Clean Energy Groups Technical Assistance Fund: 2021 Year-in-Review

By Marriele Mango, Clean Energy Group

2021 was another year of severe weather and power outages. No region of the country was immune.

In Texas, an isolated and fossil-fuel dependent grid was unable to withstand record-low winter temperatures, resulting in almost the entire state without power and at least 200 dead. Hurricane Ida decimated Louisiana’s centralized grid, leaving the entire City of New Orleans in the dark. At least ten senior citizens died when temperatures rose over 100 degrees and they were unable to access working air conditioning. An especially dry and windy January in California resulted in warnings of Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS), a temporary blackout initiated by the utility during times of heightened wildfire risk, for almost 300,000 residents.

California, Louisiana, and Texas are not outliers – grid instability and climate change are altering how every community perceives electricity and power generation. For those living in underserved and energy burdened communities, where the grid is more likely to be outdated and therefore more vulnerable to severe weather, residents are beginning to question if reliable electricity is a luxury for the wealthy, rather than recognizing it for what it is – a basic necessity.

While the disastrous implications of frequent and prolonged power outages have rightfully made headlines this year, an unprepared and unreliable grid does not need to be the new normal. Resilient power – solar photovoltaics paired with battery storage (solar+storage) – has gained traction as more municipalities, affordable housing developers, and community leaders become aware of the economic, environmental, and health benefits of resilient power.

The reality is that community leaders know why and where clean, reliable backup power is needed, but oftentimes lack the resources and internal expertise to take the first step. In order to address this gap, Clean Energy Group (CEG) continues to administer and expand upon its ground-breaking Resilient Power Technical Assistance Fund (TAF).

The TAF provides one-on-one expert support and small grants to critical service providers – such as nonprofit organizations, emergency management offices, affordable housing developers, fire stations, municipalities, and first responders – to conduct a solar+storage feasibility assessment at a specific facility. TAF awardees spearhead projects that serve low-income communities and/or Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities. The resulting assessment outlines how solar+storage could be implemented at the facility, including sizing, cost, backup power strategies, critical loads supported, and economic benefits.

This initial assessment that the TAF provides is a critical — and often overlooked — first step toward ensuring greater community resilience. This is especially true of smaller, community-based organizations that know why and how resilience is essential for their members but are unsure how to start the solar+storage process. TAF recipients consistently remark that they were able to better advocate for resilient power funding when they had the solar+storage assessment in-hand for their specific facility.

Since launching in 2014, the TAF has awarded over one million dollars — funding that went directly to supporting solar+storage development in under-resourced communities across 27 states, Washington, DC and Puerto Rico. This funding represents over 150 affordable housing properties and more than 175 critical community facilities. Throughout the solar+storage assessment process, CEG remains engaged and informed in order to best serve our community partners. TAF awardees are checked-in on periodically and encouraged to reach out with any questions or concerns. CEG also provides tailored educational opportunities and amplifies partners voices through webinars, case studies, and newsletters.

One TAF recipient, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, who received a TAF to fund an analysis of solar+storage feasibility for a youth center, stated: “[the TAF] provided us with preliminary technical information about the system size, costs, and feasibility that we needed. It was incredibly helpful to have a feasibility analysis done early on.”

This year’s awardees are working on a range of solar+storage projects, including:

  • Resilience hubs serving former coal communities in West Virginia
  • Residential resilience for off-grid Navajo Nation households in Utah
  • Senior housing in Ohio
  • Municipal offices in Florida
  • Residential resilience for a Habitat for Humanity community in South Carolina

Ten TAF-supported solar+storage projects were also completed this year, including:

  • Two Resiliency Hubs completed through the Baltimore City Community Resiliency Hub Program: Stillmeadow Community Fellowship, a church, and City of Refuge, a non-profit faith-based organization. Solar and battery storage will reduce utility costs, improve their ability to remain operational and serving their community during power outages, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and bring clean, reliable and resilient power to communities that have not had access thus far. You can learn more about these great projects here.
  • Five Community Health Clinics in Puerto Rico: Through the Solar Saves Lives initiative led by the Solar Foundation, Direct Relief and the Clinton Foundation, solar+storage systems were installed in community health clinics. In one of the five facilities supported by the TAF, a health clinic in Yabucoa, the solar+storage system will cover 60% of the clinic’s total load, including all refrigeration – essential to maintain temperature regulated medications and vaccines. You can learn more about Solar Saves Lives and each project here.

There are many more TAF-support solar+storage projects underway across the country:

  • The California Indian Museum and Cultural Center in California completed solar on their facility and have plans to install battery storage in 2022. Solar+storage will power the Center to continue providing community resources in the event of an outage, including operating a cooling center in the summer. “Our technical assistance grant from Clean Energy Group supported our efforts to verify the feasibility of our Resilient Native Generations project,” said Nicole Lim, Executive Director of the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center. “In serving our local tribal community, it is critical that we implement strategies that provide environmental and cultural resource protection and emergency response during wildfires and power outages.”
  • The Gleason Family YMCA in Massachusetts, who received a TAF award to explore how solar+storage could support YMCA community services in the event of a power outage,  is preparing to install solar+storage next year. Keith Estes, Facilities Director, shared “[The TAF] helped get everyone in the organization on board and helped confirm that solar+ storage was a good idea.”
  • The Lenox Center at A.B. Ford Park, an in-development community center for the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood in Detroit, used their TAF award to understand how solar+storage could allow the center to act as a resiliency hub in the event of an outage. The project is set to break ground in 2022. Speaking to their TAF experience Maria Galarza, Project Manager and Parks Planner for the City of Detroit, said “The technical assistance allowed us to figure out the system type and cost to have the information needed to advocate for funding to implement.”

CEG has established a goal to award at least 50% of TAF dollars to BIPOC-led projects. Of the 20 TAF awards made this year, totaling over $200,000, almost 40% of funding went to BIPOC-led projects. CEG will continue to work internally and with our partners, as well as regional and national networks, to ensure that the TAF directly funds BIPOC-led community organizations advocating for local and resilient power resources in their community.

In addition to the TAF, Clean Energy Group also offers the Resilient Power Leadership Initiative (RPLI), which provides $10,000 grants to community-based organizations working to build internal capacity around energy resilience. In addition to the grant, CEG provides one-on-one tailored technical assistance to awardees to help them further their resilience goals and objectives.

To date, CEG has awarded 15 RPLI’s. This year RPLI’s were awarded to BIPOC-led organizations in Washington, DC and Los Angeles, CA:

Former Executive Director Malik Lang stated that the RPLI grant “will support internal knowledge and capacity building to further empower the Faunteroy Center on addressing environmental justice and equity concerns with the community. This year’s objectives will be focused on increasing internal knowledge within the FCEC organization and community engagement regarding solar energy and solar-storage; furthermore, aspects of this knowledge building will be incorporated into the FCEC Summer Youth Program.”

Empower Program Coordinator, Jocelyn Del Real, shared, “Our community members feel the degrading toll of contamination in their health and when the lifespan of our neighbors and families are cut short, we advocate with the utmost urgency to advance zero emissions technology and infrastructure. When considering these systemic issues, building resiliency through clean renewable energy is a vessel to improve grid reliability, air quality, and ensure the path to zero emissions that the community has been fighting for.”

Continuing into 2022, CEG remains committed to our grassroots, nonprofit, critical service, and affordable housing partners across the country working on the frontlines of the climate and energy crisis. Now more than ever, resilient power systems need to be accessible, affordable, and available in communities disproportionately suffering from the consequences of climate change and energy insecurity.

Over the next three years, CEG has a goal to expand the TAF and RPLI programs to award another $1 million in funding. Year-after-year, we’re seeing more and more interest in resilient power. While this evolution is great, it has resulted in our foundation supported TAF funds being depleted much faster than in past years. Another $1 million or more over the next three years would allow for the expansion of the TAF to serve that many more community-led solar+storage projects across the United States. To support the Resilient Power Technical Assistance Fund and help CEG realize our three-year goal, please donate here.

If you’re interested in the Technical Assistance Fund or the Resilient Power Leadership Initiative, please visit here or reach out to Marriele Mango, Clean Energy Group Project Director at marriele@cleanegroup.org.