10 Top Pieces of Advice for Municipal Leaders in Implementing Renewables

Photo Credit: Zackin Publications Inc.

Authored by: Shea Williams, EDPR NA Distributed Generation Business Development Team

As municipalities across the U.S. are approached with options to adapt their energy strategies to include more renewable sources, they are met with a growing number of decisions. There are increasing opportunities for cities and public entities to join the movement towards a renewable future through a range of technologies including solar PV systems, EV chargers, microgrids, and battery storage. Renewable procurement can be motivated by varying factors including, but not limited to, community interest, location, finances, regulations, and city goals. With many options available and the demand for energy ever increasing, the unfamiliar process of pursuing onsite power generation can be intimidating to a municipal leader or a team responsible for assembling a municipal sustainability plan.

Energy strategy and implementation of sustainability goals involve various processes and stakeholders. In order to take action to realize these goals, there are many considerations municipal leaders should take into account. EDPR NA DG wanted to dive a little deeper into the experience of some municipal energy leaders across the U.S. who have made strides towards adopting clean energy in their communities. We met with a few municipal leaders working in the sustainable municipal planning sector to discuss the motivations and challenges behind the energy strategies for their regions, and what the practice of evaluating renewable energy adoption looks like in their cities. Based on the conversations EDPR NA DG had with these individuals, we put together a list of advice for municipal leaders that are in the early stages of exploring onsite renewable energy opportunities for their regions. Our hope is that this list, combined with the resource links that follow the list, provide a foundation, as well as encourage municipal leaders, in their exploration of onsite renewable energy technologies as part of their greater sustainability planning.

1. Know your landscape – Know the regulatory boundaries that you’re working with, understanding these boundaries will provide clarity to your options. Regulations vary by state and region on important topics like net metering, interconnection, and third-party financing. Understanding these factors will be crucial in establishing realistic goals and expectations.

2. Understand your scale – Sizing of renewable systems varies drastically, and the size of the system will be determined by the amount of energy that needs to be offset. For some municipalities, the desired scale may be large. Space and location will be essential points to consider based on what’s available.

3. Goal setting – Once the landscape and scale are determined, you can set achievable goals. What is motivating this decision, does the city have sustainability or environmental standards to meet or are there regulations to comply with? Setting specific goals was one of the top recommendations by one municipality leader who said they wouldn’t have been able to accelerate the process without goals. A goal can be codified for decision makers and stakeholders and enables productive discussion through the process.

4. Understand your local utility – The utility determines many of the net metering and interconnection rules for solar PV systems. The utility may have internal goals that could potentially support the city’s renewable energy projects. It is worthwhile to understand how your utility operates with its municipal customers. Sharing your renewable goals with the local utility can also help the permitting and interconnection process move faster.

5. Understand the financial adjustments – Cost is one of the most important aspects of energy decisions and pricing models of renewable energy systems can be compelling. One municipal leader described their transition to solar as “a no-lose process”; for a state that has high energy rates it’s a way to reduce the energy cost while being more sustainable, so it’s a win-win. There are many financing options available across the country, and it’s worthwhile to know what’s available in your area, including price competitive Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs).

6. Advocacy work in the community – Legislative or regulatory state level advocacy can be helpful in gaining widespread support and increasing public appeal. Working with different committees is a way to allow for further involvement in the topic. One area worthwhile to consider is the connection behind onsite solar generation and its impact on low-to-medium income (LMI) communities in providing equitable access to clean, renewable energy.

7. Form coalitions across the state – It could be helpful to work with advocacy, labor, and non-profit organizations in the region who have more local grassroots connections who can facilitate public education and awareness about renewable development in the community. Active supporters of clean energy initiatives and environmental activists may be interested in being a part of the project in some capacity.

8. Host a trainee program One municipal leader spoke to their recent experience with a trainee program for jobs associated with the new infrastructure. The trainee program can help hire individuals from the community that are underserved or underrepresented to learn the trade of solar from design to procurement. This is a way to involve community members, promote workforce development, and enable local economic growth as an outcome.

9. Work with other local municipalities – There’s a lot to learn from other cities that are having these same conversations. Others in the same state may be able to offer guidance based on their experience.

10. Don’t be afraid to act first – If you are interested in renewable energy for your community, speak up and start the conversation!

These 10 strategies can help to guide municipalities in their journey of exploring new, cleaner alternatives to traditional energy strategies as they take initial first steps. In addition to this received advice from these municipal leaders, here are some additional resources to review in pulling together your municipal sustainability initiative:

Sustainable Planning Toolkit: https://www.hud.gov/sites/documents/20399_ICLEI_SUSTAINABIL.PDF.

Planning for Sustainability in Small Municipalities: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0739456X16655601 How Community Leaders Can Plan (and Execute) a Sustainable City: https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/news/how-community-leaders-can-plan-for-and-execute-a-sustainable-city/559259/

A Strategic Approach for Sustainability and Resilience Planning within Municipalities: http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:830879/FULLTEXT01.pdf