Marin's MCE Clean Energy leads distributed energy resources projects

In 2016 a small group of North Bay renewable energy professionals met to explore new ways to greatly expand local clean energy resources in the North Bay Area and eventually throughout California.

They believed that with proper planning, local energy development could result in a projects that would be more affordable, create jobs, keep revenue in the community, stabilize electricity rates, and improve the resilience of the overall electricity system. The new approach, known as distributed energy resources (DER), optimizes energy use on a community scale by integrating renewable energy, storage, efficiency, demand response and other such components.

The group included Greg Thomson and John Carney of Pathion, an energy storage company; Rick Brown, Charles Monk and Ali Chehrehsaz from TerraVerde Renewable Partners, an energy adviser to local governments; and Barry Vesser and myself from the Center for Climate Protection.

By fortunate coincidence, the California Energy Commission issued a request for proposals from local governments and agencies, called the Energy Innovation Challenge.

The purpose of the funding is to spur local governmental projects that help attain the energy efficiency goals set out in California's SB 350 and related legislation. The team enlisted Marin County-based MCE Clean Energy, the first community-choice local government agency to serve customers in California, to serve as the lead in applying for the CEC funding.

In early April, the CEC notified the team that it would receive $1.7 million for the proposed project.

Beckie Menten, director of customer programs for MCE, said, “MCE is looking forward to working with the Center for Climate Protection and the other stellar members of the grant team to investigate replicable solutions for scaling distributed energy resources at the community level.”

The project aims to achieve broad implementation of energy-efficiency and other carbon-free DER, facilitate local renewable energy integration and seek low-cost solutions toward achieving MCE's climate goal of delivering 100 percent carbon-free electricity to its community by 2025.

Three locations in MCE's service territory have been selected for inclusion in the project, including a 300-plus-unit multifamily property in Richmond, Novato Sanitation District and a sanitary service company in San Rafael.

Multiple technologies will be used, including high-efficiency heat-pump water heaters, LED lighting, energy storage, solar, insulation upgrades, methane capture and anaerobic digestion, and electric-vehicle-charging.

Charles Monk, executive vice president of Marin-based TerraVerde Renewable Partners, said:

“TerraVerde is thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with MCE on delivering an innovative and replicable distributed-energy resource program solution. Our firm believes that community choice agencies are ideally positioned to utilize DER programs as an important tool to tackle state and local climate-action goals and reduce overall energy costs to ratepayers. This grant provides a foundation to prove this hypothesis, and it's exciting to see a market leader such as MCE working to unlock the value that targeted DER can provide, particularly in disadvantaged communities that they serve.”

The group seeks to demonstrate that the costs of local projects can be brought down by using the DER approach, e.g., integrating a number of resources including storage and energy efficiency.

And locally based projects do not require the investment in expensive new transmission infrastructure that utility-scale renewables do, potentially saving customers millions or even billions of dollars over the life of a project.

“As a result of this project's replicable solution, Community Choice agencies will be able to target and scale distributed energy resources across their service territories, thus achieving lower costs, stronger financials, and better customer engagement,” said Thomson of Pathion.

The Center for Climate Protection's Vesser added, “These are the kinds of projects that we need more of: public-private partnerships that reduce carbon emissions, create jobs in the community, and make smart investments that will pay dividends for years.”

The project is currently scheduled to begin this fall.

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