- Sept. 25 – Grant Program to Assess, Evaluate and Promote Development of Tribal Energy and Mineral Resources
- Oct. 2 – WINDPOWER 2018 presentation proposals due
- Oct. 5 – Energy Efficiency Day 2017
- Oct. 9 – Tribal Energy Development Capacity
- Oct. 10 – Proposals for improving undergraduate STEM education requested
Tenacity paid off for the Southern Ute Indian Tribe on July 24, when they dedicated their newly commissioned and fully operational Oxford Solar Project on the Southern Ute Indian Reservation in Ignacio, Colorado.
The years it took to develop the 1.3-megawatt (MW), ground-mounted solar photovoltaic (PV) system ultimately ensured that the project was a winner for all involved. The array will reduce operating costs for the tribe by offsetting about 15 percent of the energy used by 10 tribal buildings. The siting of the project repurposes more than 10 acres of tribal land that was mostly unusable due to naturally occurring selenium contamination. The Oxford Tract, as the land parcel is called, has strong solar resources, is located near two substations and does not have any endangered or threatened species on it. La Plata Electric Association, which is purchasing the power and providing the grid connection, counts the electricity toward its goal of 20 percent local generation by 2020.
Slow start gathers steam
The Southern Ute Tribe first began to explore the idea of building a PV system in 2006 as a way of diversifying its business interests, and launched the Southern Ute Alternative Energy LLC (SUAE) in 2008. As a for-profit business, the SUAE evaluated solar PV development opportunities on tribal lands from a business perspective. For several years, alternative energy projects remained stubbornly out of reach, too costly for SUAE to pursue.
The turning point came in 2011 when the tribe performed a new feasibility study to look at potential sites and business models. James Jensen, who had recently joined the SUAE staff, recalled that the study was very thorough. “We were open to projects either on or off of tribal land,” he said. “If it was on tribal land, what was the best location? We evaluated environmental factors like whether the land was arable or disturbed or in a floodplain.”
The study also considered the proximity of transmission and substations to potential sites and did economic modeling on hypothetical projects. “We came out of the process with a comprehensive understanding of what would make a successful solar project,” said Jensen.
The findings determined that the Oxford Tract was the most suitable location for a utility-scale solar development, and that a grant was needed to make the project economical.
Southern Ute Grant Specialist Jody Rosier began working with Jensen on the grant application to submit to the Department of Energy (DOE). Financial help wasn’t the only thing DOE had to offer the tribe, however.
Just as important, Rosier recalled, was the tribe’s participation in the Strategic Technical Assistance Response Team (START) Program. START, a program of the DOE Office of Indian Energy, provides technical assistance to help Native American tribes complete renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. “START analyzed and validated the findings of the feasibility study,” Rosier recalled, “and helped the tribe to establish a relationship with DOE.”
The program also helped the tribe determine the siting of the project near substations belonging to LPEA. “Initially, the project was planned as a ‘virtual metering’ situation, where any kilowatt-hours being generated would offset kilowatt-hours the tribe was using,” explained LPEA Engineering Manager Ron Meier. “Siting the array near a substation was key to making physics work. It really simplified the development process for them.”
Beyond that, Meier added, the purchase power agreement was pretty straightforward. With a budget of $3 million co-funded by the tribe and a $1.5 million grant from the DOE, it was time to start building.
Ready, set, install!
SUAE issued a request for proposals at the end of 2014 for an 800-kW system. It was around that time that the solar industry saw a significant drop in the price of panels. “We were pleasantly surprised when the bids came back to find that we could afford to build a somewhat larger project,” said Jensen.
The tribe chose Boulder, Colorado-based Namaste Solar to design the project for the tribe and install the tracking panels. Jody Rosier noted that tracking technology is becoming more common in new solar installations. “Panels that follow the sun across the sky generate more electricity and that improves a project’s economics,” she said.
The long process that culminated in the July 24 celebration provided the Southern Ute tribe with a thorough education in solar development. Jensen observed that the most important lesson they learned might be to keep the first project simple. He pointed to the selection of a site that did not require an environmental impact study as one factor that kept the project from getting too financially and legally complicated.
Although grants that require matching funds may put projects beyond a tribe’s reach, Rosier encourages tribes that are interested in developing renewable energy systems to investigate available grants. “Grants that require matching funds may not work for tribes,” she warned. “But once the renewable system is up and running, it provides years of sustainable electricity and needs little maintenance.”
Source: Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, 7/25/17
Proposals due April 14
4:30 P.M. PT
The Presidio Trust is seeking to purchase Renewable Energy Certificates to meet their renewable energy objectives through a solicitation issued by Western Area Power Administration. Responses to the Request for Proposal must be received via mail or fax before April 14 at 4:30 p.m. PDT. WAPA will consider bids that meet Renewable Electric Energy and REC definitions and qualifications. Using the flexibility allowed under WAPA’s power marketing authority, the REC contract will be awarded for the best overall value to Presidio while meeting the terms of the RFP. WAPA is encouraging small and minority-owned businesses and Native American tribes to apply. Read more.
Source: WAPA Renewable Energy for Federal Agencies program, 3/31/17
One of your best resources for the latest developments in clean energy and wise energy use (besides the Energy Services Bulletin, of course) is about to make some changes. Starting Nov. 10, the EERE Network News will become the EERE Weekly Digest of Clean Energy News and arrive in your inbox each Thursday.
There’s more: The new weekly newsletter will spotlight some of the fresher content offered by EERE, including videos and blogs. Browse the video gallery for short features on topics ranging from efficiency programs to technology to competition to financing. The EERE blog covers current Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy projects, interviews with energy experts and success stories about EERE’s technology offices and national laboratories.
If you don’t already subscribe to the EERE newsletter, there is no time like the present to change that. Just a sample of what you missed in this week’s issue includes stories on the 40th anniversary of the DOE National Weatherization Program and Zillow’s partnership with the Sunshot Initiative.
You can also subscribe to newsletters that focus on specific technology programs. Key accounts managers may be interested in advanced manufacturing or building technology updates. The FEMP Digest offers valuable news for facilities managers, federal and otherwise. For resource planners, publications on wind, solar, geothermal, bioenergy and fuel cells highlight activities, projects, events and education and funding opportunities.
The changes in the electric utility industry are coming hard and fast and can sometimes seem overwhelming. The EERE newsletters make it a little easier for busy professionals to keep up with—and maybe even get ahead of—the next big issues.
Source: EERE Network News, 11/2/16
The Obama administration unveiled a new cross-government partnership this week to increase access to solar power, promote energy efficiency and build a more inclusive workforce. In collaboration with state agencies, the Clean Energy Savings for All Americans Initiative aims to bring 1 gigawatt (GW) of solar to low- and moderate-income families by 2020.
The new program builds on the successes of the Department of Energy (DOE) SunShot Initiative, introduced in 2011. SunShot works with private companies, universities, non-profit organizations, state and local governments and national laboratories to make solar energy fully cost-competitive with conventional energy sources by 2020.
DOE is joining with the departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Agriculture, Health and Human Services, Veteran’s Affairs and the Environmental Protection Agency to make choosing solar an easier and more affordable option. The key components of the initiative will unlock financing mechanisms, bolster technical assistance for states and communities, drive innovation and scale up workforce training. These measures will enable more low- and moderate-income Americans to take advantage of the jobs that come with a transition to clean energy.
Accompanying executive actions
In addition to the launching Clean Energy Savings for All Americans, the administration is implementing several executive actions to support American communities in deploying renewable energy.
Programs to scale up Property Assessed Clean Energy, or PACE, financing will allow homeowners to make energy improvements immediately and pay back the cost over time through their property taxes. Increased technical assistance will make it easier for low-income households to access hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for renewable energy investments. DOE and HUD will work with national laboratories to track the progress of deployment of solar energy systems on targeted households.
DOE is developing a Community Solar Challenge that will award teams in dozens of communities up to $100,000 to develop innovative models to increase solar deployment and cut energy bills, in particular in low-income communities. Teams will build local capacity around the legal, technical, financial and administrative aspects of community solar programs and projects. The DOE SunShot Initiative has released a request for information to gather feedback and information on the structure of challenge. The deadline is Aug. 2.
The initiative also includes the sharing of best practices on how to finance and how to overcome barriers to creating healthier communities. Over the next months, summits on clean energy savings, community solar project financing and funding resources and training for vulnerable communities will convene across the country. You can keep up with these events and funding opportunities by subscribing to SunShot email updates newsletter.
Developing solar workforce
Solar jobs are growing 12 times faster than the rest of the economy, and the Obama administration hopes to train an additional 25,000 workers by 2020. To reach that goal, DOE has teamed up with the Solar Foundation to create the Solar Training Network. The network is designed to connect training providers, employers and job seekers to supply the skilled solar workforce the industry needs to continue to grow.
DOE is also implementing a community and workforce investment program to both create new employment opportunities and train low-income West Baltimore residents for jobs in the solar industry. The initiative will explore options to expand access to solar for renters and local individuals in the Baltimore area.
States, private sector get on board
More than 120 private, state, local and philanthropic sectors in 36 states are pledging to support Clean Energy Savings for All Americans. These new commitments represent $287 million in investment, and nearly 280 megawatts (MW) of community solar and low- and moderate-income solar deployment. Combined with previous commitments, this brings the total amount of commitments secured to more than $800 million in investment and more than 491 MW of solar power.
Rural electric cooperatives are among the partners committing to install community solar projects by the end of 2017. WAPA customer Sacramento Municipal Utility District is among the more than 90 member-owned, not-for-profit power providers in 25 states that have brought online community solar projects in the last year.
Utilities hoping to bring the benefits of renewable energy into their communities can join the National Community Solar Partnership. You can learn more about starting a utility community solar program from Community Solar FAQ and find information to encourage solar homes in your territory with Solar Energy Resources for Homebuilders.
Source: DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy via Green Power News, 7/19/16
Informational webinar July 12, 2016
Letter of intent due Aug. 5, 2016
Under this new program, rural electric cooperatives and other rural energy providers have access to $52 million in zero-percent loans for relending to homes and small businesses to make cost-effective energy-efficiency improvements. Participants repay their utility for these improvements over time through a fixed charge on their monthly utility bills. RESP loans can be used for a wide variety of energy-efficiency measures, providing the utility can justify the cost-effectiveness of the measures for the consumer.
Utilities across the country have successfully implemented this on-bill financing model and it is part of an ongoing initiative by Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) to help families make home energy upgrades with no upfront costs.
To be considered for this initial round of RESP loans, utilities must submit a letter of intent to RUS by Aug. 5. RUS did not provide any information regarding the size or number of loans it plans to make. USDA and the Department of Energy will co-host a free webinar on July 12, 12 to 1 p.m. Mountain Time, to discuss the program. The webinar will provide an overview of the program and cover evaluation, measurement and verification methods used to assess an energy-efficiency program or project.
“We view the Rural Energy Savings Program as a real win for rural electric co-ops and their members, as well as for other rural utilities,” said EESI Executive Director, Carol Werner. “We hope that these utilities will move quickly to tap the program.”
Source: Environmental and Energy Studies Institute, 6/21/16
12 -2 p.m. Mountain Time
Utilities, solar companies and software developers working on solar energy grid integration solutions will welcome a May 2 funding opportunity announcement (FOA) from the Department of Energy. The DOE program called Enabling Extreme Real-Time Grid Integration of Solar Energy, or ENERGISE, announced that it is making $25 million available for research to modernize the national grid.
The amount of solar power installed in the U.S. has increased 23-fold in the last seven years, from 1.2 gigawatts in 2008 to an estimated 27.4 gigawatts in 2015, with one million systems now in operation. A key challenge to furthering solar deployment is the ability to integrate distributed generation sources like rooftop solar panels into the grid while balancing that generation with traditional utility generation. This FOA aims to support companies working to meet that challenge while keeping reliable and cost-effective power flowing.
ENERGISE specifically seeks to develop software and hardware platforms for utility distribution system planning and operations that integrate sensing, communication and data analytics. These hardware and software solutions will help utilities manage solar and other distributed energy resources on the grid and will be data-driven, easily scaled-up from prototypes and capable of real-time monitoring and control.
Funds are being offered for projects addressing two topic areas:
- Topic Area 1 covers near-term projects to develop commercially ready, scalable distribution system planning and real-time grid operation solutions compatible with existing grid infrastructure to enable the addition of solar at 50 percent of the peak distribution load by 2020. A one-year field demonstration with utility partners is required.
- Topic Area 2 covers projects that tackle the long-term challenge of developing transformative and highly scalable technologies compatible with advanced grid infrastructure to enable solar at 100 percent of the peak distribution load by 2030. DOE will require a large-scale simulation to demonstrate performance and scalability.
DOE’s SunShot Initiative will oversee the projects funded by this opportunity. The program expects to make 10 to 15 awards altogether. Awards for Topic Area 1 will likely range between $500,000 and $4,000,000 each. For Topic Area 2, DOE anticipates making awards of between $500,000 and $2,000,000 each.
The Solar Energy Technologies Office is hosting an informational webinar on May 19, 12 to 2 p.m. Mountain Time. All applicants must submit a brief concept paper by June 17. Full applications are due by Aug. 26, 2016.
See the Energy Department news release.
Source: DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, 5/2/16
Electric cooperatives should take advantage of $500 million the Department of Agriculture (USDA) has set aside for projects that support economic and community development plans across multi-jurisdictional areas.
The Strategic Economic and Community Development program (SECD) is the first new funding available from the USDA in a long time. The USDA put the provision into the 2014 Farm Bill with an eye on advancing projects that support long-term community and economic growth strategies and capitalize on the unique strengths of the rural area. The four Rural Development programs under the SECD program include Community Facilities, Water and Environmental Programs, Rural Business Development Grants and Business and Industry Guaranteed Loans.
Because co-op service territories often cover multiple towns, cities and counties, there’s an opportunity for power providers to work with councils of governments, regional authorities, coalitions of municipalities and similar associations. Co-ops should reach out to these entities to make sure their priorities are part of regionally adopted plans.
USDA will base consideration on:
- How well the project supports a multijurisdictional plan
- How well the plan addresses collaboration, regionalism and investments from other federal and philanthropic agencies
Interested participants should have their plans reviewed by their state’s staff early in the process for feedback and possible modification before submitting it with the formal application.
The National Association of Development Organizations presented an informational webinar on Jan. 12 covering an overview of the SECD program and how to apply for funding. A recording of the webinar and the full slide presentation are available to download.
Deadline: April 14, 2016
Update: Slides from the March I informational webinar are available online. Download to learn about eligibility requirements and essential details of the application process.
Up to $7 million in funding is available to Indian tribes and Alaska Native Villages to develop a Technical Assistance Energy Providers Network. This pilot project by the Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy is intended to train regional energy experts to provide the tribes with technical energy assistance and informational resources.
As part of these inter-tribal regional programs, the energy experts would:
- Coordinate energy solutions among participating Indian tribes (including Alaska Native villages) within the region;
- Deliver technical assistance to participating tribes within the region;
- Build the human capacity of participating tribes by providing information to tribal leaders and staff through workshops or webinars;
- Serve as an information clearinghouse for participating Indian tribes;
- Network with regional and national energy organizations;
- Advise DOE’s Office of Indian Energy on the energy goals and needs within their region; and
- Enhance DOE’s technical assistance network across Indian Country.
Source: DOE Office of Indian Energy, 2/15/16
The challenge of funding maintenance and improvements on electrical infrastructure is simply a fact of life for cooperatives, but one that the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utility Service (RUS) seeks to make easier. Direct loans and loan guarantees from the RUS Electrical Program help electric utilities like Nobles Cooperative Electric and Federated Rural Electric Association in southwest Minnesota repair and modernize their grids.
The two Western customers were among the latest recipients of nearly $2.3 billion in loans to build and improve rural electric infrastructure. Nobles Cooperative Electric is receiving a loan of $10,903,000, while Federated Rural Electric will receive a $6,364,000 loan. Part of the loan is being used to acquire territory from investor-owned Alliant Energy, said Rick Burud, general manager for both utilities. “Each cooperative will gain about 1,700 new members,” he noted. “We will use the rest of the funding to repair storm damage on our existing system and improving services on the acquired territory.”
Rural electric utilities have long relied on RUS loans to supplement their maintenance budgets and fund special projects, and Nobles and Federated are no exception. The co-ops apply every four years after doing a four-year construction work plan to determine their infrastructure needs. “The loans mainly fund work on our distribution system,” Burud said. “We do everything to from new line construction, purchase automatic meter reading infrastructure to funding new substations.”
The application process does take some patience, Burud acknowledged, but the co-ops are able to complete it in-house. Utilities must provide a financial forecast in addition to the four-year work plan. “The regional USDA representative does a lot of work, too, to ensure everything is in order,” he added.
To help automate the process, USDA has created an online application intake system. Users can create an application, upload attachments, sign certifications and draw service areas, to name a few features that can be accessed any time of the day or night.
Supporting economic development
A strong local economy is just as important to the health of a community as a strong, modern grid, and USDA offers funding opportunities for that type of project, too. Federated REA has built an award-winning economic development program on the tools USDA offers to rural utilities.
Over the last 25 years, the utility has leveraged more than $3.6 million in USDA grants and loans, along with Federated economic development loans, to retain or create more than 1,500 jobs. Projects have ranged from expanding an insurance claim center to installing a wind turbine to building an ethanol plant. Several co-op members have applied for and received grants from the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) for facility improvements such as grain dryers and ground-source heat pumps. Communities can access a revolving loan fund Federated established in 2008, even for smaller investments such as purchasing a fire truck or building a meeting hall and garage.
“Applicants must be co-op members, but our program also helps members on municipal lines in our territory,” explained Marketing and Communications Manager Andrea Christoffer. “One of the criteria for a loan from the revolving fund is that the project helps the economy of our cooperative’s service area.”
AGCO Corp., a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of agricultural equipment, is not on Federated’s electric system but the company’s employees and customers are. In 2011, the utility helped the company obtain a USDA revolving loan to expand its Jackson, Minnesota, facility and bring a tractor assembly line to town from overseas. The project retained 850 jobs in the area, added more than 200, increased school enrollment and stimulated the local economy. The National Rural Electric Association and the Rural Electricity Resource Council both recognized Federated with awards for community investment.
Get started with USDA
Applying for USDA funding is not that difficult, insisted Christoffer, who used to fill out grant applications for members in the early years of the economic development program. The Federal Register Notices clearly list the required information, she pointed out. “All applicants have to do is answer the questions. And they can contact their state energy coordinator if they need help,” she said, echoing Burud.
Member services representatives and other rural co-op staff can find more assistance on the USDA Rural Development website. Most utilities are aware of programs and services for utilities, but a refresher tour can uncover new opportunities.
For economic development opportunities, check out programs and services for businesses. Several programs, such as REAP, are related to energy use, but loans and grants are available for many other types of business investments, as well. Members of rural electric cooperatives can always give their power providers a call to help them apply for the programs.
Utilities might want to familiarize themselves with programs to fund community and individual projects, too. As Nobles Cooperative and Federated REA know, what is good for the community is good for the utility that serves the community.
Source: USDA Rural Development via Energy Central , 10/23/15