Powering Strong Communities

MMWEC Taps APPA Grants To Study Emission Reduction Strategies, Undergrounding

Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co. (MMWEC) has won Demonstration of Energy & Efficiency Development (DEED) grants totaling $148,248 from the American Public Power Association, one to help the joint action agency optimize its carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reduction strategies and the other to study the potential benefits of co-deploying undergrounding electric cables with optical fiber.

The more recent grant, for $25,050, aims to help MMWEC fulfill its mission to provide the most efficient, innovative and equitable path to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions for its member municipal light plant (MLP) communities.

For the grant, Incorporating Carbon as the Driver of MMWEC’s Energy Efficiency Program, MMWEC will work with the Center for EcoTechnology, which will conduct a study on how MMWEC and its member MLPs can assess the emissions reduction benefits of energy efficiency, building electrification, transportation electrification, renewable energy, demand response and energy storage. The study is expected to be completed in 2022.

“This project will undertake the critical steps necessary to develop the underlying assumptions, calculations and tools for quantifying carbon emissions associated with the evolving energy portfolios of MMWEC’s members, and the measures that MLPs incentivize,” Bill Bullock, sustainable energy policy and program senior manager at MMWEC, said in a statement.

The project aligns with commitments by MMWEC’s member MLPs to reach net zero carbon dioxide emissions in energy sales by 2050, in support of a Massachusetts strategy to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

But it is important to note that the value of this research will extend beyond Massachusetts to provide public power utilities across the country with valuable tools and knowledge to assist in making more informed, actionable steps towards a lower carbon future.

The first grant, for $123,198 was awarded in the spring and is being used to support Project Groundwork, a research initiative that will evaluate the potential benefits to public power utilities of deploying optical fiber broadband networks in combination with underground electric cabling to help bridge the digital divide.

MMWEC is working with the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s (UMass) Energy Transition Institute and Groundwork Data, a non-profit research initiative focused on public infrastructure, on the project.

“We’ve found that much of the existing research on undergrounding is concerned with the costs of trenching, and that there is little disagreement on the overall resiliency benefits,” Mike Bloomberg, head of Groundwork Data, said in a statement.

“We aim to pick up where these studies have left off by taking into account a greater number of costs and benefits associated with undergrounding. Cities are complex systems and there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other factors that must be taken into account with projects of this scale and importance.”

The wider strategies Project Groundwork is exploring include:

  • Sharing utility infrastructure between electricity and broadband;
  • Shifting underground utility infrastructure out of the road and into the public rights-of-way;
  • Laying cable on existing surfaces and covering with cycling paths;
  • Micro-trenching, horizontal drilling, and innovative wireless technologies to connect the network to individual homes and businesses.

“Project Groundwork is gathering and analyzing a substantial amount of infrastructure data relating to age, investment costs and synergies with other utility services such as broadband and water,” Christopher Roy, DEED director for region 8 and general manager of Shrewsbury Electric & Cable Operations, said via email.

The data generated by Project Groundwork should be applicable beyond MMWEC and its member utilities. “Having this information will allow more informed decision making with respect to not only electric system upgrades but also how to best support upgrades of other critical community infrastructure such as telecommunications and water, even if these are not currently services provided by the public power authority,” Roy said.

“My hope is that the results of Project Groundwork will reveal opportunities for legislative action supporting the creation of new public power entities,” Roy said. “Our business model has resulted in some of the most efficient and effective infrastructure investments that stretch each dollar to the fullest. This approach is what will enable the necessary infrastructure upgrades across the country to happen and serve as the foundation for technological advancements.”

MMWEC is a non-profit, public corporation that provides a variety of electric power supply, financial, risk management and other services to consumer-owned municipal utilities in Massachusetts.