is nurturing innovations that will help catapult the state into a cleaner energy future. The Clean Coalition’s PAEC project — given its strong community support and talented partners — is well positioned to uncover innovative ways to enhance the cost-effectiveness and resilience of power in San Mateo County, while also helping California meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals.

The Peninsula Advanced Energy Community (PAEC) is a groundbreaking initiative to streamline policies and showcase projects that facilitate local renewables and other advanced energy solutions like energy efficiency, energy storage, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure. The PAEC will create pathways to cost-effective clean local energy and community resilience throughout San Mateo County and the City of Palo Alto; and beyond. The PAEC is a collaboration between the Clean Coalition, the California Energy Commission, Pacific Gas and Electric, and an array of municipalities, emergency response jurisdictions, schools and universities, and corporate entities. For more information, please visit www.clean-coalition.org/PAEC.

Unit Cost Guide released, improving cost certainty and interconnection for distributed generation

cpucThe Clean Coalition has succeeded in its initiative for all of California’s investor-owned utilities (IOU) to publish a Unit Cost Guide that will help guide distributed generation project applicants through the interconnection process with improved pricing transparency, predictability, and consistency.

For years, the Clean Coalition has generated improvements to the California Public Utilities Commission’s (CPUC) Rule 21, which regulates interconnection, operation, and metering requirements for distributed generation in California and serves as the foundation for standards in many other states. Most recently — and with the support of CPUC staff and Commissioner Sandoval — the CPUC adopted important new reforms the Clean Coalition has long sought to reduce risk and uncertainty in the interconnection process.

The forthcoming Unit Cost Guides, due for release in October, contain both component costs and examples of a variety of project sizes, energy sources (generation and storage), and locations deemed relevant to interconnection applicants. Updated on an annual basis, it will require each IOU — including Pacific Gas and Electric, San Diego Gas and Electric, and Southern California Edison — to publish appropriate and useful information distributed generation facilities can use to interconnect to the IOU’s respective distribution system. Specific elements in the Unit Cost Guide include: overhead costs (including new poles and excavation), metering requirements, telemetry, engineering, construction and other labor costs, and all system equipment.

Overall, the Unit Cost Guide is designed to support consistency and inform applicants of typical component and configuration costs when planning projects and assessing their costs, helping to interconnect renewable energy onto the existing distribution grid.

The publishing of the Unit Cost Guide is yet another victory following years of efforts by the Clean Coalition to improve Rule 21. The Clean Coalition will continue to see that the benefits of distributed energy resources are unlocked and help expand California’s transition to clean energy.