Community Engagement

Public power utilities to use funds for virtual power plant, efficiency

Two public power communities, Georgetown, Texas, and Fort Collins, Colorado, are parlaying $1 million in prize money as winners of the Bloomberg Philanthropies U.S. Mayors Challenge to pursue development of a "virtual power plant" and energy efficiency improvements for rental homes occupied by low- and moderate-income renters, respectively.

In 480 cities across more than 120 countries around the world, Bloomberg Philanthropies, founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, focuses on creating change in areas such as the environment, arts, education, government innovation and public health.

Georgetown, a city of 70,000, is looking to manage its future peak demand needs "by taking utility-scale assets and deploying them within the community," said Jack Daly, assistant to city manager David Morgan. The city wants to lease rooftop space for solar panels and ground space for batteries from residential and commercial properties, offsetting the need to buy additional power from outside sources to meet growing peak demand -  i.e., a virtual power plant.

Georgetown, with a current peak demand of approximately 110 megawatts, is growing at a rate of 5-6% annually. It has long-term power purchase agreements, with a 154-MW solar farm and 144-MW wind project. "We're pretty active in the market right now,” selling energy back to the grid, Daly noted.

The $1 million prize is expected to go a long way to getting the project off the ground. The city developed a marketing and business plan during the past year and has conducted lots of focus group testing and customer surveys. As a result, officials believe there is sufficient local interest for residents to sign up to lease their rooftops.

Now, with the $1 million prize money, one of Georgetown's next orders of business is to hire someone to coordinate the project, to help procure the solar panels and batteries and issue a formal request for proposals. Daly said the city hopes to have working assets on the ground by mid-2019.

A virtual power plant is "a more effective way to procure and distribute energy instead of overbuying generation and growing into it," he observed.

Additional information about the virtual power plant project is available here.

Georgetown this past summer said it would be officially powered with 100 percent renewable solar- and wind-generated energy when the city begins receiving electricity from the Buckthorn solar plant in West Texas.  The 154-MW solar farm, owned by NRG Yield and operated by NRG Renewables, provides power for the city utility, Georgetown Utility Systems.

In addition to the Buckthorn solar farm, Georgetown’s energy providers include Spinning Spur 3, a wind farm near Amarillo owned by EDF Renewable Energy, and the Southwest Mesa and South Trent wind farms in West Texas owned by AEP.

For additional information about Georgetown and renewable energy, click here.

Fort Collins

Fort Collins, a city of about 165,000 and home to Colorado State University, is something of a renter's paradise.

"We have a high percentage of our population - about 50% - living in rental property," according to John Phelan, the city's energy services manager. "We have a lot of housing stock that is quite old."

Renters, he added, are driven by the market. And, "right now, we have an extraordinarily tight housing market."

Fort Collins won its $1 million Bloomberg prize largely because of its innovative approach to providing health and equity benefits to renters by improving energy efficiency of rental dwellings.

Residential property owners can avail themselves of a city-launched loan program that offers attractive financing to make their homes more comfortable, healthy and efficient.

Fort Collins also is working with the local university to document the health and wellbeing benefits of improved indoor air quality over time.

While Bloomberg offers some additional financing, Phelan pointed out the energy efficiency rental program goes beyond the $1 million prize.

Sean Carpenter, the city's climate economy advisor, said Fort Collins is "looking to bring in private-sector financial partners."

The project has been rolled out and the city is accepting applications from potential participants.

"It's available now, and we expect to expand it with capital availability," Phelan said. Five energy efficiency upgrades already have been completed, with about a dozen more in the queue.

Energy audits or energy assessments are an initial first step in the program. Most of the subsequent improvements can be wrapped up in a matter of days.

City officials have talked with dozens of property managers and/or property owners representing thousands of rental properties.

"It's a way for landowners to invest in their property," Carpenter said.

Fort Collins is on track for a 20% decrease in total greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, based on a 2005 baseline, Phelan said, as well as an 80% reduction by 2030. The city aims to be carbon neutral by 2050.