Building a Resilient Energy Plan. Step One: Diverse Community Engagement

Photo courtesy of MountainTrue

This post is the first in a series of blogs that will follow the efforts of Western North Carolina’s Energy Innovation Task Force to reduce peak load in the region through demand response, energy efficiency and clean energy solutions. SACE participates in the Task Force’s Peak Reduction and Programs working groups.

Asheville, North Carolina is no stranger to sustainability. Nestled in the rolling hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the City was one of the first in North Carolina to adopt a Sustainability Management Plan in 2009, which established a municipal carbon reduction goal of 4 percent each year. In 2013, the City implemented an LED streetlight replacement program, replacing over 9,000 aging streetlights with a more efficient LED version, and has experienced a 28.6% reduction in its municipal carbon footprint since 2008.

So it should be no surprise that the City and surrounding region is one of the first in the state to partner up with a diverse set of stakeholders to develop a strategic plan to safely, cleanly and reliably meet the area’s energy needs and reduce its carbon footprint. But there’s an even larger environmental incentive in the City’s most recent collaborative effort. The community is working together to avoid the need to construct a new 186 megawatt (MW) natural gas generation plant in 2023 to meet the utility’s forecasted growth in demand.

The Western Carolinas Modernization Project requires the retirement of two coal-fired generation units (379 MW combined generating capacity) at the Duke Energy Progress (DEP) Asheville Plant by January 2020.  The NC Utilities Commission ordered that the coal-fired units will be replaced with two new 280 MW combined cycle natural gas-fueled units (560 MW combined generating capacity), 15 MW of solar generation and 5 MW of battery storage. However, in its ruling the Commission denied DEP’s request to build a third, contingent natural gas-fueled 186 MW simple cycle combustion turbine unit in 2023, stating that “additional time exists to determine whether other measures will remove the need for the CT unit at the Asheville Plant.” These measures include demand response, energy efficiency, renewable energy and battery storage.

Energy Innovation Task Force. Photo credit: MountainXpress

To ensure the parties work together to reduce peak load, the NC Utilities Commission included in its final order a requirement to annually report on the progress of a collaborative group of stakeholders:

“DEP shall file with the Commission a progress report annually in this docket and the report shall include actual accomplishments to date on its efforts to work with its customers in the DEP-Western Region to reduce peak load through demand-side management, energy efficiency or other measures, and on DEP’s efforts to site solar and storage capacity in the DEP-Western Region, with the first report due one year from the issuance of the full order.”

To meet this requirement, the Energy Innovation Task Force (EITF) was established in May 2016 as a partnership between the City of Asheville, Buncombe County and DEP. Members of the EITF represent a diverse set of community interests – including local government, environmental and clean energy advocates, education institutions, large and small businesses, and local residents – with a common interest in building an energy plan for the region that is smart, clean and reliable.

To streamline the workload and focus on the most impactful initiatives, the task force is divided into four working groups: Programs, Technology, Community Engagement and Peak Reduction. Over the last six months, the working groups have met to outline objectives, research new program opportunities and collect data on existing programs and projections for future load growth. Using this information, the EITF leaders will set strategic goals for the group, including the estimated amount of peak load reduction that can be accomplished through DSM and EE.

There is still much work to do, but the group is dedicated to developing a plan that is impactful and achievable. If successful, this collaboration could present an opportunity to create a replicable model for other communities and utilities to work together to build a smarter, cleaner and more resilient energy future.

Please stay tuned for the next blog in this series – Step Two: Understanding the Baseline

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