State microgrid program ups the ante

East Hampton wins microgrid fundingEast Hampton won $100,000 in Phase I funding for a community microgrid project.

Another $8 million is up for grabs in Phase II of the NY Prize microgrid competition, officially kicked off Wednesday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Following 2015’s $8.3 million Phase I, which offered relatively small $100,000 awards to help 83 winning statewide communities conduct feasibility studies on their indigenous microgrid proposals, Phase II will select eight projects with the best engineering and business plans – with awards up to $1 million each to help bring those proposals closer to fruition.

All told, the NY Prize competition is doling out a total of $40 million in funding to encourage the design and construction of microgrids – community-based, standalone energy systems that operate independently of the main grid and kick in during natural disasters or other power-outage crises.

While Phase I was focused on feasibility, Phase II is time for the long pants: the drawing and submitting of actual action plans. The contest is administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and the idea, according to NYSERDA, is to incorporate renewable-energy technologies and other sustainability innovations into the localized power sources.

Good news for the dozens of community-based proposals that didn’t make the Phase I feasibility-study cut: All statewide governments, community groups, nonprofit organizations and commercial enterprises are invited to apply for Phase II awards – though all Phase II submissions, NYSERDA noted, must include “a comparable feasibility study” and “a completed benefit-cost analysis model.”

Phase I winners who don’t earn Phase II funding – and Phase I applicants who didn’t catch the state’s eye the first time around – can still independently pursue their microgrid opportunities. Projects not earning Phase II awards will still be “connected to resources at NYSERDA, the New York Power Authority, their local distribution utility and private sector companies,” according to the governor’s office, a golden opportunity to “help them advance their clean energy agenda.”

They’ll need the help, if the governor’s Reforming the Energy Vision strategy – which includes generating 50 percent of the state’s electrical power through renewable sources by 2030 – is going to fly.

“This competition will help make communities more resilient,” Cuomo said in the Phase II announcement. “By creating strong local power networks, we can help modernize our energy grid while providing clean, reliable power to New Yorkers for years to come.”

The 83 Phase I winners announced last July included 14 projects submitted by Long Island communities, the second-highest number of awarded proposals among the state’s 10 economic zones. Island communities winning Phase I feasibility-study awards included the towns of Brookhaven, East Hampton, Hempstead, Huntington, North Hempstead and Southampton; the villages of Babylon, East Rockaway, Freeport, Greenport, Port Jefferson, Rockville Centre and Southampton; and the City of Long Beach.

The Mid-Hudson region led Phase I with 23 winning proposals. New York City finished third with nine winners. All told, 147 statewide villages, towns and cities submitted Phase I proposals, according to NYSERDA, which is still analyzing and evaluating the feasibility studies submitted by the 83 Phase I winners and will make its findings public “over the coming months.”

The deadline for Phase II’s engineering and business proposals is Oct. 13. Information on submission guidelines, including a list of required documentation, is available here.

Regardless of who wins the eight Phase II million-dollar awards or claims other slices of the $40 million NY Prize pie, any competition that encourages lawmakers, business owners and nonprofit organizations to think along energy-efficiency lines is a win-win, noted Richard Kauffman, Cuomo’s energy and finance czar.

“Community microgrids will reduce costs and add more clean energy technologies like solar, wind and batteries into the electric grid,” the state’s energy and finance chairman said in a statement, adding NY Prize is “an essential component” of Cuomo’s strategy to modernize the state’s energy infrastructure.