Decentralized Energy

06 Jul 2020

Congressional Proposal Recognizes Microgrid Role in US Climate Strategy

06 Jul 2020  by Matt Roberts   

It’s been slow to come, but lawmakers are increasingly incorporating microgrids into climate strategies, a focal point for Democrat politicians in both chambers. The carbon-reduction roadmap released this week by the US House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis offers a case in point.

Called “Solving the Climate Crisis,” the plan seeks net-zero emissions by 2050 through a multi-decade strategy to drastically reduce emissions, heavily invest in clean energy technologies and resilient infrastructure, and prioritize environmental justice and equality.

Subtitled the Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy and Just America, the report clocks in at a hefty 547 pages and is arguably the most comprehensive and earnest strategy to address climate change ever introduced by political leaders in the US.

While flashier proposals like putting a price on carbon or the blueprint for a national supergrid are already gaining a lot of attention, the report also highlights microgrid development and deployment as a key part of its energy, community, and resilience strategies.

Microgrids are noted throughout for their ability to reduce reliance and strain on the centralized grid; smoothly integrate a range of cutting-edge climate technologies; and provide resilience for critical infrastructure, communities, homes and businesses.

Some key recommendations regarding microgrids call for Congress to:

Establish a new program at Health and Human Services to support pre-disaster hospital and health facility resilience projects, including retrofits and maintenance to reduce flood and wildfire risk, harden facilities against extreme weather, and integrate redundant water and power supplies, including microgrids and community renewable energy grids.

Direct the Department of Energy to create grant, technical assistance, and demonstration programs for microgrids, especially in isolated areas and vulnerable communities.

Provide technical assistance and funding through the US Department of Agriculture to deploy resilient renewable energy and microgrid systems in US territories.

Create a new program within the Department of Transportation to assess and deploy resilient solutions for public transit electrification, including advanced microgrids.

While in other sections of the report more mature clean energy solutions like wind and solar power are prioritized for tax incentives and aggressive deployment strategies, microgrids are treated as somewhat novel and unconventional, despite their long track record in the field. Recommendations from the committee related to microgrids are mostly focused on technical assistance, feasibility studies, and demonstrations.

No stone left unturned

The electricity sector, transportation, housing, water infrastructure, decarbonization technology, manufacturing strategies, tax code overhauls, workers rights, public health, restoration, agriculture, resilience, vulnerable communities, national security; the plan leaves little to the imagination in seeking to combat climate change on most every societal front.

Think tank Energy Innovation provided an analysis of the economy-wide impacts of this ambitious plan, estimating nearly $8 trillion in health and environmental benefits and averting more than 60,000 preventable deaths each year by 2050.

The report comes a week after Democrats from the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure introduced a $1.5 trillion climate-focused economic recovery bill, signaling that the party is keenly focused on the far-reaching consequences of climate change in proposing legislative solutions.

Led by Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL), the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis was established last year as political momentum for a Green New Deal was building and has since held multiple hearings to assess potential policy proposals.

Nearly two thirds of Americans believe the federal government should act more aggressively to combat climate change, according to recent polling by Pew Research. A similar number of respondents say that climate change is already directly impacting their communities.

At the launch event, Rep Castor said “We are here today to provide hope and vision. We are releasing a transformative roadmap for solving the climate crisis. We have a plan for building the 100% clean energy economy, and we are going to do it in an equitable and inclusive way.”

Delving into the arcane

FERC is also central to the discussion of a national supergrid that would better interconnect and transmit renewable energy sources.

A notable feature of this plan is that it does not avoid getting down into the minutiae of the many challenges faced, and suggests many targeted solutions for consideration.

And while the report is plainly focused on what actions can be taken by Congress, other key agencies do not escape the far-reaching recommendations. None more so in the energy space than the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

FERC is mentioned almost 200 times throughout, and the plan’s authors provide a litany of recommendations that the agency could make to help propel the clean energy transition. The report also calls for congressional amendments to the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act, which FERC oversees, that would compel utilities to carefully consider things like greenhouse gas emissions and non-wires solutions in their decision making.

FERC is also central to the discussion of a national supergrid that would better interconnect and transmit renewable energy sources, serving as the transmission backbone of the clean energy economy. According to the plan, FERC should also ‘remove roadblocks in power markets that slow the growth of electricity generation from clean sources.”

Another critical-but-arcane strategy put forth is the creation of a strategic transformer reserve that could be tapped following the widespread grid impacts from superstorms, hurricanes, and wildfires to reduce grid downtime. Transformers and other electrical repair equipment that can be readied in advance, and put in the field to restore power quickly to those impacted.

These nuanced elements of the plan put forth by the Select Committee acknowledge that many somewhat boring and mundane day-to-day aspects of the energy transition are important to ensuring a resilient, adaptable grid that is capable of powering the energy clean energy economy.

Composite framework for Congressional action

The pillars pay particular attention to public health, equity and environmental justice, and building a strong workforce in the US clean energy sector.

It would be an exercise in futility to try and summarize everything within the report concisely, but there are many highlights that are of particular interest to the clean energy industry.

Each section in the report seeks to define a facet of the climate crisis, highlight legislative solutions that exist today, and provide specific recommendations for legislative and regulatory action to be taken in the future.

The report lays out ‘12 pillars’ as the foundation for confronting the climate crisis. These pillars range from investing in infrastructure to build a just equitable society to driving innovation and deployment in the clean energy and decarbonization sectors.

These central tenets reflect the panoptic scope of the proposal. The intent is not just to accelerate clean energy technology, but to also transform the US economy to address climate change through the lens of a just and equitable energy transition.

The pillars pay particular attention to public health, equity and environmental justice, and building a strong workforce in the US clean energy sector (which has been hard hit by the pandemic, with more than 600,000 jobs lost to date). The strategies laid out in the report emphasize community investment and reducing disproportionate pollution in vulnerable communities.

Overall, the report’s authors make clear that they believe that an effective and concerted response to the climate crisis can be the underpinning of economic growth and prosperity, and restore America’s leadership on the international stage.

Selective memory

The committee has operated somewhat under the radar as the coronavirus and nationwide protests have gripped the public’s attention.

When the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis was first launched, it drew skepticism from both sides. Without any traditional committee powers, like the ability to subpoena witnesses and testimony, it was unclear from the start what the committee would ultimately produce.

Republicans dismissed the committee as a media exercise meant to drum up support for a Green New Deal (GND), and GOP members of the committee half-heartedly participated in hearings over the past few months.

The more zealous among the Democrats’ ranks saw the unempowered convening as detrimental to efforts to combat climate change, with GND supporter Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez going so far as to say “a weak committee misses the point and endangers people.”

Since then, the committee has operated somewhat under the radar as the coronavirus and nationwide protests have gripped the public’s attention. All the while the committee was gathering expert testimony, conducting 17 official committee hearings, and holding more than a thousand meetings with stakeholders and industry advisors.

But with this major rollout — at a time when the nation is debating the scope of an economic recovery plan following the pandemic — it is clear that the core strategy of the committee and Democrat leaders is to engender response to the climate crisis across the legislative spectrum.

As the report states upfront, “American leadership and ingenuity are central to solving the climate crisis. With the devastating health and economic consequences of climate change growing at home and abroad, the United States must act urgently, guided by science, and in concert with the international community to provide a livable climate for today’s youth and future generations.”

What is clear is that the roadmap views microgrids as critical to achieving the ambitious goal of transforming the economy to combat climate change, and that fostering microgrid industry growth is good for carbon reductions and grid resilience.

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