From the roots up, communities call for clean energy
My colleague Mike Bull recently blogged about Minnesota’s aging electric generation fleet and CEE’s support of Xcel Energy’s plan to retire 1,400 megawatts of coal generation in Minnesota by 2026. Aging generation infrastructure is a significant driver for utilities as they consider how clean energy will be incorporated into their future generation mix.
But top-down drivers like infrastructure aren’t the only things setting the stage for clean energy innovation. Communities have also emerged as key drivers of clean energy deployment.
Beyond increasing the demand for clean energy options and new services, communities are incorporating energy innovation into their planning for new development as they compete to provide the right balance of quality of life and infrastructure improvements needed for long-term energy savings. Local governments are forging these opportunities by dedicating more resources to early energy saving analysis and planning efforts. Among home and business owners, a new generation that expects transparency on environmental risks and benefits is becoming a considerable wedge of the market. And as innovations continue to grow — from higher performing buildings to high-tech tools for customers — there is great value in engaging customers in the process.
In response to Xcel Energy’s plan to install up to 650 megawatts of solar energy in Minnesota by 2020, CEE’s recent comments to the Public Utilities Commission highlighted the valuable opportunity of community-based energy demonstration sites. Of particular note is the Rice Creek Commons (RCC) development in Arden Hills.
Formerly known as the Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant (TCAAP), this 427-acre, remediated brownfield is currently being redeveloped for commercial and residential use. Comparable in size to downtown Minneapolis, the site is owned by Ramsey County, who has been working collaboratively with the City of Arden Hills, Xcel Energy, the Minnesota Army National Guard (neighbor to the RCC site), and others to integrate efficient and clean energy opportunities in to the development.
Over the past few years, the above partners have worked with energy planning experts including CEE, Ever-Green Energy, Fresh Energy, engineering firm Burns & McDonald, and an ad hoc community board to create a state-of-the art energy vision for RCC. This vision, described in the Energy Integration Resiliency Framework (EIRF), specifies that this site should be a national model for how energy infrastructure and services are developed and delivered, incorporating resilient, flexible, and cost-competitive energy solutions.
Efforts like this are among the “bottom-up sprouts” that drive energy innovation and new forms of utility collaboration, and a small handful of Minnesota sites offer demonstration potential in these areas. In addition to RCC, the Ford site in St. Paul is also unique in its size and proximity to synergistic resources such as pumped water, utility-scale solar potential, and existing hydro power. Demonstrations of specific technologies and programs, infrastructure planning, customer services, and broader community engagement are all valuable to the forward momentum of Minnesota’s clean energy economy. And making the presence of new energy resources visible provides the added benefit of emphasizing the shared value to the customer base.
These planning innovations between utilities and communities have the potential to dramatically advance the needle in the evolution toward cost-effective clean energy. Starting small at individual sites demonstrates the value of new energy opportunities to a broad customer base, creating a gateway to building service economies of scale and providing a model for future community energy planning statewide.
Three Minnesota Sites Plan Future Net-Zero Neighborhoods
Alatus talks tall buildings, high density at TCAAP
Photo credit: Rice Creek Commons