Cuyahoga County, Ohio, releases RFI in next step to create unique microgrid-centered utility

June 9, 2022
Cuyahoga County, Ohio, issued an RFI yesterday in its latest step to set up one of the nation’s most ambitious microgrid projects, which includes the creation of a county utility.

Cuyahoga County, Ohio, issued a request for information (RFI) yesterday in its latest step to set up one of the nation’s most ambitious microgrid projects, which includes the creation of its own county utility.

The RFI is a precursor to a request for proposals the county intends to issue for multiple microgrids developed in public/private partnerships. 

The county says in the RFI that it wants to develop clean energy “unencumbered by the costs, vested interests or a bias of legacy models.”

To that end, the RFI seeks information about possible models, timelines and microgrid technical capabilities, with an eye toward following up with a request for proposals for one or more private partners.

“Microgrids are a forward-thinking way to serve our community with reliable power in a time when weather and outages can be unpredictable,” said County Executive Armond Budish. “The release of this RFI will help us determine the best way to create a municipal electric utility that will advance social equity, mitigate climate change and bring jobs back into the region.”

Microgrid projects draw strong interest

With 1.2 million residents, Cuyahoga is the second most populated county in Ohio and includes Cleveland. Once a major center of heavy industry, the county hopes to parlay its microgrid endeavor and other resources to attract new manufacturing and commercial activity. 

The county said that multiple commercial and industrial businesses have already signed letters of interest to take service from a county-owned microgrid. Several other entities have expressed interest in becoming county utility customers, microgrid host sites or in leasing their substations to support the county utility, according to the RFI. 

“Stable and clean electricity are becoming more and more vital for regions to thrive. As things such as advanced manufacturing, transportation and communications depend more heavily on electric availability and as the planet depends more on clean energy, we think our county utility can be a difference maker for the region and an important model for other communities to hopefully emulate,” said Mike Foley, county sustainability director.

The complex project has had a long history, originating from a proposal to build a $100 million microgrid in Cleveland, Ohio — an initiative pursued by the city, the county, Cleveland Public Power and the Cleveland Foundation. When that plan stalled, the county decided to move forward on its own, setting up a template to build microgrids throughout its jurisdiction.

“Microgrids are a forward-thinking way to serve our community…” — Armond Budish, county executive

The RFI envisions the creation of energy districts governed by the county utility and focused on the high electric reliability standards (99.999% uptime) required by advanced manufacturers and data centers. The utility would foster development of microgrids and smart controls, along with other distributed energy resources, such as front-of-the-meter solar and batteries.

To realize its vision, the county expects to contract for a range of utility services, including design of business models and rates, recruitment of utility customers, management of the utility and oversight of microgrid and distributed energy development.

Responses due July 15

The county also intends to seek microgrid project developers for both single site and multicustomer districts that would provide the capital and insurance for the projects. It envisions contracting with engineering, procurement and construction teams for both microgrids and solar and storage projects.

As part of its effort to create the microgrid-driven system, the county passed an ordinance last fall that allows its public works department to operate a distribution utility. The county also helped two cities pass ordinances that grant franchise agreements to the county utility. 

Cleveland State University and Go Sustainable Energy, an Ohio-based consulting firm, are assisting the county. 

Responses to the RFI, available here, were originally due June 30, but the deadline has been extended to July 15.

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About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

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