Moving cities toward renewable energy goals takes unique partnerships, panel says
Officials from Duke Energy and Salt Lake City, Utah, offered insights on Thursday into how cities can reduce their carbon footprint and incorporate more renewable energy through forming partnerships with key stakeholders.
A webinar presented by the Alliance for a Sustainable future, a joint initiative of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, focused on how cities and utilities can collaborate to advance toward a cleaner energy future.
Jason Walls, Duke Energy’s district manager for the Asheville, N.C., area, said his organization stepped back and listened to what residents and businesses wanted, and a new effort to conserve energy was formed.
“The Blue Horizons Project was really a community-wide effort dedicated to creating a clean energy future for the Asheville and Buncombe County area,” he said. “The project allowed the community to take control of its energy future.”
The Blue Horizons Project, a portfolio of energy efficiency and demand response solutions, was the creation of the Energy Innovation Task Force, an initiative between the city of Asheville, Buncombe County and Duke Energy. The task force aims to research and recommend energy efficiency and demand-side management programs in Buncombe County.
The project was spurred on by community outcry over Duke’s plan to extend a transmission line.
“One of the biggest hurdles we faced was how we announced our expansion plans,” said Walls, who serves as a member of the Energy Innovation Task Force along with representatives from local government, businesses, and clean energy advocates. “We ended up stepping back and understanding what our customers were telling us.”
What the community wanted, he said, was to curb its energy consumption. By bringing together key players in the area, including government, business and academia, the task force was able to not only hear how much the community wanted to integrate more renewable energy, but also to study the community’s energy consumption.
“We knew we had to look at the energy consumption and answer the question, ‘How do we reduce energy in times of peak usage?’” Walls said. “In most of North Carolina, summer is when you see the highest peak usage. But in Asheville, winter is when the highest peak usage occurs. Along with that, we had to forecast out how the future of a rapidly growing area looked, and project out its energy needs through 2030.”
The task force used the Rocky Mountain Institute’s e-Lab Accelerator to study power usage and determine what the area’s real usage was.
“We needed as the utility to trust the data, but we wanted people to trust the data, as well,” Walls said. “Getting Rocky Mountain to come in and do that analysis helped that. The utility trusted the data and the community felt like Rocky Mountain was looking out for their best interests. It created engagement in the process and the outcome.”
The results were a commitment to advancing energy storage and solar energy solutions. Additionally, the task force will focus on installing advanced metering infrastructure; electric vehicle charging stations (in partnership with the Buncombe County government), and more modern HVAC systems.
In a March op-ed appearing in the Citizen Times, Walls, Asheville City Councilwoman Julie Mayfield, and Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chairman Brownie Newman, wrote that clean energy technology also played a role in helping the local governments reach their goals.
“Buncombe County is installing a 5-megawatt solar field on its closed landfill and Duke Energy is committed to installing 15-megawatts of solar energy,” they wrote. “Duke is also investing in commercial scale battery storage — 19 megawatts so far — a significant amount for a community our size. We also hope Asheville will be the site of North Carolina’s first community solar project. And automatic meters, which are a proven tool to help reduce energy use, are also coming this year.”
As a result of the task force, Duke Energy was able to shut down a coal-burning power plant early and switch to natural gas and solar power. Walls said the company relies on nuclear plants for about 35-40 percent of its power.
Vicki Bennett, sustainability director for Salt Lake City, said the city had moved away from natural gas and was adding more solar energy.
In Salt Lake City, a similar partnership emerged between local government, Rocky Mountain Power, and the community. The result was a plan to incorporate energy benchmarking for larger properties that would allow Rocky Mountain Power to work with companies and help them become more energy efficient; while the city opted to build its own solar farm and install rooftop solar on city buildings.
The city also is working toward electrified transportation which entails partnering with Rocky Mountain Power to install charging stations for electric cars in the city and on major roadways. Salt Lake City is moving toward electric buses and electric fleet cars, as well.
The key to the success of such partnerships, Walls said, was gathering feedback from a diverse group of stakeholders in order to determine what the best solutions were for all parties involved.
“Every conversation is worth having,” he said. “They may not all be comfortable conversations, but they all are important. You don’t always have to agree, but each conversation should help you to create a new pathway to more conversations.”
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