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 authorized 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.

Georgia Power CLEAN programs deploy over 500 MW of local solar

solar-installersCLEAN programs (Clean Local Energy Accessible Now) are currently purveyed throughout the United States as programs that make it easier to build clean local energy projects, get them connected to the grid, and establish long-term contracts to sell the power produced to utilities. Georgia Power’s recent success with their CLEAN programs and distributed solar is indicative of real solutions solving real energy problems at the local level.

Since the Clean Coalition’s inception, we have worked tirelessly to proliferate CLEAN programs around the country. Working with utilities and local governments, the Clean Coalition incentivizes the process by offering clear solutions benefitting the communities involved, their economies, and the environment.

Georgia Power — owned by Southern Company, the third largest utility in the United States — has figured out a way to offer benefits to its customers that many utility companies haven’t attempted yet: with wholesale distributed generation (WDG). WDG refers to distributed generation systems that connect to the local distribution grid and sell the electricity they produce to the local utility. The clean local energy produced by WDG is used to serve local energy demand.

The decreasing costs of solar installations, increasing costs of electricity, and efforts by the Georgia Public Service Commission have paved the way for Georgia Power’s CLEAN program growth in the state. Georgia Power’s advanced solar initiatives combined with progressive research and forward thinking state energy policies have launched the utility into the national spotlight as a clean energy leader while unleashing WDG. Its significant solar potential went largely untapped until the Clean Coalition introduced their CLEAN Program guidelines and design to the utility in 2012.

Georgia Power serves electricity to over 2 million customers in the State of Georgia, and continually seeks opportunities to deploy renewable energy. Georgia has highlighted clean energy because of its economic benefits, the state’s population growth, and the overall importance of renewable energy.

In an effort to deploy more solar power, the Georgia Public Service Commission approved the Georgia Power Advanced Solar Initiative in November 2012. The initiative was primarily formed to inspire economic growth within Georgia, while offering standardized pricing that encourages more renewable development and avoids any upward rate pressure and reliability impacts to their customers.

Through this initiative, Georgia Power would acquire 210 MW of new solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity through standardized long-term contracts over a three-year period. Of the 210 MW, 90 MW will be procured through a CLEAN Program, while the other 120 MW will be procured through RFPs.

The initial design included two programs that were aimed at increasing solar development in Georgia: 1) offer existing Georgia Power customers additional options to sell distributed solar generation back to Georgia Power through small- and medium-scale power purchase programs; and 2) offer solar developers the opportunity to bring large PV solar arrays to market through a competitive utility-scale RFP. 

Subsequently, in July 2013, the Georgia Public Service Commission approved an additional 525 MW of solar capacity as part of the 2013 Integrated Resource Plan order. These additional megawatts of solar capacity were similarly allocated between the distributed generation and utility-scale programs. When its efforts are completed by the end of this year, Georgia Power will have nearly 800 MW of new WDG (solar) in its energy portfolio.

CLEAN Programs are focused on the WDG market segment with 100% of the energy sold to the utility on a wholesale basis rather than reducing behind-the-meter load to offset retail energy purchases. Georgia Power’s solar initiatives allowed local businesses, residents, and organizations to install local, renewable energy projects in underutilized spaces such as rooftops and abandoned lots.

Georgia Power’s CLEAN Programs streamlined procurement through a standard offer pricing mechanism, just like a feed-in tariff. In addition, their CLEAN Programs also streamline interconnection, which is one of the biggest obstacles to getting commercial and industrial projects deployed. CLEAN Programs in Georgia drove deployment of renewable energy projects to targeted locations on the grid. Overall, CLEAN Programs were shown to represent the most effective approach for Georgia Power to procure cost-effective local renewables.

Over the next five years Georgia Power has approval to unleash and deploy an additional 1.6 gigawatts (GW) of WDG. This will be in addition to the 800 MW of WDG that was initiated from Georgia Power’s advanced solar initiatives and CLEAN Programs. This milestone equates to nearly 2.5 GW of WDG that will be deployed by Georgia Power Company in the near future.

From an economic perspective, abundant solar resources, falling prices for solar panels, declining installation costs, and a push to add more MW of solar to the grid are benefiting all customers in Georgia. From an environmental perspective, the decreased use of fossil fuels from old power plants — and falling reliance on transmission infrastructure — is cleaning up the state’s air for future generations.

The Clean Coalition continues to work with utilities to come up with innovative solutions in achieving similar successes to Georgia Power’s. Read the Clean Coalition’s full Georgia Power CLEAN brief here.