More than a decade ago, California recognized that ramping up renewable energy production by exercising its competitive power procurement scheme would require collaboration between “utility-scale” renewable project developers and high voltage transmission system owners. California’s Renewable Energy Transmission Initiative created a collaborative planning process to match high voltage transmission capacity with the best remote renewable power plant sites in the state.
When IRESN took up the topic of “integrated renewable energy systems” a decade ago, we imagined an expanding renewable integration challenge driven by community-scale and building-scale renewable energy systems as well by utility-scale power plants. Now new technologies are changing what we imagined into a real and urgent challenge. Collaborative planning will need to be local as well as regional.
Energy utilities have adopted new power plant technologies in the past. But in many states the traditional electric energy service provider role is shifting away from power production to competitive power procurement. Perhaps a less centralized and more collaborative approach to renewable energy integration will be required. Perhaps it will involve both zero carbon fuels as well as zero carbon electricity. If so, timely and effective local government engagement will be pivotal. Local governments have project permitting and building code adaptation and enforcement authority. They can thus be accelerators, roadblocks or both.
In the late 20th century, local governments in the US rarely concerned themselves with energy costs or energy systems, essentially out-sourcing local energy policy to energy service providers. But what if getting involved now could strengthen the local economy, creating good-paying local jobs and begin to insulate communities from the worst effects of disastrous events, e.g. hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, terrorist attacks and cyber-attacks?
How can 21st century local governments and energy utilities collaborate? Can universities help fill local energy planning and data analysis gaps as local governments begin to engage? How can states create a collaborative expectation and policy environment for their work together? Will regulatory reform be needed? Will natural gas and electric utilities be encouraged to collaborate with one another and with local government rather than compete for revenues?
Click here for a menu of state actions with potential to jump start local energy collaboration, plus links to related reports and resources. Local energy collaboration isn’t yet front page news. So, please help us identify cases of exemplary local energy collaboration in your area by sending a brief summary to: