District Energy, CHP and Microgrids in Our Nation’s Energy Infrastructure

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Robert Thornton, of the International District Energy Association (IDEA), describes advocacy work underway to educate the federal government about the importance of including district energy, CHP and microgrids in plans for national infrastructure improvement.

CHP and microgrids

Robert Thornton, president and CEO of the International District Energy Association

The Trump Administration has set its sights on passing a major $1 trillion infrastructure bill aimed at renewing America’s aging infrastructure in order to boost the economy and produce more jobs. While the administration plan has focused on roads, bridges, railways and most recently airports, their proposal also includes modernization of the nation’s energy infrastructure.

US Senate Democrats have also unveiled their own $1 trillion infrastructure plan. The Senate version is also aimed at improving the economy and creating millions of jobs, with a plan to invest in roads, bridges, railways, schools, hospitals, broadband and energy. Where the two plans diverge is when it comes to how major projects will be funded. The Senate Democrats want to provide more direct support in the form of grants and federal funding in addition to loans and tax incentives. Republicans are less than enthusiastic about more government spending and instead the White House plan incentivizes privatization of infrastructure assets and funding through public-private partnerships.

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Whichever direction an eventual infrastructure bill ends up going, IDEA believes there is a place for district energy, CHP and microgrids. The electric grid in the United States is aging, inefficient, and in need of renewal.  It was constructed over the past century for one way distribution of power from remote power plants, but the energy economy has evolved and today more power is produced much closer to consumers with a multidirectional flow of power. Modernizing the energy infrastructure in the US with district energy, CHP and microgrid technologies is necessary to provide the resiliency and reliability needed to keep the economy going, to keep hospitals and mission critical facilities running in the face of severe weather, and to keep people safe and comfortable.

IDEA is undertaking an advocacy effort to ensure that grid modernization and energy needs are well known in Washington, D.C. In December 2016 IDEA along with the Microgrid Resources Coalition (MRC) and the Environmental and Energy Studies Institute (EESI) held a briefing for congressional staff providing policy guidance and showcasing proven technologies and exemplary cases that illuminate the potential for more robust U.S. investment in district energy microgrids. IDEA has since identified more than 80 critical energy infrastructure projects currently under consideration or development by our members. We intend to use this list of projects to help make the case for the inclusion of district energy, CHP and microgrids in a federal infrastructure bill.

In order to guide this advocacy effort, IDEA has recently hired Harper Gay as a District Energy Advocate. Harper joins IDEA to run the critical energy infrastructure projects campaign that we began in February. The campaign seeks to engage with the Trump Administration and US Senate infrastructure investment plans to support district energy, CHP and microgrid projects. Harper graduated from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University in May with his Master’s Degree in Environment and Resource Policy. Prior to graduate school, he worked at a clean-tech company that produced solar-powered waste and recycling systems and as an Outreach Representative covering energy policy for US Senator Bernie Sanders.

To learn more about IDEA’s infrastructure advocacy or if you are interested in participating, please contact Harper Gay at [email protected].

Robert Thornton is the president and CEO of IDEA. This blog originated on IDEA’s Industry News Blog and was reposted with permission.

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