𓄧The energy transition’s new resources, technologies and voices require the utility integrated resource plan, or IRP, to be better, many planners and analysts say.
෴An IRP is the strategy a utility submits to its regulators every one to three years in most states for investing in reliable affordable power and meeting its policy goals and obligations. But new approaches, like those being explored by Arizona Public Service, or APS, and Duke Energy Indiana, are needed to meet upward pressures on rates, stakeholder calls for clean energy options and equity, and federal and state policies, many regulators and stakeholders agree.
🦂“Market forces are shaping utility resource portfolios,” acknowledged Commissioner Pat O’Connell of the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission. “But this moment of change is an opportunity to go big on high-level IRP reforms with more analysis of more factors,” he added.
💙For APS, “the changing landscape requires transparency with stakeholders in the IRP process,” said APS Vice President of Resource Management Justin Joiner. “That means coming to planning sessions with stakeholders without answers, because two heads are better than one, and decisions about affordability, reliability and clean energy can best be reached with diverse stakeholder viewpoints,” he added.
🌺Reform efforts to introduce best practices like all-source solicitations, distribution system planning, and engaging new voices could add more work for already overburdened utility planners and regulators, some said. But developing integrated system planning with state-of-the-art modeling that optimizes solutions to today’s reliability and affordability challenges will be easier than undoing bad planning decisions, others responded.
🏅Utility “planning processes are being stretched and challenged” to meet the power system’s emerging dynamics, according to . But utilities, regulators and stakeholders can “shape the future electricity system” by “reimagining” IRP “rules and guidelines,” to make planning more comprehensive, transparent, and aligned with policy, RMI said.
💫Through 2025, “utilities serving at least 40% of U.S. total electricity sales and over 90 million customers” will file IRPs with “over $300 billion” in proposed system investments, the report said. That is an opportunity “over the next 10 to 30 years” to integrate new operations, resources, and technologies to meet projected demands “at least cost, while mitigating risk and meeting policy objectives,” the report added.
🐼The RMI report expands on and confirms for planning “to evolve to meet new technologies, changing costs and stakeholder demand,” said National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners Senior Director, Center for Partnerships & Innovation, Danielle Sass Byrnett.
⛦State policy “should be part of planning,” stakeholder engagement is “vital,” and utility regulators should “establish rules for the IRP at the outset of the planning process,” the report from members of NARUC and the National Association of State Energy Officials, or NASEO, said.
♎Proposals for improved planning will differ by state regulatory regime and state policy, said. They will also differ by the proposed reforms’ complexity, enforcement provisions, and requirements for stakeholder engagement, it added.
✨IRP reforms should move toward transparent utility data, thorough regulatory review, and greater stakeholder participation, the RMI paper said. Reforms must also align with traditional utility priorities like reliability, affordability, and safety while meeting new state and federal policies and customer calls for reduced emissions and increased equity, it added.
♕The burden that major IRP scope, rules, and participation reforms could add to already time and cost-constrained regulators and utilities is “the single biggest pushback to the paper,” RMI Principal, Carbon-free Electricity Practice, and paper co-author Lauren Shwisberg said. But “taking on that burden now can significantly reduce future planning burdens” like the complexities of sophisticated computer modeling, she added.
🌠IRP reforms like new planning frameworks that include new technologies, resources, and improved stakeholder engagement have produced significant ratepayer savings and policy compliance, Shwisberg added.
ꦍStakeholder input challenging the need of a natural gas plant in Xcel Energy’s led to Xcel’s revised , RMI said. The resulting lower-cost plan could save ratepayers $372 million over the planning period, it reported.
♛From 2016 to 2022, the Georgia Public Service Commission has developed a robust stakeholder ecosystem, “with nearly 20 parties engaged” in recent three-year planning cycles, RMI reported. Over that period, Georgia Power’s proposed natural gas additions dropped and had “a 200% increase,” the paper said.
ꦑ“That is an example of how a commission can use leverage, if the IRP rules support it,” said Southern Renewable Energy Association Executive Director Simon Mahan. “The RMI report shows many ways good commissioners can develop new IRP rules that will create a legacy of protection for ratepayers that outlast them.”
“We are planning ,” RMI’s Shwisberg said. “But almost half of utilities still are not required to do — or don't do — fully transparent, aligned and comprehensive planning, even though it will make the IRP process more useful to all participants, and this paper is a challenge to regulators and utilities to update planning,” she said.
ꦫA few states have essentially no IRP requirement and others limit IRP requirements to some utilities, like those that are investor- or publicly-owned, RMI reported. In many of the states leading in innovations, like Minnesota, Washington, Colorado and South Carolina, regulators and legislators require IRPs from most or all electricity providers, it added.
♏State legislators can influence critical parts of planning rules like regulatory review and use of stakeholder input to approve, provisionally approve, or call for adjudication of a plan before accepting or rejecting it, RMI said. Even progressive commissions like those in Oregon and Washington use policy mandates as guidance, it observed.
🍃Oregon’s requires that utility IRPs submitted to the commission provide a Clean Energy Plan for achieving the bill’s mandated clean energy and emissions reductions, said Oregon Public Utilities Commission Spokesperson Kandi Young. In response, Oregon regulators that provides “guidance for what’s to be included” in the utility plans, she added.
🧸Washington state’s 2019 (Senate Bill 5116) similarly led to the . New rules define compliance with 100% clean electricity and require it by SB 5116’s 2045 target date. They also guide implementation of requirements for affordability, reliability, equity, emissions reductions, and more transparent .
🉐“Planning has evolved,” and conceived to avoid bad outcomes, like nuclear investments with severe cost overruns or time delays, now can put “all possible resources on a level playing field,” said Regulatory Assistance Project Senior Associate Elaine Prause, a former Oregon commission staffer and PacifiCorp senior planning manager.
ও“It probably is not possible to quantify the value of planning, but without a shared vision unwise investments are more likely,” Prause said. Having worked with Oregon’s commission and at PacifiCorp, “it is clear both utilities and regulators are facing change and need new processes to achieve those better outcomes,” she added.
𒆙“With new processes and stakeholders, things may take longer, but more and different perspectives allow the commission to build the best and most comprehensive record,” she said. That is not the same as paralysis of decision-making, because the best decision-making takes time and these new processes are necessary, Prause said.
🌞“The utility owns the IRP, regulators and policymakers inform it,” and “affected stakeholders” must be engaged, said New Mexico Commissioner O’Connell. But current reliability and affordability planning scenarios in many utility planning processes “are too vague” and lack a specific “destination” like “being carbon-free by a certain date or always having sufficient capacity to enable economic development,” he said.
🎀“One of the facts of the regulatory world is that all participants have limited resources, and planning reforms could add complexity," O’Connell recognized. “But today’s technologies make new things possible and that means there may not be a choice except to reimagine planning for those new possibilities,” he added.
𒁏More stakeholder input “can lead to conflicts when utility data does not support a stakeholder’s assumed outcomes,” O’Connell acknowledged. But the RMI report shows “this is a moment of big change that will require working hard to understand those challenges, even if it means doubling the number of people working on planning and tripling the computing power,” he added.
🅰Some utilities are working closely with policymakers and regulators to rethink planning.
🐽Avista Utilities’ developed to comply with the , and has found “the new rules set requirements that help facilitate the plan,” said Avista Spokesperson Mary Tyrie. Like Avista, Puget Sound Energy’s IRP is focused on implementing state policy “in the most efficient and equitable way possible,” said PSE spokesperson Andrew Padula.
ཧBut many utilities still pursue integrated resource planning independently and that has left some stakeholders dissatisfied with utility efforts to integrate clean energy and reduce fossil fuel dependence.
🅷“Generally, it is still up to individual Southeastern utilities to follow IRP best practices and unfortunately many have not been cooperative partners,” said Southern Renewable Energy Association’s Mahan, who has worked in IRP processes across the region.
🙈“Better rules can require utilities to adhere to their filed plans and allow commissions to order utilities to redo plans deficient in justifying information,” Mahan said. Reforms can also allow regulators to require utilities to issue competitive all-source solicitations “which essentially replaces modeling with a market test that shows exactly what the least cost resources are,” he added.
♉Conclusions in such reformed IRP processes do not guarantee their proposed resource investments in General Rate Cases will be approved, but can help, RMI said. ไFew states approve reimbursement for capital investments through rates based on IRPs, requiring instead that utilities show investments are reasonable and prudent in the rate case, it added.
ꦚA commission-endorsed IRP strategy built with greater stakeholder engagement that includes a more diversified resource mix “can give the utility some confidence in its proposed investments” when it goes to the rate case, said Duke Energy Vice President, Integrated System Planning, Mark Oliver.
👍Duke Energy Indiana avoided overbuilding natural gas generation and emissions growth by to its that substituted solar and storage additions for natural gas plants, RMI reported. “Indiana stakeholders made their voices heard and influenced planning” and that kind of participation has allowed Duke to approach planning “in a broader and more integrated way,” Oliver said.
⛎Federal and state policies are key planning factors, but “Duke has learned the value of customer-owned resources, storage, and transmission through scenarios run by its new Encompass modeling tool,” Oliver added.
𝕴“Most widely used modeling tools are not up to the new IRP complexities,” but Duke’s relatively new tool “points in the right direction” by modeling the broadest portfolio of solutions,” said Strategen Consulting Director Erin Childs.
🥀And there are ways to narrow the complexity of planning, Oliver said. “Go after demand-side opportunities for flexibility first, procure clean resources wherever possible, always protect reliability and affordability, and use an all-of-the-above approach to clean resource procurements to hedge against uncertainty and reduce risk, especially for beyond 2030,” he added.
🌳Though not highlighted by RMI, Arizona has had “strong planning rules” since 2010 that have allowed its utilities to consider distributed energy resources, and air quality, report co-author Shwisberg said. Their stakeholder engagement “processes have become even more transparent over time,” she added.
🌊“We continue to look for every opportunity to improve the IRP process,” added APS’s Joiner. The utility expanded its transparency by providing access to its modeling tool to several participants in its and “allow them to see and evaluate all our planning inputs and suggest changes or run their own hypotheticals,” he added.
🍬Reviewing multiple modeling scenarios “is a significant time and staffing” commitment, but “it ensures the planning process is doing what it is intended to do,” Joiner, who previously worked in planning at Indiana and Illinois utilities, added.
𝓀“In the other states, the best efforts were used to find the best solutions, but too often decisions were made without stakeholder input, and did not produce dialogue and planning development,” Joiner said. “When stakeholders are engaged early and often and if planning begins without any assumed answers, the outcome is more likely to be transparent, trusted, and comprehensive,” he added.
🙈Climate-related risks can have a substantial impact on utilities’ operations. Investors are eager to learn more about how those organizations are addressing the looming challenges. They also want to understand utilities’ contributions to climate shifts and are looking for reductions in carbon emissions. To support investors’ interests, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is expected to finalize and publish rule amendments this year to among publicly traded companies, including investor-owned utilities.
💧Utilities have already begun preparing for the revised rules, which will cover matters of governance, financial statement metrics, and climate-related targets, goals and transition plans. How quickly utilities will need to incorporate new reporting standards for the proposed disclosures will depend in part on the size of the utility and its registration type.
📖When the SEC announced the proposed disclosures, it also released schedule tables for the phase-in periods. These tables assumed the rules would be adopted effective in December 2022. The SEC now expects to finalize the rule this year, but the following dates remain instructive in terms of relative timelines and how they could affect the preparation of annual reports.
ꦍFor disclosure compliance, one date is given for Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions and associated intensity metrics; another date is provided for Scope 3.
♑Large accelerated filers can expect to start incorporating the disclosures in the reports prepared as early as this year.
🧸The proposal also provides a phase-in period for both the assurance requirement and the level of assurance required for accelerated and large accelerated filers. It would not require assurance in the first year of disclosure compliance, but it would become effective during the second year for these types of filers.
💦The SEC has not explicitly spelled out penalties for failure to comply with the revised rules, but there are precedents pertaining to misstatements and omissions that might provide a frame of reference. For some utilities, the direct financial impacts of failure to comply adequately could be secondary to the reputational risk that could result from negative news coverage, including potential effects on share price, earnings and brand degradation.
🦩Reliability and resiliency are essential to how utilities provide power. Customers sometimes treat the electricity in their homes like football fans treat linemen: They may offer little praise for good performance, but they may become upset when performance is noticeably poor. The increasing intensity and frequency of extreme weather events threatens utility service reliability.
ꦕConsider two recent examples. Winter Storm Uri resulted in widespread blackouts across Texas in February 2021. The financial repercussions may well last decades as ratepayers cope with an estimated $50 billion in utility bills after prices spiked to encourage more production during and immediately after the storm. AccuWeather estimated economic losses from service outages and equipment damages to be $130 billion in Texas. More recently, Hurricane Ian cut a vicious path across Florida in September 2022, temporarily knocking out power to millions of electricity customers.
𒉰Both storms caused significant disruptions to utility operations and subsequently to the households and businesses they serve. Recovering the costs will take years. The disruptions might have been worse if not for investments that utilities had already made — and customers still are paying for — in hardening system infrastructure, the network and equipment to bolster resiliency.
𒈔The impacts of heat waves and record droughts also seriously threaten a vital resource within the overall process involved in many energy generation systems: water. The availability of water is a critical concern because — including some fossil fuel generation, nuclear power and hydropower — depends on fresh water as a cooling mechanism or for steam to spin a turbine.
♛The public has a strong interest in how climate-related risks will affect utility operations. Utilities of all sizes are already hard at work preparing plans, investing in improvements, and maintaining grid reliability for an energy-hungry society. The imminent rule amendments from the SEC should help utilities by standardizing the information they collect and share with all interested parties.
⛎Utilities’ successful compliance with the disclosure rules will depend to a degree on the resources and personnel they are able to allocate to the task. The new disclosure requirements will require collection of detailed information and projections based on factual data and scientific analysis. Many may turn to engineering and environmental consultants, like Burns & McDonnell, to help aggregate the data, as many already do for ESG (environmental, social and governance) data reporting, as utilities work to put a strong foot forward.
𝓰The solar industry is about to have an escalating amount of defunct panels on its hands, and companies like Solarycle are positioning themselves to turn those panels into profit.
A 𓂃 from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in 2021 found that the total amount of defunct panels in the U.S. could reach 1 million metric tons in 2030 and 10 million metric tons by 2050.
ꦯSensing that influx of materials, some recyclers are beginning to scale up their own solutions for panels that have reached the end of their useful life. One such startup is Solarycle, which received a this week to partner with NREL to explore ways to extract higher-quality materials from recycled solar panels.
That follows a 🀅 that closed last month, led by investors Fifth Wall and HG Ventures.
♎Suvi Sharma is Solarcycle’s CEO and a co-founder of the company, along with former Sierra Club National Program Director Jesse Simons and photovoltaic recycling expert Pablo Ribeiro Dias. Sharma recently spoke with Waste Dive about how the new funding will allow the company to double its capacity. He also said the solar industry is keen on finding paths to circularity, and he noted the public and private financing alike that’s backing companies willing to try.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
SUVI SHARMA: There's two key things that it will enable us to do. One is scale up our recycling operations — we've set up our first facility in Odessa, Texas, that's a very advanced solar recycling facility. We have a lot of R&D that's gone into that: new equipment, technology. Right now we have a capacity to be able to recycle 500,000 solar panels there and we're going to double that to a million panels per year, and also investing in some further downstream metal separation processing equipment and technologies there.
ღ[The series A funding] allows us to expand and vertically integrate the entire soup-to-nuts recycling and extraction process for solar panels, and then also gives us capital as we need to expand additional facilities on an as-needed basis as the market for recycling solar panels expands.
♕Thing two is it enables us to double down and triple down on R&D. We are very focused on not only scaling recycling for solar, but developing the advanced technologies and processes and equipments that are needed to have a very cost-effective and a very efficient recycling process for the increasing number of solar products that need to be recycled.
So we're investing more in R&D, and that ranges from higher-throughput recycling and extraction processes to also starting to invest in some remanufacturing technologies. Not only are we extracting the materials out of the solar panel, but we are also purifying and remanufacturing some new materials from those so we enter those back into the solar supply chain.
Today it's zero, because what we do is we extract the raw materials. The solar panel manufacturers, what they do is they buy finished materials such as specialized solar glass or specialized frames. Today we supply into the raw material market, and then those materials get remanufactured into a final product that could go into the solar industry.
🌄But as we evolve, we will be remanufacturing some of those products ourselves, and that will enable us then to supply those finished materials and products directly back to the solar panel manufacturers and the solar supply chain.
Well, there's really two distinct benefits or rationales for it. The first is, as a company and for Solarcycle, we can build a more valuable and larger business. The recycling and extraction process is one value piece of the equation, but there's a lot more value as we can convert those raw materials into finished products. As you can probably imagine, as you start to add value to the materials and make finished products, there's just more value that we can get — more revenue, more margins and so on.
Rationale number two is that it's really the right thing to do. What I mean by that is the solar materials that we're getting and extracting, they're highly specialized solar materials. For example, the glass solar panels, depending on the type of panel it is, by weight or mass is 70% to 90% glass. That glass is highly specialized, and when we extract that glass and sell it back into the glass recycling market, it just ends up getting used for making bottles, for example. That is a waste of a very particular high-quality glass, so the right thing to do from an environmental standpoint, and just a supply chain standpoint, is to remanufacture those materials into finished products.
The reality that we fit in today is the infrastructure for remanufacturing those just doesn't exist in the United States. All of it is done overseas. So as we start to build a domestic solar industry here again with solar panel manufacturing, we need to make these products here domestically, because currently they're all being imported from Asia.
If we talk about using 100% glass that we get to make, we are realistically anywhere between three to five years — and probably closer to five years — away, because of the scale and size you need for running an efficient glass factory. But if we blend and make blended glass, meaning using recycled feedstock that we're getting with some virgin materials, we are only a couple years away from being able to do that in meaningful volumes.
To start with, yes, and then over time increase that toward that 100% recycled goal. Typically, for running a basic glass factory you need about 200 tons per day for 100% recycled as the baseline. We're just starting and ramping up our volumes right now, but in the next 12 months we will be getting approximately a third of that.
♒Just to be clear, that $18 on average we charge, that includes our freight costs. We charge a single price to the customer, and we handle all the freight and logistics. The way that we are able to [keep prices low] is really twofold.
The first is, the traditional way that people “recycle” solar panels is they're using standard e-waste or electronics recycling equipment and putting solar panels through there. That is a very expensive thing to do, and very non-optimal, because solar panels are big. If you think about a solar panel versus a cell phone that's going through those shredders and the machines and all of that, it's very expensive.
We've designed a very unique set of recycling lines that's optimized and cost-optimized for specifically just solar panels, so it allows us to achieve a level of cost efficiency through that process. As part of that, it's a volume game. The more volumes we can get, the lower the cost of the recycling. We're running only solar panels through and nothing else, so it allows us to achieve an economy of scale that reduces costs.
Thing two is, we're getting way more value out of the panel than any traditional recycler that's doing it today that NREL is looking at. Those recyclers are not extracting and getting any value from the glass, they're not getting the metals out, like silver, because those are challenging to get. That's what our technology does. So we're able to extract more value and get more value in the marketplace so we don't have to charge as much for that takeback handling fee.
What we are working on is that you will not see us charging that same takeback fee five years from now. Our plan, and what we've communicated to customers, is we will be reducing that. The way we will be reducing that is doing two things. One is, obviously, just getting costs down through engineering and scale. And second is getting more and more value extracted out of the panels so we can keep reducing that takeback fee.
Our goal is over the next decade, as these volumes grow, we will be at or near the cost of landfilling. Most of our customers, who are these big solar asset owners, they recognize that today they are paying a premium to recycle with us versus landfilling. But if they work with us and give us the volumes, that's going to allow us to lower the cost.
By the time there are larger volumes of panels, where they're decommissioning and repowering old solar power plants, we will have a very cost-effective recycling process that can compete with landfilling costs, which are only going to go up over the next decade.
Generally we don't, and a lot of people are surprised by that. As a recycling company, you would think we would want EPR that would force recycling. I think there could be a place and time for it; I don't think now is the time and place for it.
Because what happened in Europe is, if you look at the details of it, all that's required is you need to recycle 85% by weight of the panel. In order to comply with the EU regulation, you have to basically strip off the aluminum frame, which is relatively easy to recycle, and you can strip off some copper cables, and you can shred and crush the rest and use it for asphalt filler. That's what recycling in Europe today is. It's low-value recycling, and because it started that way and the pricing of recycling was set that way and because you can comply, it has killed all innovation.
Today, Solarcycle is a one-year-and-three-month-old company, and we're doing way more advanced recycling for solar than anywhere in Europe today. [EPR] stifles innovation, so it became a victim of its own success. Over time, it is important to recycle these panels. There may need to be laws that come in over the next few years. But we're actually working with the industry, with the asset owners, with the manufacturers to do it in a way that can promote advanced recycling, as opposed to low-value recycling, which oftentimes happens in the EPR situation.
Absolutely, there are some direct benefits that we're getting. In fact, the Department of Energy just announced some R&D grants, of which we were one of the recipients — about $1.5 million to further develop our recycling technology. There are also tax credits for manufacturing and recycling in the bill, which we will be able to take advantage of to reduce some of the costs of recycling and remanufacturing the materials, because those can get capital intensive.
The real big strategic move in that is the incentives they have for domestic manufacturing of solar cells and solar panels. That's accelerating and spurring a solar manufacturing industry and ecosystem in the United States. That ecosystem is going to need materials, and it's going to need glass and aluminum frames, so the materials that we're getting from the recycling process become more and more valuable and pertinent for that scale-up in infrastructure and domestic manufacturing. It really sets a great stage for these materials and putting them back into the supply chain here in the U.S.
𒀰Innovations to overcome institutional barriers to equity in electricity service are underway at all levels of the power system, advocates for vulnerable consumers said.
💞At least 10 states now require equity to be part of regulatory decisions regarding the utility investments and rates that are guiding the energy transition, 🎃. To be equitable, that transition must address , or percent of incomes going to utility bills, that varies starkly with economic disparities, consumer, utility, and power system stakeholders agreed.
♕The mission “is to move beyond affordability and reliability to ensure all communities benefit,” said. “We want people to get what they need to be their best selves, and we want to build and diversify future energy industry leaders.”
The objective of utility equity programs should be to relieve customers’ heavy energy burdens, but “that doesn't magically happen,” said Chandra Farley, CEO of. “The utility business model is ripe for transformation” toward equity and regulators “have a huge role to play because utilities don't make these decisions on their own.”
♔Through more meaningful community outreach and consumer input, the energy transition can go beyond tiered rate structures and energy efficiency initiatives, advocates and utility representatives said. New voices can show how alternatives like community solar can ease energy burdens and how regulatory decision-making can be more inclusive, some added.
🍸Energy burdens, , must be reduced to other customers’ 3%, advocates for said. An LI customer is one near or below the federal poverty level or state or regional median incomes, .
🌺In response, electricity providers like the , are developing “energy burden reduction goals and timelines,” American Public Power Association Senior Director of Member Engagement Tanya DeRivi .
🐓SMUD’s effort to reduce high energy burdens “is focused on affordability, equitable access and community engagement for underserved areas,” the utility’s Chief Zero Carbon Officer Lora Anguay said. And SMUD’s workforce and economic development efforts can reduce energy burdens by bringing higher wages to Sacramento, she added.
ಌNYPA sponsors STEM programs, , college scholarships, small business mentorships, supplier diversity and economic development in “underserved communities” added NYPA’s Harvey.
While these efforts demonstrate a spreading national effort to incorporate equity, a just-passed New Mexico bill 🎐suggests how granular the energy burden challenge is.
“Everyone deserves a home that is safe, healthy, affordable, and doesn't damage the environment or negatively impact future generations,” New Mexico Representative Tammy Fiebelkorn said. “That means equity is different for every single household in every community” and “cookie cutter approaches to energy efficiency rebates won’t work,” she added.
🌌New Mexico’s , or CEED, will show how local governments and community-based organizations can identify and implement “what is needed, block by block and home by home,” Fiebelkorn said.
꧂New Mexico “is a poor state with an average energy burden of 15%” and does not have LI rates, state Rep. Kristina Ortez, D, said. The CEED’s $10 million in initial funding is “a small fraction” of the estimated $500 million or more that New Mexico needs, “but the work to improve the housing stock can start,” she added.
Another approach to equity could be through better payment plans, said National Consumer Law Center Senior Energy Analyst . Arrearage management programsꦡ forgive one-twelfth of the past due amount for every month a customer pays the current bill, leaving the customer debt-free at the year’s end,” and successful plans assume “struggling customers want to be debt free” and address individual difficulties, he said.
꧟Utility programs targeting energy burdens save customers money, increasing disposable income in “disproportionately impacted black, poor and rural communities,” added ReSolve’s Farley. Workforce training, support for local businesses and deployment of community-based rather than utility-scale resources are examples, she and other advocates, analysts and utility representatives agreed.
🐈Community solar projects are owned by a utility or third-party and allot kWs or kWhs to “subscribers” who “receive a credit on their electricity bill for their share of production,” on more LI engagement in community solar reported. Subscribers pay through “an upfront payment or an ongoing monthly payment,” it added.
🍒At the end of 2020, there were an estimated 3.2 GW of installed community solar capacity, according to . A goal to take community solar to and 5 million subscriptions by 2025 was set in .
🌺But historically underserved communities will require “extra considerations” because only an estimated 1% of LI customers are community solar subscribers, .
🐭Achieving DOE’s level of community solar capacity could bring clean generation and new economic opportunities to energy-burdened communities, SMUD’s Anguay, NYPA’s Harvey, NCLC’s Howat, and ReSolve’s Farley agreed.
🌼But attracting LI subscribers continues to be cost and time consuming, developers and program administrators said. Upfront fees, long commitment requirements, inadequate bill savings, credit rating checks and the need for bills from both the local utility and the project owner have been barriers to entry, they reported.
♕Community responses vary but, on average, a project MW requires “about 300 households to 400 households,” reported Director of Community Engagement Juan Para. Nexamp’s “full-service marketing team” uses multiple marketing channels, but “community-based partnerships are what drive our success in the LI community,” he added.
♚Better practices for lowering costs to attract LI subscribers are emerging, NREL Accelerating Deployment and Decision Support Center Modeling and Analysis Group Manager and lead author of the 2018 and 2021 papers Jenny Heeter said. The market will continue to grow because community solar offers “more equitable solar access” to LI customers without solar suitable roofs or adequate finances for rooftop solar, she added.
ᩚᩚᩚᩚᩚᩚᩚᩚᩚ𒀱ᩚᩚᩚThe 700 kW for LI customers in Colorado’s Poudre Valley Rural Electric Association have been 100% subscribed since coming online in 2017, the cooperative’s Energy Resources Specialist Tony Francone said. Developed with , a national leader in serving LI communities, it provides LI customers with “an approximate 30% bill savings,” he said.
🐟But the Washington, D.C., program stands out for accomplished success, NREL reported. It has reduced the energy burden of “the lowest income households from 13.5% to 8.8%,” NREL said.
🐠Non-compliance payments by electricity providers to meet the District’s have led to revenue that built “about 35 MW of LI community solar,” District of Columbia Associate Director for Policy and Compliance Ari Gerstman said.
♕“Some 8,000 LI subscribers now get about $500 per year in free electricity from 3.5 kW allocations at no upfront cost or time commitment, Gertsman said. The credits are integrated directly into their Pepco utility bills in one bill process, he added.
🅘The companion workforce development and placement program requires only high school graduation or a GED, with special attention for those with criminal records, he said. “We have trained 75 solar technicians per year and, with , that will increase to 150 per year for the next three years and include electrician training,” he added.
꧃Recent utility announcements suggest their brand recognition may allow easier LI subscriber recruitment, according to Smart Electric Power Alliance Community Solar Working Group Staff Lead Rusty Haynes.
🥂The 1,490 MW first phase of community solar program includes 37.5 MW for LI customers and is reportedly totally subscribed, Haynes said. A planned next phase doubling SolarTogether’s total size could bring the LI portion to 82.5 MW, representing roughly 16,500 customers, by 2025, he added.
💮Duke Energy Florida’s will total 750 MW, including 26 MW for LI subscribers, Duke announced June 10. LI subscribers will receive a “fixed monthly $9.03 credit per kW” which “will always be higher than the fixed monthly $8.35 subscription fee per kW,” and provide about $42 per year in bill savings to LI customers, it added.
🀅LI customer provisions are determined in state community solar laws, but other new approaches to address energy burdens must come through still inadequate state and federal regulatory processes, advocates for regulatory reform said.
ꦏTraditional regulation has failed to address worsening energy burdens or introduce the diverse voices now clamoring for equity, federal and state regulators and regulatory analysts have acknowledged.
🙈State public utilities commission processes are not inclusive and too slow-moving to meet the urgencies of the climate crisis and the evolving stakeholder landscape, on regulatory innovation to achieve equity said.
ඣTo improve, commissions can “define and share goals for proceedings early in the process,” and meaningfully engage or collaborate with non-utility stakeholders, the paper recommended. They can also provide more transparent access to “data needed to understand utility performance” and “initiate new processes” that accelerate equitable power system decarbonization, it added.
🐬 can help regulators and stakeholders “learn from each other,” RMI Manager, Carbon Free Energy, and paper co-author Cory Felder said. “A well-designed regulatory sandbox could increase equity by encouraging utility-third party collaboration and creating a way to test and scale innovative solutions more quickly,” Felder added.
Socioeconomic diversity can require regulatory decisions on a broader set of perspectives, but “bringing the public into the decision-making process can help increase confidence in the outcome,” added RMI Senior Associate, Carbon Free Energy, and paper co-author ☂. “Presentations or technical primers could help balance competing interests and support stakeholder decision-making,” she said.
ꦇ, opened in 2019, “is an example of a traditional regulatory process where the commission has centered equity,” Ciulla added. “Along with requiring utilities to optimize DSP efficiency and maximize benefits to customers, it requires greater procedural equity and stakeholder opportunities to impact decisions,” she said.
🎐A workshop on introduced the proceeding and answered stakeholder questions, the RMI paper reported. Transparency on the phased proceeding’s timeline, goals, and objectives, and responsiveness to stakeholder input and needs was established early and has continued, and allows ready access to all workshops and proceedings, the paper added.
🍸But the time and cost for participation in expanded processes can pose a barrier for some LI customer advocates, and a𒅌t least 16 states now have varying forms of intervener funding, Felder said.
Intervener support is a significant part of an equity effort 💖 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in June 2021. 🅷FERC’s is to advance efforts to improve outreach, public education, and technical assistance, the .
ಞThe objective is compensation and technical guidance to “communities that have been historically underrepresented,” to put them “on equal footing with well-resourced industry stakeholders,” the report added. ♍The OPP website now offers guidance on , “primers” on and , and “explainers” on and .
ꦛElectricity regulation “has been an industry-driven conversation and not a community driven conversation,” New Mexico Rep. Ortez said. “Regulators should hear from people like me, progressive legislators who represent communities of color.”
ꦺThe “same old white guys in gray suits still make too many regulatory decisions that impact those not in the room and without funding and technical expertise to participate,” NCLC’s Howat agreed. “We need an army of new intervener-advocates with the trainings, workshops and resources to effectively represent their communities,” he added.
꧅The clean energy industry is booming, but the labor supply remains low. Partnering with community colleges to offer pathways to employment could help the industry meet its increasing demand for workers, said a workforce development official with the Foundation for California Community Colleges. He was speaking at a workforce development session at Intersolar North America on Feb. 14.
🍷Community colleges are a source of “untapped talent” and are “built to be nimble” in a way that other sources of higher education may not be, Tim Aldinger, executive director of workforce development for the FCCC, said at the event.
“For the last year and a half, we've had more jobs posted than people looking for them. And we are also in a decade-long process where people [nationwide] are opting out of the labor market,” Aldinger said. “And this is particularly prevalent, actually, among working-age men, particularly in jobs that were called ‘blue-collar’ work.”
Though the renewable energy sector has become a significant generator of new jobs, and the Inflation Reduction Act bolstered this growth with tax credits that incentivized new projects and registered apprenticeship programs, the wind energy industry reported difficulty finding qualified applicants in a November report.
ꦛA pair of studies from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory said that 68% of wind energy employers had faced “some or great difficulty” finding qualified applicants, while 83% of the potential wind energy workforce has had “some or great difficulty” finding job opportunities.
ꩵWhen asked in an interview if renewable energy industries will have to adjust their approach to recruitment and hiring to meet labor demands at a time of falling participation in the workforce, Aldinger said that seems likely.
🥂“I do think that probably every institutional group has to look in the mirror and make some changes, and I think that includes industry,” he said. “Another aspect is, how do these careers become places that people want to work? Wage is part of it, but is it a place you feel comfortable in? Is there a worker voice? Is there reliable scheduling? All those pieces have to get chipped away at.”
🅠There aren’t enough registered apprentices on the market to meet the demands of renewable energy developers who need to hire a certain number of them to take advantage of certain tax incentives in the IRA, Bernice Diaz, a labor and employment attorney with Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, said during the session.
💝“There will likely be a shortage of apprentices, especially if this generation continues to steer away from skilled trade jobs,” she said. “While the IRA created a surge of demand for apprenticeship, I think it did little to really address [the shortage].”
It’s unclear꧋ whether the Department of Labor will be able to “keep up with” approving registered apprenticeship programs for the occupations that need them, including for energy projects in the geographical areas where they’re needed, Diaz said.
💫Community colleges can help fill several gaps in the labor market, Aldinger said, by providing specialized training programs, embedding larger shifts in the industry into their curriculums, and helping industry receive funding that is earmarked for companies that partner with community colleges or public workforce agencies.
“If you're a business, generally speaking, a workforce board or community college is going to be very excited to talk with you,” he said. “They want to have a place to get strategic directions, understand where the market is going, understand what your needs are, and also have a place for students to go and learn and potentially become employees.”
🌊Four major viable paths to a net zero emissions “clean electricity” power system by 2035 “in which benefits exceed costs” are detailed in an
🐟But it does not explain how adequate land to reach a 90% clean electricity penetration can be acquired or how reliability will be protected beyond that 90% penetration, stakeholders acknowledged.
Today’s clean energy technologies can take the U.S. “to about 90% emissions reductions because of reduced costs and our maturing understanding of renewables and storage,” said Paul Denholm, DOE principal energy analyst and study co-lead author. But “90% is a proxy for where we don't know what resource or multiple resources will be needed for reliability,” he said.
🙈Markets may resolve uncertainties about long-duration energy storage, or LDES, technologies for reliability, DOE and storage analysts agreed. But resolving the continuing local opposition to building new infrastructure will require smarter planning, environmentalists said.
“Most people have not yet envisioned the coming scale of development and local permitting and siting challenges,” agreed Nicole Hill, project lead on The Nature Conservancy, or TNC, report ඣ. But TNC’s new planning approach of “working slowly and responsibly now to be able to go faster later,” can achieve both climate and conservation goals, she said.
🀅The full scale of needed infrastructure growth may be hard to envision, but new federal, state and utility LDES technology investments and proposed planning policy innovations are taking on the uncertainty, DOE’s Denholm and other analysts said.
ꩵThe four paths to a 100% clean power sector by 2035, even with 66% higher demand from transportation and building electrification, can lead to a net zero emissions economy by 2050, the NREL study said.
꧂One path assumes “improved cost and performance” of all zero emissions technologies, including carbon capture, NREL reported. Another assumes more transmission capacity from “improved transmission technologies” and “new permitting and siting approaches,” a third assumes higher costs from generation and transmission constraints, and the last assumes limited carbon capture.
🔯The study focused on meeting needs with large-scale energy supply, but an alternative path could use more energy efficiency and demand-side flexibility, NREL added. Relying on those alternatives instead of building large-scale infrastructure lowers projected annual load growth nationally from 3.4% to 1.8%, with “lower demand peaks” and “winter peaks,” and uses more “clean” hydrogen in transportation, industry and generation, the study said.
🌳 included 2021 state and federal policies but not 2022’s , or IRA, and 2021’s , NREL said. estimated those investments driven by those laws, in conjunction with other planned buildouts, can lower economy-wide emissions 40% from 2005 levels and grow clean energy 60% to 81% by 2030, but lead to no more than 78% power system emissions reductions by 2035, NREL found.
💯A combined 2 TW of new wind and solar, “roughly three times the 2020 level,” provide 60% to 80% of new generation by 2035, in NREL’s paths. Projected annual growth rates by 2030 of 43 GW to 90 GW for solar and 70 GW to 145 GW for wind, are “more than quadruple” current levels, it added.
💎Overall capacity in the four scenarios, which also included 5 GW to 8 GW of new hydropower and 3 GW to 5 GW of new geothermal by 2035, could be reduced 16% to 20% with more energy efficiency and distributed energy resources, NREL reported.
♐For reliability at “all hours of the year,” a total of 120 GW to 350 GW of 2 hour-to-12 hour “diurnal storage” will be needed by 2035, NREL estimated. It may be batteries, pumped storage hydropower, or technologies still being developed. Depending on power system uncertainties, an additional will be needed at very high variable renewables penetrations, it added.
🐎Nuclear is likely to be 9% to 12% of generation in 2035 under three of NREL’s scenarios but could more than double to 27% with siting and permitting constraints on generation and transmission, models found. But that is unlikely because the cost-effectiveness of investments in wind, solar, storage and transmission is “clearly” better than that of new nuclear, NREL’s Denholm said.
🍒Between 1,400 miles and 10,100 miles of new high voltage transmission will be needed annually to achieve net zero power sector emissions in 2035, reaching “1.3 times to 2.9 times current capacity,” NREL estimated. Building the most transmission and wind has “the lowest average system cost,” it found in analyzing the pathways.
💯The “main uncertainty” is the technologies mix, modeling showed. With carbon capture viable, the scenario using all net zero emissions resources includes up to 5%, or 660 GW, of fossil fuels in the total 2035 generation. But more energy efficiency and DER reduced the need for new generation capacity “about 20%,” and both mixes reduced land needs and system costs, NREL found.
𝐆Health benefits from “substantial” fossil fuel reductions can provide “$390 billion to $400 billion” in total economic savings by 2035, NREL estimated. With the , or SCC, of “about $80” per metric ton, rising to “about $100” in 2035, savings reached a total “net benefit” of $900 billion to $1.3 trillion over the projected $330 billion to $740 billion in “capital, fixed, and variable” power system costs, modeling estimated. Net benefits would be significantly higher with a more speculative $275 per metric ton SCC, NREL added.
♊But resource mix and cost uncertainties grow after 2030 with the need to meet growing diurnal and seasonal demand peaks from clean generation penetrations above 90%, NREL reported.
LDES choices beyond 2030 are largely between cꦉlean hydrogen fuels containing molecules produced from renewables and water or from natural gas with carbon capture, and clean energy projects generating electrons.
💖And “the future energy mix may be determined by how fast transmission for stored electrons and pipes for stored molecules are built,” said Jason Burwen, vice president of energy storage at the American Clean Power Association.
🌟Through 2030, lithium-ion batteries of up to 10-hour durations and pumped hydro storage of up to 12-hour durations will become “increasingly cost-competitive” with natural gas plants for meeting ”mismatches” between renewables generation supply and load that last for 24-hour or less periods, NREL reported.
🍸LDES, which NREL calls “seasonal” storage, is “represented” in the study by clean hydrogen fuels but could come from “a variety of technologies” still unproven at scale, NREL said. They include synthetic natural gas or ammonia fuels, new battery chemistries, thermal storage, compressed-air, pumped storage, or gravity-based technologies, it added.
Stored clean LDES can address the “seasonal mismatch” from rising summer and winter demand peaks as clean energy approaches 100% and electrification grows, Executive Director Julia Souder, NREL’s Denholm♕, and others said. Storage depleted by use for extended high demand-low renewables periods in the summer or winter can be replenished by spring and fall renewables oversupplies to avoid curtailment and economic losses, they added.
𝓰Overall, LDES will be expensive, “but there is so much uncertainty” about firm resources like unproven-at-scale fossil generation with carbon capture “that comparison is speculative,” said Denholm. But some version of LDES “will be needed to achieve the 2035 target,” making investment “in demonstrations of potential technologies important now so they will be ready,” he said.
♋“Multiple solutions,” will be needed to reach the 2035 goals, agreed Jacob Susman, CEO and co-founder of Ambient Fuels, which supplies , and Nidhi Thakar, vice president of policy and regulatory at Form Energy, a developer of a .
♐There is no need for batteries and green hydrogen to compete while are still being shaped, and “narrowing opportunity now will miss value later,” the LDES Council’s Souder added.
💃Access to adequate land is a more immediate concern creating uncertainty about meeting the 2035 net zero emissions power sector goal, stakeholders agreed.
𝔍The 2035 goals could require new generation at “three to six times” recent growth rates, new rights-of-way for “doubling or tripling” transmission, and “new pipelines and storage for hydrogen and CO2,” DOE found.
♛It is “doable” by “balancing environmental protections against carbon’s impacts” on climate change, Denholm said.
Permitting language from September’s Continuing Resolution on government funding (H.R. 6833), while❀ the Federal Permitting Reform and Jobs Act (), introduced by Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio, in 2021 to streamline the infrastructure development, has not progressed. And the still uncompleted stakeholder process at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission includes proposals to streamline permitting. But neither get at the innovative reforms really needed, stakeholders said.
🐷Smart planning can protect “sensitive natural areas and working lands” and reach economy-wide net zero emissions cost-effectively by 2050, agreed.
♉Without improved planning, the 2050 goal would require “up to 39 million acres” in the 11 studied states for new generation and transmission infrastructure and cost $260 billion, TNC’s modeling found. But with spatially specific regional, state and local planning and siting in pre-defined “priority renewable energy zones,” only 21 million acres would be needed, an almost 50% reduction, at an increased cost for all the extra siting and permitting work of only 3%, to $268 billion, .
Though made separately, TNC’s projections would likely꧑ represent a significant portion of the $330 billion to $740 billion in infrastructure development costs projected by NREL to achieve net zero emissions in 2035.
ꦰTNC identified where reconductoring upgrades and use of rights-of-way can meet half the new capacity needed for those states. That would limit additional land needed for rights-of-way for 16 GW of additional transmission capacity to 6,259 miles, only a 7% to 8% increase over current land used for the West’s 86,000 miles of transmission lines. Solar can be planned safely away from wildlife corridors and wind can be built offshore, it added.
ꦺ“Power providers like Los Angeles County’s , local governments like , and private project planners are using these kinds of planning approaches,” TNC’s Hill said. And the strategies can be applied nationally, as shown by the already used successfully for and , she added.
🍨Elements of TNC’s planning approach can accelerate development of Southwestern solar, Midwestern onshore wind, East Coast offshore wind, and nationally, agreed Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Renewable Energy Policy Analyst Nathanael Greene.
𝓰At least eight IRA provisions providing over $1.5 billion to under-resourced and understaffed federal permitting agencies can allow improved planning to streamline , Greene added.
🐠But TNC’s approach may be “an optimistic outlook,” and underestimate the “” in local communities to new infrastructure buildouts, .
𒁃“Local community opposition is real and will likely continue to make siting and permitting a challenge,” but might be addressable, said University of Notre Dame Associate Professor of Sustainable Energy Policy Emily Grubert, who has worked with federal agencies on related issues.
To earn a community’s trust💝, development proposals “should explain why a project is needed, why the community’s resources are needed, and how the community can benefit,” Grubert said. They should also “assure the community its concerns have been heard and it will be protected,” she added.
🎃DOE’s formal , which are used for new infrastructure development and stipulate the benefits a developer will deliver for the community, “could also have a powerful impact on streamlining siting and permitting,” Grubert said.
🍌“No project should go ahead without a to assure real benefits for the host community,” agreed NRDC’s Greene. But in many places, “political polarization has turned reasonable project development questions into obstructive, misinformation campaigns,” Greene said. “Overcoming that will take a lot of work,” he added.
🌸“People, especially in smaller communities, can get very passionate, and even exchange death threats, which shows how important and undervalued trust is,” Grubert agreed.
ജ jump-started battery storage growth in 2016 and may do the same for LDES by calling for storage that protects system reliability, ACP’s Burwen said.
But at present even needs updating to recognize the need for climate and extreme weather adaptation and the new affordability of clean energy, said V. John White, executive director of the ༺Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies.
Long term planning in California and 𒉰across the country must now focus on accelerating clean energy deployment because “the IRA has shifted the ground underneath us,” White said. It has turned new resource procurement into “an affordability strategy” because “the sooner low-cost clean resources are online, the sooner natural gas prices coming out of rates will allow customer bills to come down,” he added.
U.S. power system planning “still relies too heavily on natural gas,” which was the “root cause” of the February 2021 Texas outages⛦, NREL’s Denholm agreed. “Not enough planning today addresses the changing peaks across seasons and times of day that will come with electrification” and “the need for transmission even where siting and permitting are barriers,” he added.
🍎But the DOE study’s most critical finding “is that right now the answer is ‘yes’ to building any possible solar, wind, storage and transmission project as quickly possible to meet the national goals,” he said.