Senators Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Help Rural US Access Clean Energy, Microgrids

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U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., have introduced bipartisan legislation to help give clean energy and microgrids a boost in the rural US.

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The Expanded Access to Sustain Energy Act, or EASE, will assist rural communities and rural electricity cooperatives to overcome the barriers to renewable energy storage and grid improvements by providing them access to relevant resources and expertise. 

The legislation would also facilitate the use of business knowledge transfer as it relates to battery storage and microgrids. It is especially important to the businesses domiciled in rural territories.

“Technology transfer ― the job of getting information about an emerging or changing technology ― has long been one of the recognized barriers to implementing solar,” says a technical report by the Social Utility Network Deployment Acceleration (SUNDA). “Many factors come to bear, including rapid changes in solar PV technology, rapidly changing costs, a need for skills development within the utility workforce, as well as an increased selection of service provider offerings.”

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Some background: In 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy created SUNDA. And it partnered with the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association, all to increase adoption of solar energy in rural communities.

When SUNDA started in 2013, it said that less than 1% of the nation’s co-ops had deployed solar PV systems at the 250 kW or greater scale, and only 3% expressed interest. As of December 2017, 10% of all electric co-ops had deployed PV systems greater than 250 kW.

Its success, it continues, had been a function of peer-to-peer interaction — and learning how to share technology and business knowledge. The co-ops, likewise, say that diversifying their loads and reducing peak energy demand are critical benefits. And distributed energy resources are critical to providing that clean and reliable electricity.

“We wanted our next community solar project to be an owner/operator model, but lacked the expertise,” said Jeff Wadsworth, chief executive of the Poudre Valley Rural Electric Cooperative in Fort Collins, Co., in the SUNDRA report.

“SUNDA provided an opportunity for us to acquire knowledge in areas such as design, financing, procurement, and marketing,” he added. “SUNDA played a significant part in the success of our third community solar project, and the lessons learned should be invaluable to other cooperatives wanting to build and own their solar farm.” 

SUNDA, though, ceased at year-end 2018. Hence the introduction of the EASE Act, which hopes to continue providing access to relevant resources and expertise. Looking out, it expects co-ops to bring 800 MW to market of additional solar PV by 2022.

“We need a comprehensive energy strategy that puts America back in control of our energy supply — one that creates jobs, reduces our dependence on foreign oil, keeps energy costs affordable for all Americans, and responds to the challenges of global climate change,” Klobuchar said, in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation will improve rural community energy resiliency and autonomy, spur economic activity, and improve public and environmental health.”

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