Under ‘Get Lit, Stay Lit’ Program, New Orleans Microgrid Provides Resilience to Help Feed the Houseless

Sept. 11, 2023
A microgrid in New Orleans has been deployed to help a nonprofit agency feed the houseless during power outages. But another resilience project that aims to benefit seniors in outage-prone Oakmont, California has stalled out for now.

A second microgrid has been deployed in New Orleans under the innovative Get Lit, Stay Lit program, and it’s expected to help nonprofit agency Grace at the Green Light serve about 175 houseless people breakfast every morning during outages.

But that wasn’t the case when Hurricane Ida swept through New Orleans in 2021. Grace at the Green Light lost power for eight days and had to scramble to provide services for the people it serves, said Sarah Parks, executive director of Grace at the Green Light.

Struggling to serve the houseless for eight days with no power

“We are here 365 days a year and for eight days we did not shut down and had to figure out how to make things work,” she said.

Most of the agency’s volunteers had left town, and it was difficult meeting the demands of the houseless, Parks said. Other nonprofits shut down, so Grace at the Green Light was the main hub for providing information, meals, COVID-19 masks and basic hygiene items, she said.

With no power, the nonprofit couldn’t serve as a cooling station or provide warm meals. The agency began by providing bagged lunches, then partnered with World Central Kitchen – which had a generator – to distribute hot food.

“This required a lot of manpower and long hours. We were trying to provide for the basic needs of people and keep them alive,” Parks said.

In July, Grace at the Green Light deployed a solar microgrid through the Get Lit, Stay Lit program, which provides restaurants and other institutions with solar microgrids – made up of solar panels and Tesla Powerwalls – at no upfront cost. The microgrid recipients pay about $200 a month to help fund the next microgrid in the program. This will create “evergreen” funding for more microgrids, the organization said.

New Orleans microgrids supported by federal funding

Launched by the nonprofit organization Feed the Second Line, the citywide Get Lit, Stay Lit program aims to equip 300 New Orleans restaurants with microgrids and designate them as places of refuge during hurricanes and storms. The effort received a $250,000 grant from the federal Department of Energy through its Inclusive Energy Innovation Prize, which invests in community-led innovation and entrepreneurship programs in regions underserved by federal funding.

Feed the Second Line recently announced that U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., has secured $3.69 million in federal funds for Get Lit, Stay Lit to add more microgrids.

Earlier, Afrodisiac NOLA, a Jamaican Creole fusion restaurant, deployed a microgrid consisting of two Tesla Powerwalls and about 30 solar panels, making it the first establishment to take advantage of the Get Lit, Stay Lit resilience initiative.

Parks said she’s excited that the microgrid at Grace at the Green Light will allow her agency to run freezers and coolers as well as serve hot breakfasts every morning during outages.

In outage-prone California, seniors face obstacles achieving resilience

But in another outage-prone community – this one in Oakmont, California – the Oakmont Energy Resiliency Project has encountered obstacles deploying a proposed community microgrid that would help protect residents – whose average age is 75 – during outages. In 2019, the community endured five blackouts because of fires and public safety power shutoffs by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), said Ken Smith, former chair of the Oakmont Energy Resiliency Project.

Under the Oakmont Energy Resiliency Project, the goal is to install a microgrid consisting of solar, storage and a fossil fuel generator to provide three days of power during outages.

The Oakmont Energy Resiliency Project committee Smith chaired has disbanded because the community’s homeowners association said it can’t give the group any more money under its bylaws, Smith said. In addition, Smith is facing obstacles obtaining funding and educating residents about the benefits of the project.

Just one guy trying to make a microgrid happen 

“It’s disappointing. I’ve been trying to make this happen, and I’m just one guy not getting support from the community,” he said. “I want the homeowners association board to support us.”

But the homeowners association isn’t the only organization that’s failed to lend enough support to jump-start the microgrid.

The project was accepted into PG&E’s Community Microgrid Enablement Tariff (CMET), which allows microgrids in the program to serve customers on adjacent properties during grid outages.

Microgrid industry members have said that CMET hasn’t yielded any new microgrids and complained that California regulators generally favor utilities in ways that undermine microgrid development. Smith, who said that the Oakmont microgrid project hasn’t moved forward under CMET, echoes their concerns.

“The investor-owned utilities give lip service about making microgrids work,” Smith said.

Seniors still have options

A few options for creating resilience are still available to the Oakmont seniors.

Smith is discussing with SunRun the possibility of creating a virtual power plant (VPP) that would require no upfront costs from the senior community. Right now, the Oakmont community’s three public centers have solar, and one activity center has a diesel backup generator. About 700 homeowners have installed solar, and 60% of those people have batteries, said Smith. SunRun would add more solar and batteries to create a VPP.

Hydrogen also on the table

The Electric Power Research Institute has talked to Smith and his associates about deploying a hydrogen-powered trailer that could provide resilience for a few buildings.

These possibilities aren’t what the Oakmont seniors’ resilience committee had originally envisioned, but if deployed they will help support the seniors during outages, Smith said.

Overall, however, he’s disappointed.

“I think there’s still hope for something to happen, but it won’t happen in the next few years,” Smith said.

About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

Twitter: @LisaECohn

Linkedin: LisaEllenCohn

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