- The District of Columbia's PowerPath DC Governance Board plans to release a call for grid modernization concepts this month, to be followed by a formal request for pilot project proposals (RFP) in 2021. There are some concerns, however, that the process is not moving fast enough.
- The board oversees a $21.5 million pilot project fund created as part of the Pepco Holdings-Exelon merger approved by the D.C. Public Service Commission in 2016.
- The district's renewable energy goals call for 10% of the city's energy use to be sourced from local distributed solar generation by 2041. It's an "aggressive" goal that will require significantly updating the grid, according to Alexandra Fisher, chair of the PowerPath governance board and a policy analyst in the D.C. Department of Energy & Environment.
It has been four years since district regulators allowed Exelon to purchase Pepco, requiring significant grid modernization investment as a condition of the deal moving forward. The PowerPath board is working to advance an initial slate of pilot projects, funded by the companies, at the same time that Pepco is considering its own batch of non-wires alternatives (NWA).
Updating the District's energy grid is "going to require investment on the utility side and customer side of the meter," Fisher said. Along with bringing more renewable energy online, energy efficiency will play a major role in decarbonizing the city's energy use and reaching distributed energy targets.
"Solar is essentially going to be the main focus," said Fisher. "That's what we have access to — there's not a lot of land in a dense urban context. So this will be largely focused on rooftop solar."
The board is comprised of several other D.C. stakeholders and PSC staff serve as members and facilitators of the board. Pepco does not hold a seat on the board, but will weigh in as the pilot project selection process advances.
In a statement, the utility called the board an "important initiative that will help the District facilitate its clean energy goals" and said it looks forward to working with the group "in an advisory capacity as they select projects for funding.”
The board's "call for concepts" could go out in the next few weeks, said Fisher, and the process has been structured to capture a wide range of ideas.
The call for concept papers is "not overly deterministic," said Fisher. Papers do not have to be submitted by the group or company that would ultimately implement the project.
Once concept papers are submitted, the board will write an RFP calling for more specific grid solutions. Those could include microgrids, projects to boost grid hosting capacity, battery storage, communication enhancements and other approaches to bring more renewable energy online.
Right now, the board is aiming for March 2021 to finalize an RFP, but some members have expressed concerns that the process is not moving fast enough. It is not clear when the pilots would come online. "We're a bit early in this process to have definitive dates," said Fisher.
OPC indicated during the board's August meeting it is in favor of having a time frame, perhaps 30 days, where white papers could be submitted, and has also asked for clarity on what actions the board will be taking from now until December.
In a statement, the consumer advocate said it believes believes the board is "moving in the right direction" and has "taken significant steps in moving toward having a realistic timetable in selecting projects and moving toward helping the District meet its carbon neutrality goals."
Outside of the PowerPath pilot process, Pepco is also developing its own NWA demonstration projects, including a pair of battery storage projects.
The first storage project aims to indefinitely defer the need for a fourth transformer at the city's new Mt. Vernon Substation; a feasibility study is expected to be completed by the end of this year. The second battery project involves installing storage at the Congress Heights Substation, where Pepco is considering deploying a utility-owned 1 MW three-hour battery to defer development of a new Alabama Avenue substation.
Fisher said a major focus of the PowerPath board will be ensuring projects "are deployed across different wards and regions of the city ... and how projects benefit low and moderate income residents."
Environmental and social justice considerations will "ensure the benefits of grid mod accrue to all District residents," she said.