Collaborating and innovating to expand clean local energy in San Mateo County

The clean energy sector has seen massive innovation and cost reductions over the past decade, but hurdles remain in developing and connecting local renewables to the grid. Through the PAEC initiative, the Clean Coalition is exploring these challenges, identifying solutions, and working with strategic partners to demonstrate how California can streamline the creation of advanced energy communities (AECs).

In the first half of the 18-month PAEC initiative, the Clean Coalition has uncovered local renewable energy deployment opportunities, investigated a number of critical barriers, and developed concrete recommendations to accelerate adoption of clean local energy. Specifically, we have:

  • Conducted the PAEC Solar Siting Survey, which identified 65 megawatts of commercial solar potential in southern San Mateo County on parking lots, parking garages, and school rooftops.
  • Analyzed PG&E’s Fast Track program and recommended improvements to streamline interconnection of wholesale distributed generation (wholesale DG).
  • Studied and prioritized Best Practices on energy policies and ordinances in San Francisco and surrounding regions that should be replicated to accelerate the development of AECs.

While these studies shed light on key opportunities to accelerate deployment of AECs, they are only useful if the information and recommendations are used to guide decision making. That’s why the Clean Coalition is actively working with our key PAEC partners to disseminate this information.

Already, the Clean Coalition has shared highlights from these studies with dozens of municipalities, school districts, corporations, and institutions that are partners in the PAEC initiative. One group in particular that is incorporating PAEC findings into its work is the Regionally Integrated Climate Action Planning Suite (RICAPS), which is an association of 20 municipalities in San Mateo County overseen by San Mateo County’s Office of Sustainability. RICAPS promotes PAEC conclusions in their climate action planning work. Over the past nine months, the PAEC team has presented findings on a number of critical topics to RICAPS members.

The presentations have helped RICAPS members clarify policy direction for expanding electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure in existing multi-family and new large retail buildings. The City of Menlo Park has been particularly engaged on this topic and is moving forward with a new EV charging ordinance. RICAPS has also spent time focusing on ordinances and policies that would expand zero carbon space heating and water heating, as well as increase the number of solar carports.

Beyond holding workshops, the PAEC team also disseminates technical information at city planning commission and council meetings. The feedback the PAEC partners receive from municipal, corporate, and institutional partners has been used to further refine PAEC policy recommendations.

Moving forward, PAEC partners and collaborators will hold workshops on recommendations to streamline interconnection and the economic benefits of energy efficiency and fuel switching from natural gas to electricity.

PAEC collaborators

Much work remains to build out AECs. There needs to be deep energy retrofits across the built environment, significant development of local renewable energy projects, an expansion of EV charging infrastructure, and greater use of energy storage systems. The PAEC initaitive’s technical assessments, best practices research, and policy recommendations so far have been, and will continue to be, useful to municipalities, corporations, and institutions that seek to eliminate barriers to AEC project implementation.

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, 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.

Connecting renewables to the grid faster… much faster

The majority of Californians support bringing more renewable energy online. However, connecting a solar project in California is often an arduous and expensive process that can take years — adding uncertainty and added costs to project development. This is particularly true for wholesale distributed generation (wholesale DG) projects.

As shown below, wholesale DG systems connect directly to the distribution grid and sell all the power produced to the local utility, which is used to serve local electricity demand. Unfortunately, wholesale DG projects face a lengthier, riskier, and more costly utility interconnection process compared to similar sized net energy metered projects.

Net energy metering (NEM) is an indisputably effective policy for deploying retail distributed generation projects across the country. It typically works best for residential installations, like rooftop solar on a single-family home, and on other owner-occupied properties. NEM projects utilize streamlined interconnection processes to connect to the grid, which is vital for the policy’s success. It is worth mentioning that NEM does not effectively address the commercial-scale solar segment, including non-owner occupied properties, split-metered facilities, and sites with little on-site load. Wholesale DG projects can be a great fit for these types of locations; however, an improved process is needed to connect wholesale DG projects to the grid.

In Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E) service territories, wholesale DG projects of up to 5 megawatts (MW) can seek interconnection through the utility’s “Fast Track” process, but most projects do not move quickly through this process. A whopping 82% of Fast Track proposed projects get stuck and never receive interconnection approval from PG&E. Since 2012, PG&E’s Fast Track program has received 209 interconnection applications for solar projects of 5 MW or less. Of these 209 proposed projects, 37 of them made it to the interconnection agreement stage, while 172 dropped out of Fast Track altogether. With a project success rate less than 18%, improvements can surely be made to the Fast Track program in order to streamline interconnection for wholesale DG projects.

The Clean Coalition, which is leading the Peninsula Advanced Energy Community (PAEC) initiative, studied this high failure rate and developed recommendations to streamline the interconnection process for wholesale DG projects. The result is a new report, titled Best Practices: Interconnection for Local, Commercial-Scale, Renewable Energy Projects, which investigates best practices for wholesale DG interconnection policies and provides clear recommendations to streamline the process in California, with a particular focus on projects sized up to 1 MW.

Our research uncovered that it typically takes a year and a half for PG&E to approve a 1 MW wholesale solar project through its Fast Track program. By analyzing PG&E’s quarterly filing with the California Public Utilities Commission, the Clean Coalition was able to determine exactly where delays occurred. A typical 1 MW project going through the Fast Track approval process can endure up to 575 days of waiting in various stages, including: site control, numerous project reviews, drawing up contracts, and grid upgrade construction.

The Best Practices: Interconnection for Local, Commercial-Scale, Renewable Energy Projects report offers specific recommendations to improve the predictability, flexibility, and objectivity of the wholesale DG interconnection review process with the goal of improving the project success rate. The Clean Coalition’s recommendations include: transparent application and review processes, predictable and reasonable timelines, enhanced queue management, dispute resolution procedures, and clear cost-certainty measures. Simultaneously, these recommendations align with the goals of Assembly Bill 327, which required utilities to develop grid planning strategies and programs for the deployment of distributed energy resources, including local renewables at locations on the grid that can accommodate new local generation without expensive interconnection costs.

Compared to the expeditious process for NEM projects, the interconnection process for wholesale DG projects is woefully inadequate. By adopting the recommendations from this PAEC report, utilities can improve the predictability, cost certainly, and timeline for interconnecting wholesale DG projects to California’s grid. As a result, California will be able to bring more affordable clean local energy online — reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving the resilience of the grid, and avoiding the need to build new, costly transmission infrastructure.

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.

With the Clean Coalition’s help, the City of Palo Alto expands use of local solar and electric vehicles

Yesterday afternoon, the City of Palo Alto unveiled new solar PV carport installations atop two public garages, as well as electric vehicle (EV) charging stations that will be powered by on-site renewable energy. Craig Lewis, Executive Director for the Clean Coalition, Mayor Greg Scharff, and City Manager James Keene spoke at today’s ribbon cutting ceremony (Mr. Lewis is pictured to the right).

These installations are the result of sustained efforts by the Clean Coalition and the City of Palo Alto to bring local renewable energy online. In 2014, the Clean Coalition partnered with city staff to design and assist with administering the Request for Proposals (RFP) process to lease solar siting rights to install solar parking canopies on the City of Palo Alto’s parking garages. Komuna Energy was selected to build, own, and operate the solar canopies, and as part of the lease arrangement, agreed to install electrical infrastructure to support 20 additional EV chargers at a total of four garages. Additional staging under Komuna’s arrangement with Palo Alto will bring the total to nearly 100 Level-2 EV charging ports.

The ability to structure an RFP to solarize municipal parking garages was facilitated by the City of Palo Alto Utilities’ Feed-In Tariff (FIT) program, known as Palo Alto CLEAN, which the Clean Coalition helped establish in 2013. Under Palo Alto CLEAN, a standardized, long-term and fixed-rate Power Purchase Agreement streamlines the process to sell local solar energy to the utility. Importantly, the FIT made these solar canopy projects possible and directly supports the City of Palo Alto’s bold energy and climate goals.

Best practices encouraging clean local energy deployment in California

Local governments across California play a vital role in shaping the state’s energy future. Leading municipalities have developed innovative ordinances and programs to drive adoption of energy efficient technologies and renewable energy systems. Earlier this year, clean energy experts and stakeholders involved in the Peninsula Advanced Energy Community (PAEC) initiative researched innovative local government efforts that merit replication.

Based on this research, the Clean Coalition has released a new report to highlight these best practices for encouraging development of a clean energy future across five areas: energy efficiency, renewable energy, zero net energy, energy storage, and electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. The following five ordinances and programs are just a sampling of the dozens highlighted in the PAEC Best Practices Report.

1. Energy efficiency in San Francisco

San Francisco’s Commercial Building Benchmarking Ordinance requires property owners of commercial buildings 10,000 square feet and larger to track their building’s annual energy consumption. In addition to Energy Star benchmarking, these commercial buildings are required to have a qualified energy auditor conduct an audit every five years that yields a list of specific energy saving opportunities, as well as applicable rebates.

Benchmarking data from 2010-2015, publicly available on the City of San Francisco website, catalogues energy utilization index scores for commercial buildings and allows building owners and managers see how their energy use compares to others.

2. Renewable energy in Lancaster

To encourage investment in renewable energy systems, the City of Lancaster adopted a mandatory solar requirement for new homes. As of January 1, 2014, all new residential structures must have a solar photovoltaic (PV) system of at least 0.5-1.5 kilowatts (kW), based on the zoning/lot type. Additionally, the ordinance requires that installed solar PV systems shall produce at least 2 watts per square foot of each home built. For example, a 2,000 square foot home would require a builder to install a 4 kW system.

3. Zero net energy in Watsonville

In 2015, the City of Watsonville adopted the Carbon Fund Program to encourage development projects to incorporate more energy efficiency and onsite renewable energy systems. The goal of the city’s requirement is to reduce Watsonville’s overall greenhouse gas emissions.

Funds for the program are collected through a Carbon Impact Fee, which is levied on all residential and non-residential development projects, as well as major additions and alterations on existing buildings. Developers can be refunded a portion, or all of their Carbon Impact Fee, if they offset their development’s average annual electricity demand through renewable energy and energy efficiency. The program incentivizes developers to create energy efficient zero net energy projects that will save tenants money on their utility bills, as many residents are renters in this economically disadvantaged community.

4. Energy storage in Redwood City

In 2014, Redwood City partnered with Green Charge Networks to install EV charging stations with intelligent energy storage at five locations. EV charging can be an irregular, power-intensive activity that results in peaks of energy use. This EV charging infrastructure, which includes the Redwood Shores Branch Library and the city’s downtown parking garage, provides peak shaving by drawing power from energy storage systems during times of high demand.

An example of peak shaving using battery storage | Source: Cenergy Power

The project was developed at no cost to Redwood City due to the financial agreement and shared savings resulting from the public/private partnership.

5. EV charging infrastructure in Fremont

The City of Fremont recently adopted green building standards that require new construction projects and major additions to include parking spaces that are “EV Ready” —meaning they are equipped with an EV charging unit. This requirement applies to single-family residential, multi-family, and non-residential projects.

Single-family homes must have one EV Ready parking space for each dwelling unit. For multi-family and non-residential developments, EV Ready parking spaces must comprise 10 percent of the total number of new parking spaces.

This EV Ready requirement will speed adoption of EVs in Fremont, a city that already boasts the most EV drivers of any zip code (94539) in California.

A clean energy future

These forward-thinking ordinances and programs in San Francisco, Lancaster, Watsonville, Redwood City, and Fremont are encouraging implementation of clean local energy systems and creating models that other municipalities can easily adopt.[2] At a time when local governments are being asked to do more with less, this PAEC Best Practices Report is designed to make it easier for municipalities to understand strategies to reduce greenhouse gases and reach Climate Action Plan 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 http://www.clean-coalition.org/paec. Go here to view the The final PAEC Best Practices Report.

Palo Alto brings its first Feed-In Tariff solar project online

This week, the City of Palo Alto will begin producing clean local energy on one of its municipal parking garages.

The new 240 kilowatt (kW) solar canopy installation, located at the Bryant Street garage in downtown Palo Alto, is owned and operated by Komuna Energy, and all the electricity produced will be sold to the City of Palo Alto Utilities through Palo Alto CLEAN, a Feed-In Tariff the Clean Coalition helped establish in 2013. In addition to the solar canopy, Komuna Energy also installed a number of Level-2 electric vehicle (EV) chargers — with more to come.

The solar canopy at the Bryant Street garage is the first of four solar canopies to be installed on municipal parking garages in Palo Alto, which will bring a total of 1.3 megawatts online. Palo Alto already has a carbon neutral electricity supply and is actively pursuing the electrification of transportation to reduce its carbon footprint.

The Clean Coalition was engaged to design the Request For Proposal that ultimately selected Komuna Energy and created the lease agreement that administers their relationship with the City of Palo Alto. Under this agreement, Palo Alto’s EV ambitions will be significantly advanced, as it includes staging for nearly 100 Level-2 charging ports. The Bryant Street garage will contain six ports that are fully installed, with electrical upgrades and wiring already in place for an additional 18.

Komuna Energy’s next project will be a 419 kW PV system on Webster Street and it is scheduled to come online in late July. More updates will follow in the coming months.