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March 21, 2023

From the CEO's Desk Newsletter

CEO Nick Chaset

Energy Resilient Municipal Critical Facilities

By installing solar and battery storage on 30 critical facilities, EBCE is using clean energy to improve public safety.

The Robert Wasserman Fremont Police Complex, with an 872 kW solar canopy (Source: City of Fremont)

EBCE is putting clean energy to work, using solar power and batteries to provide backup power to public safety facilities during outages, making East Bay communities more secure.

The Resilient Critical Municipal Facilities Program will bring reliable power to 30 “critical facilities” that provide fire, safety, and emergency operations to communities.

By using onsite solar and batteries, facilities can operate through outages without the risk of running out of fuel for diesel or gas generators. Plus the solar and batteries help pay for themselves when the grid is running, by cutting utility bills.

Backing Up

The project kicked off with a 2019 grant from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), who were interested in alternatives to dirty diesel backup generators.

EBCE worked with the engineering firm ARUP to assemble a list of hundreds of critical facilities across its service territory, ranging from fire stations and emergency operation centers, to libraries and community centers.

Each site was screened based on natural hazard exposure, service to the community, and solar and battery potential. Initial engineering was done for each site, identifying a total potential of 10 megawatts (MW) of solar and 25 megawatt-hours (MWh) of storage.

JP Ross, EBCE’s Vice President of Local Development, Electrification and Innovation, says this pre-development work was key to making the project work and getting a good price from the market. “All that work gives the developer more confidence that it is a viable portfolio,” he says. “Developers would not have been bidding on one or two projects, but the whole portfolio attracted a lot of interest.”

As it is, the portfolio of 30 facilities in San Leandro, Berkeley, Hayward, and Fremont will move ahead on a proof of concept pilot (Phase 1). The projects total 3.1 MW of solar panels and 6.2 MWh of battery storage.

Resilience for Free

EBCE will serve as the main point of contact for the cities, managing billing, scheduling regular maintenance, handling repair requests and site access, and providing staff orientation.

EBCE selected (PDF)Fremont-based Gridscape Solutions as the project developer and Sunwealth LLC as the project owner. Gridscape previously installed a solar + storage system on three Fremont fire stations (PDF), as a demonstration project funded by the California Energy Commission.

A fire station in Fremont is home to a prototype microgrid, developed by Gridscape Solutions. (Photo: California Energy Commission)

EBCE developed a standard power purchase agreement (PPA) with the Cities prior to issuing this Request for Proposals. This standardized approach benefits all parties by dramatically lowering the legal costs. “The benefit is that Sunwealth signs one PPA and EBCE connects it to 30 different projects,” says Ross. “This helps the cities aggregate volume and further lowers the cost.”

The PPAs are priced on par with current energy costs. “Our promise to the cities was that it wouldn’t increase costs, at the city level, over a 20 year period,” says Ross.

The result for member cities will be no upfront costs, no new procurement or maintenance expertise required, and energy bill certainty -- with reliable backup power during grid outages thrown in for free.

A Resilient Future

“This project really shows the added value we can get through a community energy provider,” says Hayward Council Member Elisa Márquez and EBCE Board Chair. “Buying clean energy is great, of course, but this project really goes beyond that, using clean energy to improve safety in our communities.”

The project got a big boost with a $2 million grant from Congress, thanks to US Senator Alex Padilla, Representative Ro Khanna, and Representative Eric Swalwell.

“The funds for this project will help ensure that critical services are resilient to grid outages, which are becoming more common with earthquakes and wildfires exacerbated by climate change,” said Rep. Khanna.

The federal funds will specifically support solar and storage at 13 critical service sites in Hayward and Fremont.

Considering the strong progress with Phase 1 cities, EBCE has reached out to staff in all remaining member agencies to gauge interest in participating in the program. So far the Emeryville, Livermore, Oakland, and Pleasanton city councils have passed resolutions to participate in Phase 2, and EBCE staff is starting to review their facilities.

“With this approach, we’ve proven that the model works. We received very competitive pricing in the first Phase and are excited to engage additional Cities and rapidly expand this program,” EBCE’s Ross adds. “That bodes well for the next round.”

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