The urban microgrid: smart legal and regulatory policies to support electric grid resiliency and climate mitigation.

Author:Jones, Kevin B.
Position:Introduction through II. The Microgrid Case Studies B. An Urban Microgrid Within a Dense Urban Network: The NYU Microgrid 2. The NYU Microgrid, p. 1695-1725 - Smart Law for Smart Cities: Regulation, Technology, and the Future of Cities
 
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Introduction I. Urban America, The Electric Grid, and Our Climate A. The Municipal Role in Microgrids 1. The Increasing Need for Urban Electric Grid Efficiency and Resiliency B. The Origin of Federal Smart Grid Policy C. Overview of Microgrid Development II. The Microgrid Case Studies A. An Urban Microgrid Serving a Common Footprint: UCSD and the Philadelphia Navy Yard 1. UCSD's Microgrid Facility 2. Current California Policies Affecting Microgrids 3. Philadelphia Navy Yard's Commercial Microgrid 4. The Electric Regulatory Regime in Pennsylvania B. An Urban Microgrid Within a Dense Urban Network: The NYU Microgrid 1. The Need for Grid-Hardening in NYC 2. The NYU Microgrid 3. NYC Microgrid Support and Efforts a. Federal Support for Microgrids in New York b. New York State Support for Microgrids c. NYC Microgrid Efforts 4. State Public Service Regulation 5. NYC Municipal Authority--Public Property and Utility Service Territory Franchise Rights 6. Remaining Law and Policy Issues C. Connecticut's Microgrid Pilot Project 1. Project Funding and Administration 2. The City of Hartford--Parkville Microgrid Proposal 3. Beyond the Pilot Project III. Advancing Urban Microgrid Policy. Conclusion INTRODUCTION

Urban America has not always focused on being smart, clean, and efficient. As a matter of fact, back during Brooklyn's golden age, "houses were heated by coal: bituminous (made illegal somewhere along the way), anthracite, or something the ads called 'Blue Coal.'" (1) When it came to urban energy resources "coal was the fuel for heating, [and] gas was the fuel for cooking. Wood had become old-fashioned and electricity was newfangled...." (2) Since that time, we have made major progress in eliminating the dominance of coal for urban heating and simultaneously reduced the impact of urban air pollution. Climate change concerns have risen on the list of urban priorities, both from the perspective of the scientific predictions regarding the impending challenges posed by rising global temperatures, as well as the immediate impacts of severe weather events. As our cities begin to seriously engage with these issues, it is clear that our energy policies must rapidly evolve in order to mitigate and adapt to the challenges of a changing climate.

Electricity is at the heart of this necessary energy transformation. As Amory Lovins notes in his book Reinventing Fire, "[e]lectricity--along with the digital information and communications systems it enables and requires--provides the vital root system that sustains our economy. Electricity has become the connective tissue of the Information Age." (3) Electricity is critical to the continued development of our digital economy because it is "clean, efficient, precise, and flexible, ensuring that major infrastructure systems including communications, buildings, industry, and even transportation will continue to shift to electricity as an energy supply source of choice." (4)

A growing focus of our national energy policy includes transitioning toward smarter energy technologies and policies. (5) Over time, these policies and technologies have become a key component of the transformation toward smart cities. Municipalities, as well as technology companies such as General Electric, IBM, and Siemens, are looking toward smart technologies as solutions to urban infrastructure issues. (6) From an energy perspective, a smarter grid offers a real opportunity for forging ahead, simultaneously on climate change mitigation as well as on adaptation. This opportunity is twofold: reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and improving urban energy security and resiliency. (7) Microgrids are one of the smart energy technologies that has been gaining increasing attention in the urban context. A microgrid is "a group of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources within clearly defined electrical boundaries that acts as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid. A microgrid can connect and disconnect from the grid to enable it to operate in both grid-connected or island mode." (8) Urban microgrids are one means to advancing energy sustainability, system resiliency, and consumer affordability goals. A critical component of urban microgrids is distributed energy resources, which are smaller scale resources (such as generation, storage, and efficiency) often located on the customer side of the electric meter. Over time, distributed energy resources are thought to be cleaner, more reliable, and, perhaps, even cheaper than our current larger scale and more centralized electric grid.

From a societal perspective, a microgrid's relationship to the national electric grid can be analogized to the urban community's relationship to the nation state. Indeed, "[t]he authentic unit of political life, in effect, is the municipality, whether as a whole, if it is humanly scaled, or as its various subdivisions, notably the neighborhood." (9) Accordingly, local microgrids may be an appropriate building block for the future of our national electric system. Transitioning our electricity system away from the centralized supergrid structure toward a series of interconnected local microgrids could return the focus of our electric system to the city or urban neighborhood where it originated under Thomas Edison in the late 1800s. (10)

There is a strong argument that our "institutions, from local schools to community policing, from local churches to museums, are important for communities above and beyond the services they provide. Communities congeal around such institutions." (11) A microgrid offers to electrically link together these important community institutions in a manner which preserves the electrical lifeblood of the community even during the most severe weather events. Proponents of the trend toward smart cities have noted that "[t]he digital revolution didn't kill cities. In fact, cities everywhere are flourishing because new technologies make them even more valuable and effective as face-to-face gathering places." (12) The urban microgrid offers to preserve these important functions of cities even during the most extreme weather events.

This Article looks at both the opportunities and challenges facing urban microgrids by analyzing four urban microgrids that either exist or are under development in San Diego, California; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Hartford, Connecticut; and Manhattan, New York. In addition to describing the development of these four urban microgrids, this Article explores the legal and regulatory challenges facing this new urban infrastructure. The Article aims to examine the likely future success of microgrid implementation in offering a smart solution to urban climate change mitigation and adaptation. Part I of this Article provides an overview of microgrid policy and technical development. Part II examines four microgrid case studies. Part III explores the legal and regulatory issues and suggests complementary policies to further the public interest.

  1. URBAN AMERICA, THE ELECTRIC GRID, AND OUR CLIMATE

    1. The Municipal Role in Microgrids

      Municipal government has a special obligation to be involved in microgrid policy development because of the significant leadership role municipalities play in recovering from outages and other service disruptions associated with extreme weather events. Local government is the first body to react to a natural disaster. The Federal Emergency Management Agency recognizes this as a given: "[t]he local government maintains control of all assets used in the response and recovery efforts, regardless of the source of those assets. Local governments must plan and prepare for this role with the support of the state and federal governments." (13) In order to respond to emergency circumstances, the municipal government needs to be aware of its local power system. Much like state legislatures acting as laboratories for policy, (14) local communities have the ability to act as test development sites for early microgrid projects. Community microgrid projects present opportunities for multiple benefits. Citizens, whose electric services are interconnected with the microgrid and the centralized grid, should receive power that is, on balance, of a higher quality and more reliable nature. Despite these benefits, microgrid installation faces significant financial, legal, and regulatory barriers.

      1. The Increasing Need for Urban Electric Grid Efficiency and Resiliency

      In addition to the traditional challenges of an increasingly centralized grid that often relies on "antique" technology, today's grid faces new challenges from extreme weather events. Weather events are the number one cause of power outages. 15 Increasing temperatures, decreasing water availability, increasing storms, flooding, and rising sea level impact the energy sector. (16) For instance, increasing sea level rise and storm surges pose risks to coastal thermoelectric facilities. (17) The increasing intensity and frequency of flooding pose additional risks to inland thermoelectric facilities, and increasing intensity of storm events increases risks to electric transmission and distribution lines. (18) During a power outage, homes and businesses have no light, heat, or electronic power, which reduces residential quality of life and costs the U.S. economy billions of dollars a year. (19) Insecurity in the electric system is not unique to one region or city. Grid failure in one place in a network, radial, or loop system can be felt throughout that system. (20) Storm related power outages cost the U.S. economy $ (20-55) billion annually. (21)

      A different, but equally important concern with the traditional grid is that the electric power sector is the largest source of carbon dioxide (C[O.sub.2]) emissions in the United States. (22) This is primarily because of its heavy dependence on fossil fuels, which account for about eighty-seven percent of the energy consumed in the United States. (23) As a...

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