Stakeholder Listening Session on Rural Energy Pilot Program

Stakeholder Listening Session on Rural Energy Pilot Program

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Welcome to the USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service: Rural Energy Pilot Program Listening Session. We are glad you can join us. This session is being recorded. Participants are in listen-only mode. So, throughout the session, please use the chat box to

submit your questions and comments. To provide these verbally, you will be invited to raise your hand icon to be called on. We will open up this session for comments and questions later, at which time you will receive further instruction. This session is for you and we look forward to your engagement. To access closed captioning, use the link provided in your chat box, it will open in a new window.

A copy of today's slides is included as a handout and you may download it to your own computer. To get started, I would like to introduce Dr. Karama Neal, USDA Rural Development Administrator for the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, Dr. Neal. Dr. Neal? It appears we might have a technical difficulty with Dr. Neal.

In which case I invite one of her staff. Hi, this is Steffanie Bezuki and I am the Chief of Staff for Dr. Karama Neal. While we wait for her to get started. I'll go ahead and walk us through the agenda for today's program. Next slide, please. So, first of all, I'll welcome you guys here today. This is

such an exciting project. This is truly an opportunity to create something new. And I think I speak for everybody here on our team about how excited we are to hear just not about your ideas for this pilot program. But also, ways that past programs might have fallen short. Or if there's a problem in your community that this pilot program could help solve.

I hope that you all will keep that in mind and bring that today as you answer our questions and share those perspectives with us. So, the goals of this listening session, as I mentioned are to hear from each of you about what here at USDA, we need to keep in mind as we develop this pilot program. We're going to provide an overview of the Consolidated Appropriations Act. This is the legislation that provided the funding for this new pilot. We will then open it up for a comment. There will be a short

discussion at the end. And we will open it up to any feedback that folks had about the program. And then we will have closing remarks from our Deputy Administrator Mark Brodziski. Next slide. As I previously mentioned, these are our goals for this listening session. We are here, we are going to look for options to develop this new Rural Energy Pilot Program. The goal of this energy pilot program, this is about bringing renewable energy to our rural communities.

We are also seeing how we can advance environmental justice, racial equity, and economic opportunity. And very specifically through the development and deployment of distributed energy technologies, innovations and/or solutions. I think that some of the folks here today may be familiar with other programs that USDA has offered in the past to promote renewable energy, such as the Rural Energy for America Program. And we hope that you will also consider, bring that to your comments here today. And consider how we might be able to

build on the success of that program. We see this as it says a real time or virtual opportunity for public input. And this is really going to shape the purpose, the goal, who is eligible for the pilot, what kind of technologies will be eligible or funded through it, and what are the community impacts going to be? Coming back to those three priorities that I discussed as environmental justice, racial equity, economic opportunity in rural communities. Next slide.

Thank you. Here to assist us today we have Mark Brodziski, Deputy Administrator for the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, myself, the Chief of Staff. We're also joined by Tony Crooks, the Rural Energy Policy Specialist, Jamie Welch-Jaro, Christine Sorensen, and Gregory Dale. Jamie, Christine, and Gregory are all with our Rural Development Innovation Center.

And they will especially be helping assist in facilitating our conversation today. And hopefully, I'm checking again here, Dr. Neal, have you been able to join us and have a few words to say? Can you hear me? Am I audible? Yes, we can hear you please.

Excellent. Thank you so much. I apologize. I had a quick internet connectivity issue. Thank you so much for everyone for joining this webinar. today. We're thrilled to have you here. I appreciate everyone joining and look forward to hearing your, hearing from you, understanding your responses, your feedback and your ideas in relationship to the Renewable Energy Pilot Request for Information. On the next slide, I will like to share a few key goals of this listening session.

After that, you'll hear about the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which is funding the Renewable Energy Pilot. And then next after that we'll spend the bulk of our time together hearing from you. We want to hear your suggestions, your recommendations, your ideas. Then as we wrap up, we'll share some next steps so that you'll know what to expect going forward. Slide five, please.

We have two primary goals for today. So first, let's start with why. We want to hear from you so that we can develop options for the Renewable Energy Pilot Program to support the nation's critical energy needs for climate change, while at the same time advancing environmental justice, racial equity, and economic opportunity through the development and deployment of distributed energies and technologies, innovations and other solutions.

Second, you may know that we are encouraging written responses to our Request for Information. Those are due by April 29. And so, we thank all of you who have already submitted your comment letters. Today, however, you have a real time opportunity to provide input both orally and written in several aspects of the Rural Energy, of the Renewable Energy Pilot Program. We want to know what we should strive to accomplish through this funding.

We want to know what types of businesses, organizations, communities and others should be able to participate in this program. We want to know what technologies you think should be prioritized, and how impacts, outcomes should be measured and how success should be assessed? So, thank you in advance for all you will share today. We look forward to hearing from you. And now I'm happy to introduce my RBCS colleague, Anthony Crooks. Thank you, Dr. Neal. So, let's advance this slide, please. And let's start talking about the Renewable Energy Pilot Program, the Rural Energy Pilot Program and advance the slide please.

Advance the slide please... to slide eight. Can you hear me? Yes, I'm sorry, due to bandwidth issues, we, the slide is coming. So, go ahead.

So, the Consolidated Appropriations Act. I'm going to go ahead and get off camera to release a little bit maybe of bandwidth. Well. So, the consolidation, Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 provide, made available $10 million to USDA to develop a pilot program that provides financial assistance to rural communities to further develop renewable energy. The request for information and this stakeholder listening session are seeking input to help develop options for the Rural Energy Pilot Program.

And so, as Dr. Neal and Stephanie both said, we're seeking input on how this pilot program can be designed to meet our nation's energy needs, while combating climate change and prioritizing environmental justice, racial equity and economic opportunity through the use of distributed energy technologies, innovations and/or solutions. Next slide, please. Slide nine.

So, we're inviting you, again, to provide written comment, and to both to go to this link and view and then provide comment to the Rural Energy Pilot Request for Information. Next slide, please. So today, our comments, and our solicitation will be organized around these five topics. The Program, where we want to ask you questions about purposes and goals, metrics and standards. About Eligible Applicants, participants and partners and communities and I mean residences, not residencies, pardon me, industry, commercial entities. Eligible Technologies, generation, storage, controller or grid. Potential Impacts, again, environmental justice, racial equity, economic opportunity in rural areas. And how should we

measure that, those things. Next slide, please. Just a kind of a level set on what we mean when we talk about distributed energy. It's also known as distributed generation. It is electrical generation and storage performed by a variety of small grid-connected or distribution system-connected devices referred to as distributed energy resources or DER. DER are typically small-scale power generation or storage technologies. These are in the range of one kilowatt to 10,000 kilowatts, used to provide an alternative to or an enhancement of the traditional electric power system.

DER systems typically use renewable energy technologies. This includes small hydro, biomass, biogas, solar power, wind power, and geothermal power, and increasingly play an important role for the electric power distribution system. Next slide, please. So, let's talk a bit, just a second about how we're going to be using these comments.

The first thing we'll be doing is collecting them and synthesizing them because the things you tell us today are going to be important elements and features, opportunities and requirements of this pilot program. And so, we're making full use of the things you say to us today, and the things you write to us both in the chat and in the comments to the RFI itself. And we will use those things as elements of design and development. And with the intention of publishing a Notice of Funding Availability this fall, that will provide the opportunities and the requirements of the Rural Energy Pilot Program. So, I think it's my turn to introduce Mark now. So, I'll bring on our Deputy Administrator Mark Brodziski, and he's going to take us through the next section of this.

And thank you, Tony. And yes, I will just to introduce a bit as to the process of how we're going to walk through kind of seeking your input today. So, for moving to the next slide, please.

To help organize, and to seek your input we're actually going to use the questions that were published in the Request For Information that others here have referenced. The questions are also attached to the presentation or to the webinar here. If you go to the handout section of the little drop-down box, you'll see a link to the listening session questions. You can pull those up that way also, if you'd like to view those or print those out, but we have, the questions are kind of laid out in five blocks. So, the blocks are of a common theme or a topic. And we'll walk through kind of those for you shortly here.

But as we go through the blocks of questions, you'll have three ways that you can provide your input and your comments to us. You can provide either oral comments or written comments today during this session. Again, as we walk through the blocks, or as we, as both Dr. Neal and Tony indicated, we also are soliciting your input through the Federal Register through the website as

written questions. We encourage you to really provide written feedback through the request for, to the RFI through the website. Especially if you have feedback of more of a technical nature or more detail, you may see that the ability here to enter into the textbox may be a little bit limited.

But if you have, you know, more detailed responses you'd like to provide, we highly encourage you to go to the Federal Register website. And again, we'll show you that link a couple times as you walk through. So, for the oral piece of this, again, we'll walk through and as to provide comments orally, what you'll be able to do is raise your hand, it's kind of click the raise your hand button. Our facilitators will then, as you're raising your hand, put you into a queue, and we'll call on you one at a time. We're asking that the oral

comments be presented only to the block that we're discussing at that time. However, you can respond to any one of the questions that are in that block. Some of the blocks have two questions. Others may have three or four. But again, from the oral comments, feel free to respond to any of the questions kind of within that block that are under that conversation. For the chat room, or chat features.

Again, just go to the question box and feel free to enter your responses or feedback to the questions that way. We ask that as you're addressing a question, please indicate the question number both as you're responding orally, and in the chat box or question box. That way, especially as we're then aggregating or your input later that we have a good reference to the question number that you were responding to.

Again, this website, with the, is the website to provide again, additional detail or further comment if you wish. Just as a reminder though, the website closes the end of April 29, so the end of the day of the 29th of next week. To walk through the blocks of questions a little bit, I'm going to turn back to Steffanie, Steffanie. Great, thank you so much Mark.

As Mark mentioned, rather than going question by question, we will be considering the questions in block. So, we'll be asking you to comment on the block of the question, which includes the questions you'd like to answer. Each of you should have received a handout with the question blocks, and you should be able to see that they're organized by theme. I'm now going to quickly go through and give an overview of each block of the questions and what theme they hit on. Next slide.

Block A: Impacts. These are the questions about what impact this pilot has. It will help inform its goals. How can distributed energy advance environmental justice, racial equity, or economic opportunity? How could this pilot make a difference? And how would we measure its impacts when it comes to these three areas, environmental justice, racial equity, and economic opportunity? For Block B: Eligibility and Assistance. Who should be eligible for this program? Once it's up and running, who are the individuals, groups, or organizations that should participate? And what benefit or assistance should the pilot program provide? Is it loans, grants, technical assistance or something different altogether? Block C: Technology. For this block, we are looking for detailed information on the types of distributed energy technologies, innovations, and solutions that should be taken into account when we're designing this pilot program.

And I will say this is a section in which we would especially appreciate written comments direct to the Request for Information. The questions that are part of this block includes what distributed energy technologies, innovations and solutions advance the three areas that I previously stated of environmental justice, racial equity or economic opportunity. How they advance it. How do we effectively promote and deploy distributed energy? What types of technologies and innovations should be eligible or funded through the program? Should there be minimum standards or investment requirements? And to what extent should projects accommodate future technologies? Block D, next slide.

Program Design. These questions are pertinent to how the program will be set up and the structure that participants will operate under and fund their projects. Should the pilot emphasize resilience, efficiency or something else? Should there be a cost-share? Are there different program policies, incentives or requirements that either have the ability to advance or could really hurt advancement of environmental justice, racial equity and economic opportunity? Are there possible barriers to participation that we should be aware of? How are we going to ensure equitable participation among those who might be least likely to apply? In our final block, Block E: Efficacy and Outcomes.

How should USDA measure the outcomes of the pilot program? How much post award reporting is reasonable for recipients of the funding or the benefits? Lastly, we encourage you to provide any feedback during this block about the effectiveness of other project pilot programs that may have been similar. Wonderful. And those are the blocks of questions. With that, I will turn it over to my colleague Jamie and we will begin the comment period of our program. Thank you, Stephanie. As a reminder, you can submit your comments and questions via the questions/chat panel on your interface. Or if you would like to do so verbally, you may raise your hand and you will be called on. I will turn it over to Christine

Sorensen, who's going to read aloud this block, and we'll open it for comments. Thank you so much, Jamie and Steffanie. This is the exciting part.

This is where we hear from you. You've definitely heard a very quick overview of the blocks and the questions. So just a reminder, in your handout section is a quick kind of a cheat sheet of these questions, and the blocks are all listed for you, as well as the link for you to go to the Federal Register and to give the comments there. So, thank you so much for your engagement so far. So, let's get started.

As Jamie said, your option, and that will be the priority, is going to be for you to raise your hand by the button that is on your interface, then you will be put in queue, the moderator will ask your name and for you to unmute yourself. And then you can speak. So, we see some comments coming into the chat. We really appreciate it, keep them coming. All right, for our first block is really around the impacts. So, Block A is really around how might distributed energy technologies, innovations and/or solutions be deployed to advance environmental justice, racial equity and economic opportunity? And this is a really important part because this is your time to give us your ideas, and your comments. It is how should USDA measure?

How should USDA assess and analyze the impacts of the distributed energy solutions that we're talking about? So again, I'm going to check to see if there's any hands raised. And we will open up the session for comments. I just like to say standing that we do. CROSSTALK. Yeah, go ahead. Hi. Yes, we do have a few questions popping up.

We would like to encourage our folks to keep on with those hand raises. I'm going to go ahead and start with Matthew Jackson. And then, Mr. Jackson, Sir, you are now unmuted, and you can go ahead and speak. I apologize. I rose, raised my hand for the wrong block. So lower my hand.

No problem. Alright, so we're going to go and keep going along here. Miss Mary Marshall. Your hand is raised and you can now speak to our panelists. You

just have to unmute yourself. Thanks so much. Can you hear me? Yes, we can. Great. So, this is a comment in reference to how might distributed energy technologies be deployed in some of these communities? I just want to emphasize that I think that it's really important to focus on workforce development in renewable energy development in rural communities. I work in a lot of communities that could benefit from the job creation that renewable energy can bring.

However, there isn't a lot of existing market infrastructure that, you know, supports small solar businesses or renewable energy businesses. So, I think when we're talking about how might these technologies be deployed, I think that there should be an emphasis on support for workforce development, create local jobs within the community in renewable energy, just making sure that this development is directly benefiting the local economy and the local jobs. Thank you much for your comment. Scott, do we have more hands? Yes, we do. Oh, another Mary. Mary Shoemaker.

You are now unmuted. You can speak to our panelists. Alright, thank you. Can you hear me okay? We can. Great. Hi, everyone. My name is Mary Shoemaker, and I am a researcher at a nonprofit called the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, ACEEE.

I'd like to talk about the opportunity to fund energy efficiency programs with this pilot program. Rural residents have an average energy burden that is 30% higher than the national average. And an energy burden is the percentage of a households income that goes towards energy bills annually. This number is even worse for non-white and low income rural households, who respectively face energy burdens that are 55% and 170% greater than the national average.

Energy efficiency, though, can alleviate these energy burdens. Retrofitting rural households to be more energy efficient could result in a 25% reduction in overall rural energy burdens. And this could mean up to $400 in annual savings per household. The energy efficiency sector also is labor intensive, and the delivery of these technologies requires local workers. A nonprofit called E2 estimates that in 2019, there were over 430,000 clean energy workers in rural communities. So, to answer your question 4 and it also connects to question 13, I recommend three metrics for measuring the impacts of your pilot.

One is tracking energy burdens, the program should particularly focus on reducing energy burdens for rural residents of color and with low incomes. Two, track the flow of dollars by geographic area. This would position USDA to measure progress toward President Biden's goal in the American Jobs Plan to reduce over 40% of the benefits of climate and clean energy to go to disadvantaged communities. And three, measure health outcomes. While the evaluation of health impacts from efficiency programs are still nascent, USDA could leverage a few existing evaluation metrics.

For example, looking at reduced emergency room visits for children experiencing asthma attacks. Thank you for your time. Thank you so much for your comment. Scott, more hands? Yes, ma'am. So, Mark, I'm sorry, Goswick, you are unmuted and you can go ahead and speak to our panel. Yes, can you hear me okay? Yes, sir.

Yes. I've been in the business for a while. So, we've got some rural redistributed energy technologies that you can put out in rural and co-ops. And it can equate to $10 corn for the farmers and I had a bunch of interns go, it'll create like 2 billion per year per state. But the huge roadblock when I went to community after community is most of these rural communities have 40 year contracts signed with the coal fired power plant. So, the community wants to do it, the money's there, everything's there. And the coal fired power plant will say, "Nope, you got a

40-year contract with us." So, I think as part of this program, you need to address, you know, maybe it's that the growth of the requirements of a power coal fired power plant can include working with communities here on renewables. Thank you. Thank Mark. So, Michael Bergey. You are our next speaker. Go

ahead and unmute yourself, sir. Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity. My name is Mike Bergey. I'm president of the Distributed Wind Energy Association and also a small wind turbine manufacturing company.

So, we recommend that the pilot program sort of expand upon areas that REAP has not ventured into. We think the most effective way to deploy clean energy generation or other technologies you're interested in, is a grants program like REAP, but with grants up to 75% means tested. So that, so that it's based upon net income of the grantee. And so, this would allow, we think, an impact on racial equity and environmental justice by providing a higher grant percentage for those that need it most.

And we would also like to see some sort of a, perhaps a bonus percentage for underserved or minority demographics. Unlike REAP, we'd like it to be a first come first served one page application. If you meet the criteria, and you get your application in while there's still money, you get funded, as opposed to a competitive application that requires the hiring of a grant writer, which is one of the problems we see in the REAP program. We'd like it to be an open solicitation not a deadline. You can have a start date, but I wouldn't, we would like to keep it open until the money is dispersed.

And finally, we'd recommend that the, for the technologies and I'm not sure you need to go up to 10 megawatts, your definition of DER is pretty expansive. But we'd encourage you to deem all those projects to be categorically excluded from NEPA, if they're installed on previously developed property, so we can reduce the NEPA burden that we see in some other programs. Anyway, those are our initial comments. And again, we very

much appreciate the opportunity. Thank you, sir. Mr. Joseph Fish, you can now speak to our panelists.

Yes, thank you for allowing me to speak. And I just want to say thank you to all the presenters and everybody who came before me. Everyone had such wisdom when they spoke. I have just a quick question. I noticed that on this block, and you're only referring to this one block as impact, as everybody so far talking about economics and racial equality.

But there's very little talk about environmental justice. And I just started my business. I'm small in a rural community and the small business person in the renewable energy industry, and I value environmental justice a lot. And I think it's behooves us to, you know, try to maintain the land the way it is without wrecking it too much.

I just want to know if that's a high priority within this Block A because it is the first one, not economics. So are the areas in sequential order a priority or somebody just wrote it up that particular way, and it just shovels right through until have we seen it today? That is actually a question not, I'm not trying to make a statement. Thank you, sir. Joelle Simonpietri. Sorry for your name. You are now unmuted and can talk to our panelists.

Joelle, you can go ahead and unmute yourself. Okay, so I'm unmuted now you can hear me? Yes, ma'am. So, a couple of comments. The first one on the impacts, and especially the environmental justice. My company is located in Hawaii. And so, for an example of the kind of project that we're trying to do.

We're trying to divert waste from a landfill on the island of Oahu, that's currently, that was sited decades ago, in an area that surrounded by Native Hawaiian homestead land. It's like the equivalent of being in the middle of a, of a reservation in the lower 48 states. So, we're trying to divert the waste, to be able to close the landfill and set up a recycling operation in an appropriately zoned industrial park, it's only 10 miles away. But right now, with the way the "rural area" is defined, the new project site is ineligible, because it isn't industrial zoned.

And so, I would ask that if you really were to look at trying to achieve, you know, environmental justice, and sort of unpacking some environmental racism, that you look at relaxing the constraint as far as the rural site eligibility rules, so that we can do a project like ours to relocate a waste processing facility, from a residential area to an industrial one. The second comment I have is on your Block B: Eligibility and Assistance. I would also ask that you consider relaxing another constraint, which is like for the REAP grants that the previous commenter was talking about. Right now, they have a requirement for an independent consultant report for a very extensive business plan, like the requirements for what needs to be in the business plan itself is over eight pages long. And they and it's required to be done by an independent consultant. It cannot be done by the business that is applying or

the nonprofit that's applying. And so, these studies can cost well over $100,000 to complete by an independent entity. And it's very disproportionate to the amount of funding that made available. So, I would ask that you look at either raising the trigger level. Right now, a small business would have to, you know, pay over $100,000 for an independent consultant report for a loan guarantee as low as $750,000. And it's just, it's just not feasible, first of all on especially disadvantaged businesses to be able to, to carry that kind of cost.

So those are two, two constraints that I would ask you take a look at relaxing off of this pilot program. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you so much. Scott, if I could ask that you kind of queue up, maybe two more after the raise hands so that folks have an idea when they're coming up next. And then also, for those that raised your hand. Please know that if you do hear a kind of a note or a sound, that, that's just kind of a, if we can for comments to be kept at two minutes.

And if you do hear kind of a chime, that's just kind of a 30 second warning, an idea for you. These have just been wonderful comments. So, thank you so much, and keep those hands coming. And Scott, I believe we may have a little under 10 more minutes for this block, Block A and we'll go from there. So, thank

you, Scott. Next one. No problem. Thank you, Christine. So, we have Jody Mitchell up next, and then Jenna Rosier and James McCanney. So, I'm going to go ahead and start off with Jody. Um, you are now

unmuted and can speak to our panel. Jody, you're going to have to unmute yourself, and then you'll be ready to speak. I apologize. Okay. My name is Jody Mitchell. And I'm the CEO of a small electric cooperative, a nonprofit in Southeast Alaska. And we serve four separate micro-grids. We've been working on trying to build small hydro projects in our communities because we live in a rain forest. Most of our

diesel, our generation right now is diesel, which is very expensive. We, so our rates are in the 60 cent range or higher sometimes depending on what fuel costs are. We have an energy plan to build small hydros and we have already built two of them but we need two more, we need to build the other two. Grants are absolutely necessary. Grant funding needs to be 100% to really help with these small projects. And I forgot to mention that the four micro-grids that we serve are primarily Alaska Natives, homes of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples.

I believe there should be energy cost criteria, because I think that's, you know, when you're talking about racial equity, our people pay some of the highest rates in the nation, and they also are extremely conservative. We are looking at beneficial electrification. So, when we build these hydros, we can use some of that capacity to install heat pumps, for heating, which then also helps with the heating cost burden in these small communities. These projects are tending to run around $10 million apiece. The last two, that's about what they cost. DER doesn't help

us with these small grids, because all the sales need to, make more sense to be with the small utility for economies of scale purposes and overhead costs for the utility. Job creation also is a little bit of a harder one, because of the people we employ, the more, the higher our rates are. And I just encourage you to keep it simple. We really don't need to have, to hire an engineer or an outside or outside consultants in order to fill out an application. The High Energy Cost Grant Program does a really good job of this. And I think my time is up. Thank you. Thank you very much for your comment. So, Jenna Rosier here.

You are up next. And you will unmute yourself. Yes, I just kind of wanted to reiterate what Mary Shoemaker stated so eloquently, and really brought about a lot of great information. I work in an electric co-op and work with our members on energy use and weatherization is a huge part of energy efficiency. And we have a lot of distributed energy members who still have electric bills that are, in my opinion, higher, way higher than they should be, because their homes are so inefficient.

And I would like to see some, you know, emphasis on weatherization. You know, putting in solar without weatherization is still wasting resources. And so, if there is a way to, to make sure that we're being as energy efficient as possible, when we're using these technologies, I think we get a double bang for the buck. Thank you.

Thank you very much for your comment. And James McCanney. You may now speak, unmute yourself and speak to our panel. Yes, can you hear me now? I think I'm unmuted.

Yes sir. Okay, quickly four things. To measure the cost per kilowatt hour of the systems that are put in.

Too many people rate their systems on a kilowatt nameplate, and that doesn't tell you anything about what they will actually produce. Secondly, that the systems be rated for 24/7 use, and not just, I just read a story, a farmer put in a half million dollarsí worth of solar. He still is connected with the grid and he doesn't have power in the evening. He still so, that the systems be rated on the ability to provide power 24/7. Also, the 10-kilowatt limit eliminates the issue of micro-grids, which other people are talking about. We have systems up to 250 kilowatts, and you could power a lot of houses much more, with much more economically with a larger system.

So that's one thing. And also, I totally agree that 100% of this should be covered. If you say 75%, many, many people will choke on that. They will not be able to do it. Also, footprint, economic environment, environmental justice. I'm sorry, I'm talking about questions one and four.

The footprint of the system, how much land it takes? And those are my comments. You know, those are metrics that could be measured in a table, etc. You know, especially the cost per kilowatt hour and the ability to provide 24/7 power. Thank you. Thank you very much. Next, we have Dave Robau. And then we'll go to Cody Smith right after that. So, Dave, you

can now unmute yourself and speak to our panel. Oh, hi. Hey, thank you so much for taking my question. I appreciate it. My name is Dave Robau. I'm the CEO and Chief Scientist of the company called National Energy. So, we build recycling facilities for municipalities, and then we're able to convert a portion of the waste stream into energy. So, we recently won an SBIR grant through the Air Force for what we call our waste powered energy micro grid.

Does USDA have any kind of an SBIR program because it was really, really streamlined. I mean, they were, there was really like a 15 page, 15 slide pitch deck, and we submitted a five-page white paper. And the program is really designed to what they refer to as "take a lot of small bets". So, these are small kind of feasibility.

They fund feasibility studies for 50 to 75,000. But what I really liked about the program is that was so easy to navigate. And literally, you know, three or four of us, we probably spent about two hours putting our proposal together. And I'm just curious if USDA has any kind of an SBIR program.

Thank you. Thank you, sir. Thank you. So, we have Cody Smith, I'm going to unmute you and then we have Charles Tracey up next and then Charles Sink up next.

And I just want to give, we have about five minutes left in this block. So, Cody, I'm going to go ahead and give the floor to you, sir. Great. Can you hear me?

Yes, sir. Great. My name is Cody Smith, and I'm a policy associate with the Center for Rural Affairs in Nevada, Iowa.

The Center for Rural Affairs believes one of the key impacts of this Renewable Energy Pilot Program should be measured by its ability to add value to both planned and existing renewable energy projects and infrastructure in rural communities. This includes solar, wind and transmission line projects in our view. We would encourage the USDA to emphasize and utilize an approach that promotes direct consultation with local, state and tribal governments to assure that projects hosted by rural communities are also adding additional value to quality of life by incorporating locally set environmental equity, conservation and economic development goals.

Some regionally appropriate examples for our area may include amplifying the value of these projects by encouraging dual uses, such as the combination of wind, solar and transmission line projects with native perennial vegetation and the deployment of technical assistance, financial assistance, for admirable tax activities, such as combining livestock grazing with solar energy projects. We appreciate the opportunity to comment this afternoon, we'll be sure to further explain our comments with a follow up written comment. Thank you again. Thank you very much. Charles Tracey, you can now speak to our panel, sir. Okay, thank you. Um, I just, comments on Block A.

I want to encourage you to work with local electric cooperatives member owned with a responsibility to support the local membership and provide that many of the goals are in alignment with this project. I think especially those projects that can aggregate and then distribute benefit to certain portions of the membership. I think you're working within that kind of framework could bring, especially to rural areas specifically, to bring benefit, you know, across, you know, real measurable benefit in terms of cost reduction to a larger area. Thank you.

Thank you, sir. So next we have Charles Sink, but sir, if you can unmute yourself. I'm not showing a mute button for you. So, I apologize. But if

you want to write your comments in the question box, we will make sure that it is noted. I know we're running out of time, Christine. So, stop me when you want me to continue but up next, we have Andrew Clancy and you can unmute yourself and talk to the panel, sir.

Good afternoon and everybody this is Andrew Clancy and I'm excited to talk to you folks today. I actually am engaged in western Pennsylvania, a grant to look at deploying micro-grids and I'll call them nano-grids because I think one of the problems with micro-grids is you get up to five megawatts and higher but basically, we were given a grant to develop basically the business model and build an organization that could do assess, assign, design, construct, implement, commission, and operate and maintain distributed energy technologies in rural America, and our initial focus is on supporting the broadband development. And primarily that's to make sure you have sustainable communications. And again, in western PA, that's part of,

if people have ever read the ARC, the Appalachian Regional Commission on Opioid Problems. You know, that's important for distance learning telemedicine. And one of the things that I look at is, and where we're coming up with is, you have to understand what problem you want to solve, and who's going to benefit? As far as environmental justice, one of the most important things I look at is, you have to have people to look at topology.

You have to have, look at, you know, the types of weather patterns. And this isn't just something you just get off of, you know, you've got to do some studies, you've got to get the details. And then I also believe that it's not one technology that you've got to find, possibly a combination of renewable type sources.

And then you also have to understand the right coupling technology that gives you your outcome. But one of the things I think is important is you have to define, you know, what problem you really are trying to solve. As far as economic opportunity, I look at, these are interdisciplinary type jobs. I have an engineering degree, 40 plus years in telecom with a little bit in energy management with Eaton Corporation. And we need people that are like, community planners. We need people to be analysts. We need people to have some

technical, but they don't have to be a degreed engineer or, you know, some physicists and scientists. So those types of jobs, I look at ones that can be built through STEM programs in high school, and community colleges. And that's another thing we'll look at too in terms of how we build out and then develop the basically the field technicians and the people that maintain this technology in the community. So, thanks for let me share. Thank you so much.

Yes, thank you, you know, this, these have been just wonderful and in a virtual setting, how great is this, that we can, we can hear your voices and everything is being documented. So, thank you again, we're going to go with one more person. And that is Steve Messam. I believe your hand is up, you can unmute yourself and then Scott, if you will unmute him. Thank

you. Thank you. My name is Steve Messam. And I just wanted to kind of touch on this Block A. Question one as it relates to the environmental justice.

I live in Belle Glade, Florida where we are home to over almost a half a billion acres of sugarcane. And there is an environmental injustice that's happening in the communities primarily black and brown citizens. And currently, they're doing an archaic practice the sugar industry of burning the cane, which causes black smoot and what we call "black snow" to rain on people, our homes and our property. And it's definitely impacting the respiratory issues for our children and our elderly. What makes it an environmental injustice issue is that just east of us, because we're located in Palm Beach County, so just east of us where our more affluent neighbors are in the Wellington area, they complain to the industry don't burn the cane when the winds are blowing their way, but when they're blowing in our directions, they let it burn.

So, when seeing this RP, we have the Rural Renewable Energy, we actually have companies who are, who are willing to come and actually convert that trash that they're currently burning, the leaves and the overgrowth on the cane stock into renewable energy, which will be a win-win for the community, not just from an environmental standpoint, but also from an economic standpoint, because now you're bringing new jobs with these firms that are on the call, and I'm sure you're going to hear more about today. One in particular is Verde Vision that wants to convert that trash or the biowaste, into a sulfur, a low sulfur volume flow of oil deposit which can actually help ships or maritime ships which can bring down the greenhouse omission. So, when you think about this RP, definitely also consider of opening up not just for the distributed energy that's only related to the electricity side, but also the biofuel side, which can actually bring in more jobs which our community has the highest unemployment rate.

So, bringing in industry that's going to reduce the burning of the canes, and now they can green harvest them. I'm actually a part of a group, we call ourselves Stop The Burn Go Green Harvesting. We've been advocating for over five years. And a program like this that will give grants to companies that can come and set up shop, and help us with this environmental injustice issue, and also bring jobs is definitely what we're excited about. So, you could definitely open that up.

And I'm sure we'll probably talk a little bit more about the eligibility and assistance for different companies that can benefit from this grant. So, thanks, again for making this available and hearing our comments. Thank you, we're going to turn it over to Block B. Thank you. Yep. Greg, go ahead. Hello, everyone. Now we're accepting comments for Block B: Eligibility and Assistance.

I'm looking forward to hearing for what type of assistance would encourage you to invest in energy technologies and who should be eligible to receive such assistance? Looking forward to your comments. But you also have the means to write your comments in the chat or through the website that was mentioned earlier. I believe a link to that website is listed. But look forward to your comments.

I would also ask everyone when you're making your comment, either identify the question number three or five on under Block B which you are responding to. So with that said, we open it up now. Scott, do we have any hands raised? Thanks, Greg. So, Alicia Leinberger, you can now talk to

our panelists. Hey, folks, thank you, um, I, my name is Alicia, I work for Ethos Green Power Cooperative. We're in Viroqua, Wisconsin, a town of 5000 people, extremely rural. And we're intentionally in a rural community because we believe that rural communities need to be served better. And I'm answering the eligibility and assistance, both who should be eligible, and also, what should the incentive be? And I'd like to draw our attention to the current low income, the LIHEAP program basically, that's run on a federal level, and also many, many states and the fact that there are cap organizations in nearly every county across the entire United States that serving low income individuals, those folks don't have the same access to distributed energy technologies that everybody else does. And yet, I think with a real simple change, we could make that available.

Rather than spending that LIHEAP money every year in energy assistance that just goes to directly and basically offsets their bills, we could instead be investing that in small distributed generation, maybe a half a megawatt to five megawatts distributed community solar projects, whereby those folks could be signed up as subscribers or, or just work with the local utility. Often, it's a municipal or a cooperative utility, and use that LIHEAP fund to build a long term investment to serve those low income folks, I feel like that would be a great way to repurpose that money and get a lot more bang for our buck. And also be able to serve, anyway the USDA REAP Program could partner with that so that they provide some of the funding either for the project development and also to offset some of the initial cost, but most of the costs would be offset by just rechanneling that LIHEAP money into the long term investment. Thank you. Thank you, ma'am. So next we have Ashley Beaner. Ashley you may unmute yourself and talk to her panelists. Ashley, you are muted. You can go ahead and unmute yourself,

please and then you can go ahead and speak. Okay, just go ahead and raise your hand again. We'll come back to you, and I'm going down the line here. Just give me one moment, please for our next couple of speakers.

All right, so up next is going to be Dylan Tucker, we have Ella Kliger, and Emma went in the queue. So Dylan, I'm going to go ahead and ask you to unmute yourself, and you go ahead and speak. Great, thank you for this opportunity. I think these grants are an exciting new step.

I think the focus has really been on distributed energy technologies. But I think energy efficiencies, specifically in residential communities in the rural space are some of the least efficient and have really good, cost effective possibilities to promote cost savings for individuals as well. It's just more comfortable housing. And I also know that electric vehicle infrastructure is a big gap and rural in rural areas. It's kind of it's been a struggle kind of connect there urban clusters of charging stations, and with the, with the industry really moving in that direction with federal fleet goals, and like GM going all electric. I think that that's going to require a lot of investment in rural communities.

And I think this might be a good opportunity to incorporate that. But that's all thank you. Thank you, sir. Ella Kliger. Please unmute yourself and speak

to our panel. Thank you. Great. Hello. Yes, this is Ella Kliger. And I work for green/spaces in southeast Tennessee. And I want to echo the first speakers. Great comments about the LIHEAP Program and how billions of dollars are spent year after year that go right to the electric companies to defray those costs, and how those could be reinvested into paying for micro-grids or for solar panels that would actually be investments into those communities.

I also wanted to talk; this is for question five, sorry, those should go, that for eligibility to be for residences. But I also just want to remind people or point out that for a lot of clients that I work with, we're still working with people where illiteracy is a problem, where lack of internet in rural areas are a problem. So that getting information out to people, getting applications out to people can't be assumed that the internet is an option. And so making sure that these applications are both very simple and available on paper with basically someone to help them fill them out is an option. It has to be done with respect for where people are, and for what's available to them.

There may also be an intimidation factor with working with government paperwork. And so, I would just ask everybody to be aware of that and be respectful of that situation with other programs that may not have done so in the past. Thank you. Thank you very much for your comment. And next we have Emma Wendt. And then in the queue is Adam Holbrook. So Emma, you can go

ahead and unmute yourself. Thanks for holding the session. I'm commenting on both questions three and five. So, my name is Emma Wendt and I work at the Island Institute in Rockland, Maine, where I lead our climate and energy team. Our almost 40-year-old nonprofit works to support Maine's island and coastal communities to help them thrive.

My suggestion today is to connect with the Department of Energy and National Water Renewable Energy Labs, ETIPP program, which stands for the Energy Transitions Initiative Partnership Project. It's a program that provides world class technical assistance to island and remote communities across the US and territories to identify locally relevant challenges and clean energy solutions. The Island Institute is one of five regional partners supporting this effort. Just two days ago, DOE announced the 11 selected island and remote communities almost all of which are rural, who will receive technical assistance as part of this first cohort, which is very exciting.

We encourage you to connect with ETIPP and specifically give preference to funding projects that are coming out of this program. So again, to clarify, this is just technical assistance not actually funding the projects. So, doing so would offer an opportunity to better leverage federal funds. It can also lead to a greater likelihood of project success, given that there will have already been support from the National Labs and regional partners that will help ensure the technical assistance leads to locally relevant solutions. In rural areas, especially access to technical and financial assistance can be challenging. As many of the other commenters have noted.

There's also a lot more that goes into successful projects and say, for example, just new solar panel. Supporting holistic energy transitions in a community is key. Thank you very much for your comment. So we have next up, we have Thomas Lang. Mr. Lang, if you

want to unmute yourself, because just go ahead and speak to our panel. Hello, can you hear me? Yes, sir. All right, I apologize.

I was on a call that came in in the meantime, and I kind of missed the introduction. I'm the managing partner of Floating Solar Energy down here in Florida. And we do floating solar PV. We're doing projects, both

distributed size and also now utility scale. The comment I wanted to make is we've been working closely with the Florida DEP and what we're finding out is on our systems, is that a lot of these rural communities down here, the farms and that, that they have, they all have water resources. They all have ponds, lakes, and in most cases down here, phosphate retention ponds, which are, there's 260,000 acres of those, which are a lot on these farms. And they tried with the Florida Department, Office of Energy here a few years ago, to help the rural communities by providing solar PV that they would put in at no cost to the, to the farmer or to the residence, and then they would split the proceeds of the sale of the energy provided thereof.

They had no takers. The reason was, is the land was better utilized for their agricultural purposes. And we had a lot of discussions and they said, "Well, if this could be done on the water there, it accomplishes two things. Not only does it go ahead and provide them with the renewable energy, but it also reduces the evaporation of the water on these pots".

And that's why we're also doing reservoirs now. So I thought, it meets a lot of the requirements, besides distributing energy and innovations out there. But we're finding out that a lot of these farms out here, especially in Florida, are using a lot of low-income people. And they have to provide their own electricity, it can lower the cost of that, and provide economic opportunities in these areas that, that are depressed that this point. And on the environmental justice side that we spoke about before, it's basically not utilizing this land, not destroying the land that normally has to be cleared.

But it's also saving the water resources. So, I'm not sure how some of that fits in with where you're going now, but I think it can make an impact when they're looking at utilizing this in rural communities and, and helping them. Thank you, sir. You're welcome. Up next, we have Rocky Ackroyd.

And then after that, we have Robert Lynch. So Rocky, I'm going to go ahead and unmute you, sir. And you can go ahead and talk to our panel. You'll have to unmute yourself, and then you go ahead and speak, sir. All right, Rocky, we'll come back to you, sir. And then up next, we're going to, so Robert Lynch, if I could ask you to unmute yourself, and then you can go ahead and speak your comment.

Did I succeed? Yes, you did, sir. All right. My name is Bob Lynch. I'm an attorney in Phoenix, Arizona, and I work in the electric utility industry. I specifically represent a state association of both co-ops and and utilities that serve power in rural Arizona. And want to make two suggestions.

One, what I've heard here is diversity. Name your county, name your state, everybody's got a different problem, a different solution. And that diversity is going to be a great challenge for you.

And I suggest that you go to the American Public Power Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. I'd be happy to have you get in touch with me, and I can give you the names, phone numbers, emails of people that you need to talk to. And they can help you facilitate this. Because especially in the West, APPA and NRECA members serve a huge bulk of the electricity and they're in place, they've got the wires, they've got the understanding of the problems.

And they could help you, I think immensely make deliveries of all sorts of different opportunities based on local needs. And that's the other message is the people who should be eligible to receive this assistance are the people who are on the ground at the time and have the problem. LIHEAP funding is going to be an issue. We need to capitalize, we may not be able to do it with LIHEAP funding, because of people that have to have the power bills paid or they get their electricity turned off sooner or later. And the utilities are doing all the things they can to try to stretch that and keep it from happening.

But LIHEAP is a huge program and one that you have to be very careful with. There are other ways of finding capital. But I suggest to you that the utility structure in the West especially, and then with the co-ops in the rural eastern part of the country. There are solutions, there are people who would love the opportunity to help you work. And that's my plan and I think that it really goes to both three and five and possibly half of the other questions.

But get after it, this, you've got a huge, huge assignment because what you've heard this morning is everyone you've talked to has a different need in a different local situation. You got to deliver the best you can. Thank you. Absolutely thank you sir, for your suggestions. Real quickly, Rocky Ackroyd. Do we have you on sir? You can unmute yourself.

And then we have Patricia DeLeon and Pam Moon coming up next. Still no Rocky. Okay. So Patricia DeLeon, I will unmute you and you can go ahead

and speak to our panelists. You will have to unmute yourself though ma'am. Patricia DeLeon. I'm not talking today.

Okay, no problem. Thank you. And then Pam Moon. If you don't mind, you can unmute you and you can speak to our panel. Hi, mine is pertaining to the...

Bob Lynch. Pam, you can go ahead and speak ma'am. Can you hear me now? Yes, yes, ma'am.

Oh Okay, I'm so sorry. No problem. Yeah, mine is pertaining to the REAP grant, where we can get assisted with projects from 50 to 200 megawatts projects where the market is asking for proposals on this new virgin market, helping us minorities get access to PPAs with power companies who only want to lease our land, or to purchase our land, and not wanting us to have the opportunity to dip into this market ourselves in Louisiana. So we really need some help on, you know, this power production could be used to lower costs for economically suppressed communities throughout southern Louisiana. And these, they just want to, um, lease our land or purchase our lands from us and not give us, the minorities, the opportunity to do this. So that's where we ask a lot of help on to help us, USDA helping us in this. This is a big opportunity that we could use.

Awesome, thank you very much. Up next, we have Matthew Jackson and then Mary Shoemaker. So, I'm going to go ahead and start with you.

Matthew, do you want to go ahead and unmute yourself? Matthew Jackson. All right, we'll come back to you. So Mary Shoemaker, you may unmute yourself and speak to the group. Okay, I apologize Mary, sorry about that. Okay. This is Mary Shoemaker from ACEEE. To speak to you on

question five, I agree with what others have said about focusing on residential energy efficiency programs. Under Block C, I will speak further to the specific technologies we'd recommend. To answer question three, we recommend that USDA use this program to strengthen and fill gaps in existing USDA offerings.

In particular, we think designing this program to support energy efficiency in renewable energy measures in rural households could make it a nice add-on to the Rural Energy for America Program or REAP, which targets small businesses and agricultural producers. Thank you. Thank you very much. So, I have a couple different timers on. I apologize for that. Up next, we have Mark Hallett. If you want to go ahead and unmute yourself, sir, we can go and speak to the panel.

Thank you for this time to address the panel. My name is Mark Hallett. I'm with the Florida Rural Water Association.

We work with small rural water and sewer utilities to help them provide the best service to their communities. And I wanted to speak in regards to question number five. Very often there's multiple turnarounds that become unavailable to water and sewer utilities because they are water and sewer utilities. I think they should be eligible for this program for this funding. They have a lot of opportunities to provide locations for the distributed energy resources that you're looking to target through this program. In addition, Florida has a special designated water and sewer district, which operates the water and sewer systems for multiple rural communities together to help pool resources and reduce costs.

These districts need to be eligible as well. They typically fall outside of Rural Development's typical offerings because they tend to serve populations greater than 10,000 people. However, they're serving multiple small rural communities. And I feel like they should still be eligible for this program. And those are my comments. Thank you for your time. Great, thank you so much. Up next we have Keith Ohlinger.

You may unmute yourself, sir, and talk to the group. Yes, hello, my name is Keith Ohlinger. We have a farm in Maryland and I serve as a supervisor on our county Soil Conservation District and on our NRCS State Technical Committee. The comments that I have revolve around a project that we've been working on since the 2014 Farm Bill allowed waste gas fires as Interim Practice 735. We're a silvopasture tree farm. We have an orchard.

We used EQIP funding for fencing to protect the tree plantings, and for water lines to water the livestock in our rotational grazing program. I was interested in burning wood waste generated by our tree farm to generate electricity for our new pig pens that were under construction through a waste gasifier. I tried to apply and I was told it would not apply to new construction.

I was told I'd have to run the electric lines, show they were inefficient through an energy audit, and then I'd be able to apply. So, I did as instructed. It took two years. We had to run the lines, show 12 months of energy bills. Then we got EQIP funding to help us with the energy audit costs to do the energy audit. It said it was inefficient.

And then I was able to apply for the gasifier. We were told our project was ranked seventh in the energy pool. The first project in the pool took all the money out of the pool. So, we were ineligible for any money because the pool was empty. The next year there was a glitch in the system, and so our project was supposed to have rolled over and been reapplied for but it wasn't so we lost a year.

The office screwed up on that one. It wasn't our fault. We reapplied and we were told that we had to do it under manure management, not energy. So, we did. Then after the day came that we were supposed to introduce our application, they said they rejected our application because this program only dealt with animal manure even though the practice clearly indicated agricultural waste in the definition and our trimmings all come from our farm and are all maintained on our farm under the standards of practice for forest management, silvopasture orchard and etc.

I was then told that I should try for SIG, the SIG grant, but I've wasted seven years getting the run around and it's really been an issue. We elevated it to DC, and they said, "No, we really meant that this project was meant for animal manure, not just agricultural waste". So, we need a few things. One, we need programs that are actually followed, not just on paper, so that the folks that are interpreting them are interpreting them as they were written not just as they're guessing. It should include new projects, not just projects with existing resource concerns. It makes no sense to have to install a

project, show it's inefficient, and then you can get money so that now you can fix the efficiency. It costs us three times what it would have if we were just able to go right to putting in the efficient system. And then wood waste from farms should be allowed, not just manure.

So tree farms, orchards, Christmas tree farms, and silvopasture should be included. So, thank you so much for your time, and I appreciate you doing this program. Thank you for your comment, sir. Alright, we have one more question.

I think we have been allotted 20 minutes for Block B. I'm going to go ahead and unmute the line. James McCanney. Sir, if you want to go ahead and unmute yourself. You can go ahead and speak.

Thank you, once again, this topic comes up of your original limit was 10 kilowatts on these systems. But the woman from Louisiana, what a perfect example of where they could use these and a good similar example, the one armed bandits, the oil rigs that are all over Oklahoma, Texas, West Texas, to h

2021-05-09 02:46

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