Microgrids in the $1 Trillion Infrastructure Blueprint Pushed by U.S. Senate Democrats

Jan. 26, 2017
U.S. Senate Democrats included microgrids in the $1 trillion infrastructure blueprint that they proposed yesterday to create 15 million jobs over the next decade.

U.S. Senate Democrats included microgrids in the $1 trillion infrastructure blueprint that they proposed yesterday to create 15 million jobs over the next decade.

“I’m here to talk about energy infrastructure investments, which…will help save consumers money, grow our economy and create jobs. We are talking about things like transmission lines, grid modernization, grid storage, microgrid investments and the all-important cybersecurity investments,” said U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, during a news conference.

Called Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure, the Senate Democrat’s plan calls for $100 billion to modernize energy infrastructure. Other parts of the proposal also would fund roads, bridges, rail, hospitals, schools, ports, waterways, water and sewer infrastructure and broadband.

Hundreds of avoidable power failures occur each year, costing the U.S. economy between $25 and $70 billion annually, according to the blueprint. Microgrids keep the power flowing to their customers during power outages by islanding away from trouble on the grid and employing on-site energy. When the grid is functioning normally, microgrids supply services to strengthen its operations and lower costs.

“Incredibly, the World Economic Forum ranks our electric grid at 24th in the world in terms of reliability, just behind Barbados,” said the report.

Part of the problem is a tax incentive system that is overly complex, with 44 different incentives now in place for alternative energy, according to the report.

“More than half are too short-term, while others are targeted to niche technologies, impeding certainty and undermining the ability to stimulate significant, long-term investment in new energy technologies and the infrastructure necessary to support them,” the blueprint said.

Senate Democrats instead are pushing for a permanent incentive, sized according to a technology’s ability to save energy or provide clean energy. The incentive would apply to electricity generation, transportation fuels, and energy efficiency improvements.

“With this new certainty in the tax code, large investments to support next generation energy infrastructure will be viable, supporting new energy opportunities that will increase efficiency, protect the environment and bring down consumer costs,” the blueprint said.

The plan also calls for upgrades and transmission and distribution, and is meant to “improve the reliability and resiliency of our electric power grid, protect against cyber-attacks, and prepare for more locally generated renewable energy.”

Senate Democrats expect the energy investments to result in 1.3 million new jobs.

Why microgrids in the $1 trillion infrastructure blueprint

The idea of including microgrids in the $1 trillion infrastructure blueprint won praise from Rob Thornton, president & CEO of the International District Energy Association (IDEA), which includes the Microgrid Resources Coalition (MRC).

“IDEA is pleased that both the Senate and the Administration recognize the importance of investing in infrastructure to stimulate job growth and support key segments of the US economy, including critical energy infrastructure in cities, communities and campuses,” he said.

IDEA and MRC advocated for microgrids, combined heat and power (CHP) and district energy at a Senate briefing on Capitol Hill in early December.

Thornton said that the technologies offer tremendous potential “to strengthen and modernize the grid while enhancing economic resiliency with more sustainable, secure energy services for customers.”

By way of example, he described the Boston area’s Veolia Kendall Station Green Steam CHP project, which he said generated over $21 million in direct labor investment in high quality jobs for pipe fitters, construction, electrical and other trades while producing significant energy and environmental community benefits.

“IDEA sees potential for hundreds of such projects in communities across the US,” Thornton said. “As discussions on Capitol Hill unfold over the next few months, there are likely to be multiple pathways for industry growth including direct funding, private/public partnerships and innovative tax and financing approaches.  We look forward to working with key partners and government leaders to identify appropriate strategies for district energy/CHP microgrids.”

Want to learn more about microgrids and see firsthand how cities like Boston create jobs and energy resiliency? Attend the Microgrid 2017 Conference and Exposition in Boston, November 6-8.

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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.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

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