Strategically Engaging Partnerships to Support Local Energy & Climate Planning in the U.S.

Guest blog by Dr. Dale Medearis, Northern Virginia Regional Commission

Over the past decade, there has been a steady rise of involvement on the global stage by U.S. local governments. The challenges of climate change to U.S. cities and counties are often a key driver behind this engagement. The slow evolution of global and national-level programs has often compelled U.S. local governments to look for partners and advocates with international experience to cut greenhouse gases emissions and shield themselves from the effects of rising sea-levels, intense storm events, or rising heat.


Despite their best efforts, international work led by U.S. local governments generally lacks elements such as strategic focus, an adequate allocation of governmental resources (especially staff and financing) and clearly identified priorities. U.S. local governments lack the bandwidth to evaluate or prioritize public and private-sector partners to work with and sufficiently define any successful effects potentially benefitting their jurisdictions. Consequently, global engagement by local governments, especially on energy and climate matters, tends to be thick on events but thin on outcomes. Worse, local level engagement on matters of climate or energy is often to be disparaged as boutique or wasteful.


The Opportunity


For approximately 20 years, the Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC), a regional council of governments representing the 13 local counties, cities, and towns of Northern Virginia, has developed and applied a model of public and private sector engagement that has helped breakdown many of the negative stereotypes about internationally inspired work performed at the local level. NVRC’s model prioritizes the global public and private sector entities with which it works based on global economic interconnectedness (primarily state-level trade, tourism, and foreign investment) as well as the unilateral transfer of policy and technical innovations from overseas to the Northern Virginia region.


The NVRC model of global engagement has particularly influenced the evolution of the region’s climate and energy plans with strong potential for replication across the U.S. In much the same way, EDPR NA DG has worked with partners to apply and tap into the global distributed generation team’s experience in deploying the latest technologies and onsite distributed energy solutions. The goal of these partnerships is to advise local governments, laying out all energy cost savings and emission curtailment options available, to help strategically meet regional sustainability goals or climate commitments.


Drawing from state-level investment data and their status as global pioneers in energy and climate planning, NVRC prioritized collaboration with public and private sector entities with experience in countries. Through strategic and long-term combinations of, policy analysis, workshops, and other knowledge transfer mechanisms, NVRC has drawn lessons from cities around the globe such as Stuttgart, Berlin, and Bottrop, and assisted NVRC in its ability to inform Arlington County’s Community Energy Plan, the Solarize NoVA program and NoVA Solar Map, the Four Mile Run watershed restoration programs.


However, there is more that can be done to expand awareness about the benefits of international public and private sector engagement at the local level. One practical starting point is the access, analysis and public display of data, metrics and graphics of job creation, earnings, and dollar flows within the boundaries of that local government from trade, tourism, and investment. Elected officials and their staffs – or the public at large – are often unaware of local-level job creation and economic development emanating from external investment.


These metrics converge ideally with the NVRC global business model. Multinational corporations employing workers in Virginia hail from Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, investing in industries ranging from Aerospace/Defense to Container Shipping, Electronics, Financial Services and Telecommunications. All in all, these companies employ approximately 150,800 workers, or nearly 5 percent of all Virginia employees in the private sector[1].


For example, Germany is the largest foreign investor in the energy sector in the U.S. and in Arlington County. Moreover, for the period 2015-2020, over 50% of all foreign investment in Arlington County emanated from Germany – approximately $190,000,000 ([2]). From the Virginia coastline all the way up to New England, companies with European expertise, such as Ocean Winds (OW) - the joint venture between EDP Renewables and ENGIE - are currently constructing the largest offshore wind farms in the United States.


This type of synergy plays out across parts of the Northern Virginia energy and climate landscape. For example, REHAU, an Erlangen-based multi-national polymer manufacturer with North American headquarters in Leesburg, builds geothermal heating and cooling systems and energy efficient window technologies to the schools of Northern Virginia[3]. Volkswagen and its subsidiary Electrify America, based in Reston, are building electric vehicle infrastructure across Northern Virginia.


Workforce Development and the Role of Higher Education


This global dynamic, when strategically applied, can play out symbiotically at the local level. To meet Northern Virginia’s large demand for a trained workforce, global players working in the energy sector can serve as portals to convey the workforce training models. Partners such as EDPR NA Distributed Generation and their global counterparts in the EDP Group can work with local schools to apply elements of the paid apprenticeship model. In Northern Virginia, a modest manifestation of this might mean that students can be paid while simultaneously receiving training in a skill AND receive school credit. This especially becomes a game changer in regions where a complete renewable energy supply chain can be developed, sparked by involvement of vocational training and local colleagues and universities including George Mason University. Beyond training, George Mason is providing students with experiential opportunities through a pilot project with the City of Manassas to develop a community-based climate action plan. Academic programs plus practical experience is critical for successful workforce development.


Conclusion


We see here that the local governments of Northern Virginia are both globally engaged and committed to long-term sustainable climate policies. Over 400 global firms have made Northern Virginia their home in North America. Moreover, since 2008, local governments such as Fairfax and Arlington counties established themselves as national pioneers with the 2008 launch of “Cool Counties”. The NVRC model of global engagement, especially the prioritization of global players and the import of policy innovations through partnerships with regional academic institutions, can help move local global engagement from the margins to the mainstream. EDPR NA DG Contact:

Louis Langlois

E: louis.langlois@edp.com


Northern Virginia Regional Commission Contact:

Dr. Dale Medearis E: dmedearis@novaregion.org


About EDPR NA Distributed Generation At EDPR NA Distributed Generation (EDPR NA DG), accelerating the adoption and success of distributed generation is at the core of our mission. EDPR NA DG provides cutting edge innovative renewable energy services to the entire North American region. Built on long-standing relationships with developers, power generators, corporate purchasers, municipalities and local communities, EDPR NA DG delivers a full suite of offerings ranging from financing and development to construction and operation of energy and storage assets poised to scale. To date, EDPR NA DG has an operating capacity of 86 MW, with a near-term pipeline of more than 200 MW, across 200+ sites in 20 states. For more information, visit www.edprnadg.com.


EDPR NA DG is part of EDP Renewables (Euronext: EDPR), a global leader in the renewable energy sector and the world's fourth-largest renewable energy producer. With a sound development pipeline, first class assets, and market-leading operating capacity, EDPR has undergone exceptional development in recent years and is currently present in 25 international markets (Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, France, Greece, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Hungary, Chile, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, China, Taiwan, Japan the United Kingdom, and the United States). 

About the Northern Virginia Regional Commission

The Northern Virginia Regional Commission (NVRC) is a regional council of thirteen member local governments in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. According to Virginia’s Regional Cooperation Act, NVRC is a political subdivision (a government agency) within the Commonwealth. For more information, visit: https://novaregion.org/.