Xcel will test resilience hubs in Minneapolis



Six blocks from George Floyd Square in the heart of south Minneapolis, the Sabathani Community Center is a mainstay in its culturally diverse neighborhood. One of Minnesota’s oldest nonprofits founded by African Americans, the center offers everything from a food shelf and clothes closet to seniors’ housing and small business offices. .

Soon, Sabathani will also add a “resilience centre” to this list, providing food, shelter, cooling and electricity in the event of power outages, heat waves and other emergencies which may increase. with climate change.

The community center is one of three sites selected for Xcel Energy’s Resilient Minneapolis project. State regulators last month approved the $9 million project as part of a broader plan to modernize the network. The company will partner with organizations led by BIPOC to develop solar and battery energy storage systems and microgrid technology at each site.

“These sites will be our first emergency response centers,” said Kim Havey, director of sustainability for the city of Minneapolis. “They will act as safe spaces from the elements and provide services such as food distribution, communications, energy and serve as a triage center for community members seeking support.”

Other partners include the Minneapolis American Indian Center and Renewable Energy Partners, a black-owned clean energy developer that also operates a green jobs training center in north Minneapolis. All three were chosen largely because of their ability to serve disadvantaged residents who are most vulnerable to the risks of climate change.

The concept of a resilience center appeared in the United States about ten years ago. Baltimore established the nation’s first resilience centers in 2014. The city, working with civic groups, has established seven centers where residents can go to when their air conditioning fails during power outages or when other climatic disasters occur. More than 40 cities are currently exploring resilience hubs, with Minneapolis being among the leaders in locating sites and delivering projects.

Renewable Energy Partners founder Jamez Staples said the origin of the pilot began several years ago when he and several government and nonprofit officials attended a microgrid boot camp. at the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado. The project they developed in Colorado is very similar to the Resilient Minneapolis Project, he said.

The project was a rare combination of nonprofits, climate activists, the city, and the region’s main utility working on a resilience project.

“It could be a national model,” Sabathani chief operating officer Ken Rance said last month. (Rance has since taken on a new job out of state.) The project creates an opportunity to reduce energy bills, train a diverse workforce and have a positive impact on the environment. Sabathani will install a 240 kilowatt solar panel and a 1 megawatt hour battery storage device.

The hosting institutions will pay for their solar installation and Xcel will pay for and own the batteries, which the utility can discharge during peak demand periods on the grid.

In the event of a disaster, Sabathani’s microgrid will play a vital role in providing shelter to the neighborhood and keeping the food shelf refrigerators running, Rance said.

The project comes on top of a building redesign that Sabathani carried out with the Center for Energy and the Environment that brought in LED lighting, smart thermostats and software capable of controlling 84 air conditioning units from a smartphone interface. The next will be a geothermal system that uses aquifers for heating and cooling, Rance said.

Sabathani Community Center in South Minneapolis. Credit: Courtesy

“I think there’s this misconception that black people don’t care about the environment, but that’s not true,” Rance said. “They are the most affected by climate change. Our building will allow them to talk about environmental justice and see that clean energy is a path to a good career.

Once a new roof is installed, the center will consider whether to add community solar as part of the Resilient Minneapolis project. Rance was also working to provide green jobs training in Sabathani with the help of Staples, which runs a North Side training center and will develop that neighborhood’s resilience center.

The Regional Apprenticeship Training Center in North Minneapolis already has a microgrid and a pilot project involving a virtual power plant. The Resilient Minneapolis project will install 1.1 MW of solar panels on three Minneapolis Public School buildings on the north side and a 3 megawatt-hour battery on one building.

Staples said funding for solar power has not been established and no decision has been made about its development as a community solar garden. Renewable Energy Partners has an agreement to install solar power in Sabathani and Staples hopes to work on the Minneapolis American Indian Center solar project.

After a recent heat wave in Minneapolis, Staples said neighborhood microgrids in the future will be called upon to provide electricity during peak summer hours as demand for air conditioning increases. “Ultimately, microgrids would help power the grid during hot summer days and in the event of a power outage, people will have somewhere to go,” he said.

Minneapolis American Indian Center executive director Mary LaGarde said the resilience projects are part of her $30 million capital renovation and expansion campaign. The center will install a 200 kilowatt solar panel as part of its renovation and addition and combine it with 1 MW hour of battery storage and a natural gas/diesel backup generator.

“With this we will be able to add that [resiliency] to our project,” LaGarde said. “Our goal is to create a Minneapolis American Indian Center that will be here for generations. And with the Resilient Minneapolis Project, we are getting closer to that reality.

The Indian center offers a federal workforce training program and LaGarde hopes to launch a solar training initiative through Renewable Energy Partners. “We want to be able to cultivate that relationship so that members of our community learn the trade and can work on our building,” she said.

Commissioner Joe Sullivan led much of the discussion at the Public Utilities Commission. “I think the most interesting and exciting thing about this is that Xcel is going to gain a lot of experience working with microgrids and seeing how they work,” he said. “At present, many organizations, universities, companies and entities are interested in microgrids. So having Xcel gain experience is going to be helpful for those entities to learn how they can integrate their [microgrid] systems in the larger system.

Sullivan sees the Resilient Project as a pilot project in which Xcel will share the results with other organizations as taxpayers absorb the cost. While applauding the project’s decision to locate microgrids in low-income communities, Sullivan pointed out that the endorsement was based more on learning how microgrids work in Xcel’s footprint.

The Minnesota Department of Commerce and a state consultant, Synapse Energy Economics, criticized the project. They argued before regulators that equity goals were ill-defined and unquantifiable. They said the utility hasn’t shown whether alternative technologies or other uses of the money might have provided more benefit.

“The lack of measures for hard-to-quantify claimed benefits and the complete lack of consideration of alternatives means that it is impossible to objectively determine whether RMP is reasonably likely to be in the public interest,” Synapse wrote. in an April 2022 filing with state utility regulators. In response to this criticism, Public Services Commissioner Joe Sullivan called for several metrics to be included in Xcel’s reporting on the program before regulators approve it.

The report goes on to note that the project could help Xcel learn how to integrate batteries and microgrids into its system, but given the low cost-benefit ratio, similar projects are unlikely to be replicated elsewhere. Projects should be online by summer 2023.

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