Co-ops Prepare for Sept. 15 New ERA Letter of Intent Deadline
There is still time for electric cooperatives interested in pursuing financial support for new technology through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Empowering Rural America (New ERA) Program. Interested co-ops have until Sept. 15 to submit a letter of intent (LOI) to participate. Congress included the New ERA program a year ago as a part of the Inflation Reduction Act. The goal of the $9.7 billion program is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through clean technologies.
“I also want to emphasize, since there’s been so many funding opportunities out there that, hey, co-ops are the sole eligible entities [for New ERA], including current and past RUS [Rural Utilities Service] borrowers … It’s really just for co-ops,” said Milton Geiger, NRTC’s VP, Smart Grid Solutions during a recent NRTC webcast. USDA/RUS will be providing support in the form of loans, grants, grant/loan combinations and potential refinancing of existing loans for clean energy projects.
In recent weeks since USDA published a notice announcing the Sept. 15 deadline, NRTC and other organizations have been offering advice to members composing their LOIs. While providing a list of plans for technology deployments eligible for funding, utilities should be as detailed as possible. Co-ops they should not be intimidated by the approaching deadline, however. “It’s easier than a full application … it’s a technical description of 1,500 words or less. You’re not writing a novel here,” Geiger said.
But USDA will be scoring the LOIs, which should have information including details about the planned technologies, a deployment timetable ending by 2031 and descriptions of how the project would benefit the co-op’s community.
“You don’t have to feel like you’ve got your community benefits plan 100% buttoned up at this stage. But foreshadow what you’re thinking. Give [USDA] some ideas; what they may see if you’re invited back for a full application, I think can only help at this stage,” said Madeleine Klein, managing director, policy and market strategy for NRTC partner ENGIE, during an ENGIE-sponsored webcast.
ENGIE has published a helpful Quick Reference Guide with detailed instructions on how to file an LOI in the New ERA proceedings.
ENGIE works with NRTC to deploy solar and storage systems for rural cooperatives. A poll of members in the NRTC webcast showed that 91 percent were mainly interested in solar and storage projects. “That’s kind of nice. That is the one [category] that fits most cleanly into the New ERA funding,” Geiger said.
NRTC is available to help members deploy several other utility technologies that could be eligible for funding. Nathan Holland, NRTC’s Grid Intelligence Solutions Director, summarized some of those technologies:
- Distributed Energy Resources Management Systems (DERMS). Allows utilities to integrate several technologies from a centrally managed system. “You can bring a lot of different assets into this solution. It can be something as simple as just a smart thermostat program or a smart water heater program,” Holland said. “You can use this if you’re going to be submitting some storage assets at utility scale. You could use this this solution to do site load forecasting and dispatch of your storage assets. So, it’s a really a flexible platform.” NRTC works with AutoGrid Systems to deploy DERMS.
- Water Heater Control. Holland pointed to some areas of the U.S. where solar generation outpaces demand. “You can use water heaters to soak up some of that excess solar generation during the middle of the day. By using hot water in the morning, and you don’t let that water reheat right away, you’d hold that energy consumption until the solar generation is at a peak. So that will offset some greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. NRTC partners with Armada Power to provide web-based water heater control.
- Volt/VAR Optimization. By managing voltage at all points, “we’ve seen about a 2 to 4 percent system demand reduction across the whole system. We have had some co-ops that have seen more than that in certain seasons,” Holland said. NRTC offers EDGE voltage control software through Dominion Voltage Inc. (DVI).