Powering Strong Communities

Belmont Light uses DEED grant to model the effects of new programs

Belmont Light in Massachusetts has developed an energy resource planning model with the help of a Demonstration of Energy & Efficiency Developments (DEED) grant from the American Public Power Association.

Belmont Light’s partner in the $240,800 project was Ventana Systems, of Harvard, Mass., with $115,000 in project funding coming from the DEED grant.

Ventana delivered a prototype of the model in 2019 and the final model, which uses the company’s Ventity software, in May 2020. Since then, Ventana has continued to provide updates to the model, along with training and support to Belmont Light staff as they tweak the model for its use.

The current version of the model enables Belmont Light to run scenarios that evaluate how different types of rebates, rates, and supply-side resources might affect the energy demand and carbon dioxide emissions of the town, as well as the utility’s financial condition.

Longer term, Belmont Light plans to use the model to envision how different programs might enable or hinder the community’s progress toward zero emissions and/or net zero energy status in coming years. Belmont also said the model will be useful for planning and goal-setting around strategic electrification initiatives, as well as for individual programs and campaigns.

In particular, the utility plans to use the model to pursue its emission reductions goals, which include aiming for a 100 percent renewable power supply by 2022, while maintaining its financial and operational reliability.

In 2009, the community of Belmont implemented a Climate Action Plan that sets a goal of 80 percent emissions reductions below 2007 levels by 2050. In 2019, Belmont adopted a Strategic Decarbonization Roadmap that identifies Belmont Light as the foundation for achieving many of the community’s emissions targets. Belmont Light has incorporated those goals into its strategic planning, setting annual targets for electric vehicle and heat pump adoption through 2026, as well as its 2022 fully renewable power goal.

“Belmont Light has embraced the crucial role we play in achieving the community’s ambitious climate goals,” Craig Spinale, the utility’s general manager, said via email. “We know that widespread strategic electrification coupled with a decarbonized power supply will provide a path toward net zero emissions for Belmont in coming years. The model we developed with Ventana and DEED will help us with what we don’t know for certain yet — how different decisions and factors will interact to shape this path over time. What decisions make for the shortest path? The most financially prudent? The most realistic?”

Belmont Light is currently running the model to determine how different levels of incentives and rebates might influence adoption of heat pumps in the community in coming years through 2050. The utility is also exploring how various time-of-use rate structures would affect the pursuit of Belmont Light’s financial and climate goals.

The model also makes it easier to run scenarios with diverse inputs and assumptions so that Belmont Light can continually reevaluate its decisions to consider new or potential legislation and regulations, changes in technological development, prices of fossil fuels, and other factors. The model also permits what-if experiments without expensive real-life trial-and-error.

Inputs to the model pertain to supply-side activities, such as energy mixes and renewable energy credit (REC) pricing, and demand-side measures, like rebates for air-source heat pumps, electric vehicles, lighting, rooftop solar, and battery storage. Belmont Light has 12,000 meters, and the majority of its customers are residential accounts.

“What makes our model different from others we looked at is that its inputs are customizable to Belmont Light’s unique planning needs as a public power utility,” Becca Keane, energy resources manager at Belmont Light, said via email. “We can use the model to investigate very detailed questions about our particular program offerings, our power supply mix, our customers’ behavior, our rates, and more. Because the model is a tailored planning tool, it is adaptable for other utilities contemplating similar resource planning questions,” she said.

Belmont Light believes its experience will be applicable to other public power utilities that are grappling with the challenges and opportunities posed by the rapidly changing electricity industry, such as the increasing penetration of distributed generation and electric vehicles, changing expectations of utility customers, and legislative requirements around greenhouse gas mitigation. The utility also said it hopes to be able to serve as a reference point for other utilities contemplating net zero energy and low emission futures, adding that Ventana can also adapt the model developed in the DEED for other APPA members to address the unique situations and available data.

Belmont Light, in a report on the DEED project, offered two recommendations for utilities that may want to use the planning model. The utility noted that the model can address many questions, but it is meant for answering strategic questions that require balancing competing demands related to financial sustainability, anticipating and fulfilling future energy demand, and meeting emissions targets.

Belmont Light also said that to maximize the value of the model a utility should be willing to invest the necessary time to ensure a thorough planning exercise, including gathering and organizing data and allocating time to understanding the model’s outputs.

Association members interested in referencing Belmont Light’s project results would be best served if staff dedicates generous amounts of time to gathering and preparing their own program and energy data, along with collecting data from the communities they serve, so they can plan for a low- or zero-emissions future in a meaningful, informed way, the utility said.

Belmont Light plans to create a “roadmap” that other utilities can use for their planning purposes and also plans to schedule a webinar with Ventana this summer.

Additional details on DEED are available here.