One way to accomplish siting renewable energy in EJ communities is through strong policies supporting distributed generation (DG), also known as decentralized generation or small scale generation. There are a myriad of benefits to DG, including:
- Democratizes the energy grid through local ownership opportunities.
- Addresses the barrier of large scale solar and renewable energy often being too large for dense urban areas.
- Avoids the need for new transmission lines.
- Reduces impact on sensitive habitat and water consumption.
- Creates jobs within and in proximity to EJ communities, including through both installation and operations and maintenance For more on DG benefits, read the report “The Political and Technical Advantages of Distributed Renewable Power.”
Microgrids and Cyber-security: The issue of cyber-security has emerged with the advent of microgrids. “Security experts describe a cyber attack against the power grid as a form of asymmetrical warfare, the equivalent of destroying a society by cutting off delivery of food and water, healthcare, commerce, and communications.” —Why We Need Microgrid Cybersecurity: The Threat is Real, Microgrid Knowledge
In order to accomplish distributed generation, the following should be factored into 100% policy:
Advance policies for distributed generation (DG), such as DG carve-outs or incentives. DG should be compensated for the value it provides to the grid and BIPOC and frontline communities, through net energy metering, virtual net energy metering, or a value of DG that incorporates all technical and societal benefits. These policies inherently keep value within communities and generate local economic benefits.
Appropriately size the renewable energy project. Renewable energy projects should be sized to ensure siting in BIPOC and frontline communities. A 1 megawatt (MW) renewable energy system can typically fit on a large hotel or warehouse. In California, EJ groups typically size the renewable energy system as <1 MW in order for it to be small enough to fit on the rooftops of a multifamily building, a school, or community center in an EJ community.
Promote grid benefits. Including but not limited to:
- Reduced dependence on transmission lines: One benefit of local DG is the reduced reliance on transmission lines. High penetration of DG will require strengthening of the distribution system to accommodate large numbers of solar systems. Creating Distribution System Operators that are publicly run to manage local electricity systems would give more local control and provide the institutional basis for ensuring reliability as the number of local generation and storage systems increases greatly.
- Avoided electricity loss in transmission and distribution (T&D).
- Deferred or avoided costs of expanding T&D capacity.
Promote societal benefits. Including but not limited to:
- Environmental and public health benefits.
- Community visibility and accessibility: siting renewable energy assets owned and controlled within communities creates myriad co-benefits and should, to the extent possible, be sited to displace fossil fuel generation in communities.
Advance microgrids. Community microgrids should be considered in a 100% regenerative energy policy. Microgrids are simply miniature versions of an electric grid with local generation and energy storage. Normally, these are connected to the larger grid to optimize cost, but they are designed to continue operation when there are grid outages. Community microgrids use distributed energy resources for a more holistic, sustainable, and localized energy system that provides more benefits. They can be designed to continue powering essential electricity functions during grid outages. However, there are few, if any, examples of microgrids in BIPOC and frontline communities. Furthermore, most present-day microgrids use fossil gas or diesel generators and not renewable energy.
Push for investments for research and development. 100% policies should include some investments for research and development of microgrids in BIPOC and frontline communities. They should stress solar energy as the primary energy sources with complementary storage for operation during grid outages. In some cases, it may also be desirable to complement battery storage with renewable hydrogen production.
Include microgrids and distributed generation in emergency planning. In the event of climate catastrophes and emergencies, communities—particularly BIPOC and frontline communities—will need microgrids and distributed generation for resiliency. In the event of a climate disaster or power outage, microgrids can operate like energy islands to keep communities warm, fed, and safe. After Superstom Sandy hit in 2012, several states, including Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania ramped up investments in microgrids.
Microgrid funding post-Superstorm Sandy: In 2013, Connecticut issued $18 million to nine microgrid projects, expected to begin operation over the next 18 months. New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie allocated $25 million in 2013 to 146 government agencies to develop microgrid and other projects that improve the state’s energy resilience. The money can be used for retrofitting existing distributed generation, including fuel cells or combined heat and power, to increase capacity.
The La Kretz Innovation Campus at the Los Angeles Clean Tech Incubator is a microgrid, described as, “a small on-site energy control system that manages the Battery Energy Storage System (BESS), the use of grid supplied power and the use of the on-site solar power, which is a distributed energy resource. The microgrid at La Kretz is powered by the city’s electric grid and from its onsite 175 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system, which generates clean, renewable energy while also charging the energy storage system located within the facility.”