Distributed Energy Resources

Public power doing more on renewables than stats suggest: Zummo

When it comes to renewable energy, public power utilities are doing a lot more than statistics suggest, which is why the American Public Power Association is canvassing its members to get a better handle on that data, said Paul Zummo, Director, Policy Research and Analysis, at the Association.

Zummo made his remarks at the 2019 Association Public Power Forward Summit on Nov. 22 during a panel, “All-In on Clean Energy.” The summit was held in Nashville, Tenn.

Because of the way tax credits are structured, public power utilities are more inclined to enter into power purchase agreements (PPAs) for renewable energy, he noted.

Zummo said that the Association has distributed a survey to large public power utilities and joint action agencies, which asks utilities and JAAs to detail what PPAs they have, as well as what renewable energy generation they are thinking about building.

“We need to get a better sense of what public power is doing in terms of renewables because we’re doing a lot more than statistics suggest,” Zummo said in encouraging survey recipients to complete the survey.

Zummo pointed out that public power is doing a lot when it comes to renewables including the following examples:

  • Arizona’s Salt River Project: Over 300 MW invested in solar, 120+ MW wind
  • California’s Imperial Irrigation District: 300 MW community solar project for low-income customers;
  • LADWP: Over 1,000 MW renewables contracts;
  • Omaha Public Power District: 940 MW of wind; and
  • CPS Energy: 497 MW of solar

In his presentation, Zummo also noted that at least 15 public power utilities have 100% renewable energy goals, while five public power communities have achieved net 100% renewable energy goals: Aspen, Colo., Burlington, Vt., Georgetown, Texas, Greensburg, Kansas, and Rock Port, Mo.

Challenges for public power

In terms of challenges for public power when it comes to renewables, Zummo noted that “tax credits don’t apply to us.”

While there is legislation working its way through Congress that may change that, for now public power utilities interested in renewables generally have to enter into PPAs. But this in turn leads to another potential challenge for public power utilities – “are you in a full requirements contract? Can you actually enter into PPAs?”

Other challenges on the renewable energy front for public power include finding the right partner. A utility’s size can also present a challenge when it comes to renewables. “Sometimes you have to group together to enter into these contracts,” Zummo said.

Defining 100 percent renewables

Meanwhile, Zummo noted that when it comes to defining 100 percent renewables, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all generation is renewable.

“It may mean net one hundred percent,” meaning that an entity has offset some carbon use, he said. Unbundled renewable energy credits may have been purchased as way to achieve 100 percent renewable energy goals.

Also, an equivalency with peak load may be involved. For example, if a utility’s peak is 50 MW, it has 50 MW of renewable capacity.

Trends in corporate renewable energy procurement

Priya Barua, Deputy Director, Market Innovation & Utility Engagement, at the Washington, D.C.-based Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA), discussed trends in corporate renewable energy procurement.

She noted that since 2014, corporations have entered renewable energy deals totaling more than 22 gigawatts. 

REBA describes itself as an alliance of large clean energy buyers, developers, and service providers that, together with NGO partners, “are unlocking the marketplace for all nonresidential energy buyers to lead a rapid transition to a cleaner, prosperous, zero-carbon energy future.”

Barua also detailed what customers are looking for when it comes to renewables.

She said that customers are looking for a greater choice of options across customer types, “especially now as smaller sized companies, universities and local governments are looking to meet clean goals.”

Another thing that customers are looking for when it comes to renewable energy is cost competitiveness, which means the ability to share in the cost savings of renewable energy, “versus being charged a premium over existing retail rates to be able to access renewable energy,” Barua noted.

In her presentation, she also noted customers are looking for:

  • Transparency in rates and costs;
  • The ability to materially impact the carbon impact of energy supplies;
  • The ability to choose renewables without impacting other customers; and
  • Solutions that work for both new and existing load

In terms of trends, Barua said that as markets mature, large energy buyers are looking for increasing opportunities to demonstrate leadership.

She noted that at a REBA summit held this summer, there were six trends that emerged as key interest areas for large energy buyers including storage deployment, offshore wind, resiliency and transmission.

Barua also said that another trend is that companies are looking beyond 100 percent renewables to also look at “what does that mean in terms of 24/7 zero carbon or helping to green the grid.”

An additional trend seen in the large energy buyer space is social and community impact, Barua said.

Glendale Water & Power

Another participant on the panel was Stephen Zurn, General Manager at California public power utility Glendale Water & Power.

In his presentation, discussed the utility’s plan to repower the aging Grayson Power Plant with a combination of renewable energy resources, energy storage and a limited amount of thermal generation.

In July, Glendale Water & Power received approval from the Glendale City Council to move forward with the plan.

The plan includes a 75-megawatt, 300 megawatt-hour Battery Energy Storage System (BESS), as much as 50 MW of distributed energy resources that include solar photovoltaic systems, energy efficiency and demand response programs, and 93 MW of thermal generation from up to five internal combustion engines.

The city council also directed GWP staff to continue to seek alternatives that would enhance the sustainability of the utility and continue to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels.