The launch of a new solar microgrid was celebrated last week in LaPlace, Louisiana.
Located at New Wine Christian Fellowship in LaPlace, the microgrid is the seventh and largest solar plus storage resilience hub constructed in recent years by grassroots organization Together Louisiana. The organization, which has plans to blanket the state with similar installations, calls its microgrids “community lighthouses.”
U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm marked the occasion by touring the site and attending the ribbon-cutting event on Thursday.
Community lighthouses serve vulnerable communities during times of crisis
Together Louisiana, a coalition of some 250 religious and civic groups, is one of the state’s largest grassroots organizations. Its mandates include assisting vulnerable communities with flood recovery, and its community lighthouses are the cornerstone of that work.
A community lighthouse is a community scale solar and battery storage microgrid sited at a church or community center. During extended power outages, the lighthouses will serve as resilience hubs, offering immediate aid to the community by providing heating or cooling stations, charging stations, food and medical aid distribution and other critical services.
LaPlace, which is located in St. John the Baptist Parish just west of New Orleans on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, was named the U.S. county most vulnerable to climate change by the 2023 Climate Vulnerability Index.
The region was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and again by Hurricane Ida in 2021.
New Wine Christian Fellowship, led by Pastor Neil Bernard who founded the nondenominational church in 1995, has been offering the community refuge during times of crisis since Katrina roared ashore.
Bernard told reporters that in the wake of Ida in 2021, the church “served 37,000 hot meals when people had nowhere to cook.” He added that they were also able to distribute nearly 2 million pounds of food, water and disaster goods from their 62,000-square-foot multipurpose facility.
In 2022, when the New Wine lighthouse project was announced, Bernard said he was excited because the microgrid will provide the church with even more resiliency to serve the neighboring community during times of disaster.
“This is an inspiration,” Granholm said after she toured the microgrid. “You've got a community that has banded together to solve what really is the biggest problem we're facing, which is these continued extreme weather events.”
Public and private funding used to build the microgrid
Funding for the community lighthouse project came from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and private funding sources such as the Greater New Orleans Foundation, which awarded Together Louisiana $1 million for the project last year.
Of the LaPlace microgrid, Granholm added, “This will be used – clearly -- because the last few years of these weather events are just the tip of the iceberg, unless we get our act together and reduce our carbon pollution.”
Together Louisiana has ambitious plans to erect microgrids across the state, including a network of 85 in New Orleans. The group aims to have a lighthouse within a 15-minute walk for any resident of the city.
In addition to their role in serving the community during disasters, the community lighthouse microgrids will provide clean, renewable energy on blue sky days, ultimately lowering energy costs for the hosts. Bernard said he expects the New Wine microgrid will reduce the church’s electricity bill by as much as 69%.
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