03 30, 2023

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Local government is a crucial institution for most Americans, helping to provide some of the most important services in the day-to-day lives of ordinary people. From water supply to emergency services to wastewater treatment, there are any number of crucial tasks that different local governments preside over that may normally be taken for granted by most citizens – until they stop working during a power outage. 

Power outages are on the rise

Power outages are a growing concern for all sectors of the country, from business to government to residential consumers. According to Climate Central 2020, the number of major power outages has increased 67% in the 20 years after 2000 – and that trend is expected to continue as extreme weather events increase in frequency and severity due to climate change. In 2022 alone, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there were 18 different billion-dollar extreme weather events – that is, an event that resulted in a loss of at least $1 billion. 

The responsibility of local government

The growing frequency of extreme weather can create challenges for local governments that rely on continuous energy to provide the essential services that their citizens need. Taxpayers expect that their money will create a robust, safe community. They aren’t willing to tolerate the results of losing the crucial government services that their taxpayer dollars fund – and these results can range from simple inconvenience to outright danger.

Electricity is essential to nearly every aspect of the modern way of life. Even during a power outage, citizens expect their local government officials to keep the lights on, water running, and emergency services operating. After all, there can be serious consequences in their absence:

  • If a wastewater plant loses power and cannot treat water, no water is being treated to remove pollutants, and the plant would fail to meet regulatory compliance.
  • If emergency services like fire stations or shelters lose power, equipment could be compromised and result in safety issues for communities.
  • If a water plant doesn’t have power for pumps, the plant cannot keep wells filled to provide water to the community they service.

To avoid consequences like these and ensure power continues to flow to essential services and infrastructure, important that local government officials put a community energy resilience plan in place.

How local governments can take action on community energy resilience

Energy resilience allows local government buildings and infrastructure to continue energy-reliant processes during a grid outage. To maximize taxpayer dollars and maintain continuity of services, local governments must have a community energy resilience plan in place. And it must be a modernized approach to energy resilience, since many local governments face increasing expectations from their citizens – such as demands to reduce carbon emissions, increase sustainability, or find budget efficiencies – in combination with the challenges of an evolving regulatory landscape. 

An energy resilience strategy centered exclusively on generators powered by diesel or other fossil-fuel based sources likely will not meet the carbon emission reduction demands of citizens, the current or future regulatory requirements of a community’s state and federal governments, and perhaps the local government’s own emissions goals. Instead, local government officials should look to ensure they have a modern solution that includes the latest technology that can help to minimize emissions.

Planning for energy resilience can be difficult for some local governments – in the wake of COVID-19, many are facing deferred maintenance backlogs and tight budget constraints, and supply chains have made the work of project execution even more difficult. And yet this current moment offers a great deal of opportunity for local governments, who may have new or increased credits and incentives available to them through the Inflation Reduction Act. And the growth of the renewable energy industry means there are more flexible financing options than ever before.

5 steps to build a community energy resilience action plan

  1. Gather your stakeholders and form a task force

    Any successful energy resilience plan will require buy-in from key stakeholders. In different local governments, this sort of buy-in could take different forms – some towns may have a task force centered around roles like a facilities manager, fire chief, and a member of the water department, while others may secure buy-in from a town meeting. What’s crucial is getting the right people involved – individuals with a clear understanding of the challenges and opportunities at hand. By the end of this first step, you’ll want an understanding of stakeholder concerns and buy-in on priorities before embarking on the major task of building your energy resilience plan.

  2. Analyze your energy usage profile

    Energy resilience solutions are not meant to cover all energy loads during power outages, but instead typically focus on the most essential infrastructure, called a “critical load” – the power load needed to support systems that are absolutely required to continue operations during an outage. Determining your critical load is crucial, because using energy powering non-critical systems would lead to an overpowered and overpriced system that wastes both budget and energy.

    Working with an energy partner can help you understand your grid outage history, the electrical characteristics of your community’s facilities, and your priority infrastructure. That insight will enable you to prioritize loads for backup and find the best energy resilience solution to support that. Discover more on the process of planning and implementing energy resilience in our eBook, “How to Evaluate Your Energy Resilience Needs.”

  3. Understand your costs and technology options

    There are a variety of energy resilience solutions that can help you achieve your community’s goals, offering a range of durations to meet the needs of differently sized energy loads. In choosing a solution, you need to prioritize across different considerations, including load size and duration, cost and economic savings, and sustainability value. Typically, different solutions require different tradeoffs.

    Common energy resilience solutions for local government facilities include:

    • Backup generators are the classic example of energy resilience, but typically have negative sustainability value. 
    • Battery back-up systems of energy storage outfitted with back-up controls can serve the truly critical loads of a facility. 
    • Microgrids are the most complex resilience solution. Depending on their size, they can operate for hours to days when the grid is down. Microgrids can also be the most sustainable option for energy resilience – for instance, Enel completed in 2022 a solar + storage microgrid at Alltown Fresh service station in Ayer, Massachusetts, to support continuous power for service stations near evacuation routes across the state during emergencies.

    Download our eBook, “How to Evaluate Your Energy Resilience Needs,” to obtain a graphical decision tree to help guide you through the process of finding the best energy resilience solution for your community – and better understand the different solutions and which may be best for you.

  4. Find a trusted energy resilience partner

    Many local governments have difficulty aligning on priorities and find it hard to move to more technical steps like analyzing energy usage or understanding potential energy resilience systems. Working with an energy resilience partner that specializes in energy resilience solutions can simplify this process, as their expertise in the area can help guide you through the many steps involved. All energy resilience plans will require a good deal of collaborative work between a local government and energy resilience partner, so it’s crucial to ensure you choose a partner that has the technology and the experience to maximize your investment.

  5. Execute your community energy resilience plan

    Executing your community energy resilience plan is, of course, the biggest part of the process. From contract to construction, from maintenance to management, the execution is what leads to energy resilience. It’s crucial to have an energy resilience partner in place that not only tailors your solution to your specific needs but can also help you to maximize all opportunities for financing and incentives and make sure all operations run smoothly through the life of the system.

Next steps – energy resilience beyond energy continuity

Energy continuity, though, is just one part of what it means for a local government to be truly “energy resilient.” The energy landscape is transforming, and there are now a variety of ways in which local governments can and should be resilient in their energy strategy to minimize risk. Operational resilience is what has previously been typically thought of as “energy resilience” and can help you to continue providing energy-reliant services to your community during a grid outage, but there are now other crucial aspects to true energy resilience. Economic resilience can help to keep energy prices stable in the face of growing volatility, and regulatory resilience can help to lower emissions as stakeholder and regulatory demands increase.

Find out more about the full spectrum of energy resilience solutions and how they could benefit your community in our new eBook, “How to Evaluate Your Energy Resilience Needs.”

The energy resilience process is a complex one, and no one solution will fit every community’s needs – you will need to discuss with an energy resilience partner like Enel North America to find what works best for your particular circumstances and priorities. Contact Enel North America today to discuss your energy resilience needs.

Learn more about advancing your energy strategy by leveraging our integrated energy solutions.