A bipartisan Senate bill would authorize a total of $25 million in grants over the next five years to help electric cooperatives expand their use of renewable energy by developing storage and microgrid projects.
Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., introduced the Expanding Access to Sustainable Energy (EASE) Act on April 11. Their goal is to give co-ops and rural communities access to funds and technical expertise from the Department of Energy to identify, evaluate and design storage and microgrid projects that rely on energy from renewable sources.
Individual co-ops and groups of two or more co-ops working together would be eligible to apply for grants to conduct feasibility studies, implement strategies to overcome barriers to energy storage, conduct detailed engineering assessments, perform a cost-benefit analysis and obtain technical assistance from experts. In return, co-ops must implement a public awareness campaign about their projects and report any energy cost savings and environmental benefits to the secretary of energy.
The available grants would be set at $5 million a year for five years, from fiscal 2020 through 2025. The bill includes a cost-sharing provision that could require some co-ops to get 20 percent or more of the funding for their projects from non-federal sources. The exact amount of the cost-sharing would be determined by DOE. The secretary of energy can reduce or eliminate the cost-sharing requirement, according to the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
The bill was inspired by the success of the Solar Utility Network Development Acceleration project, which ran from 2013 to 2018 and helped dramatically expand the use of solar energy throughout rural America. The project, created by DOE in partnership with NRECA, helped spur about half of the nation’s 900-plus co-ops to offer solar energy to their consumer-members, according to a 2018 NRECA report.
“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,” said Klobuchar, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president.
“This bipartisan legislation will improve rural community energy resiliency and autonomy, spur economic activity, and improve public and environmental health,” she said.
Moran said Kansas is already a leader in renewable energy and “an increased capacity for energy storage is imperative to grow and capitalize on our renewable energy potential.”
“This commonsense, bipartisan legislation will increase grid reliability and resilience, and help communities in Kansas and across the country—especially in rural areas—access energy supplies during peak usage periods with less burdensome rate hikes,” Moran said.
By storing energy using batteries or other technologies when the demand for power is low—such as in the middle of the night—co-ops can use it to help meet heavy demand during peak hours.
The senators noted that interest in the benefits of energy storage has increased because of the need to improve the capacity and resiliency of the grid and because solar and wind power, by their nature, can only produce electricity intermittently.
In 2017, the U.S. generated 4 billion megawatt-hours of electricity, but had only 431 MWh of storage available, Klobuchar and Moran said in a joint statement.
Erin Kelly is a staff writer at NRECA.