By Anne Kolesnikoff
Los Angeles—Rural energy co-ops, the role of technology in emergency energy management, community solar projects and the renewable natural gas market were key topics at the recent Task Force on Energy Supply, a day-long meeting held during NCSL’s 2018 Legislative Summit.
State legislators from across the nation engaged with industry representatives and researchers to discuss new ways of approaching energy supply challenges and policy solutions.
Takeaways from the day included the growing importance surrounding data, creating a balanced energy generation mix and using state policy to continue building healthy and productive communities. Here’s a look at four of the meeting’s notable discussions:
Rural energy co-operatives
Legislators discussed rural energy co-operatives’ adoption of renewable energy and the potential role these co-ops may play in broadband installation. Co-ops across the country are in various stages of adopting renewable energy generation into their energy mix, depending on input from owners and availability.
Many co-ops have joined the effort to expand broadband services into their service territories, in part to expand the range of services they provide. The existing infrastructure of co-operative energy companies in rural areas offers a unique opportunity to deliver broadband connectivity where high installation costs may deter investment from new companies.
Technology in emergency energy management
New technology using machine learning and large data sets could allow state governments to better predict the impact of natural disasters, including flooding, earthquakes and wildfires.
Utilities and industry experts also stressed the importance of a holistic approach to emergency response and mitigation. Building partnerships through data management and collection as well as understanding the impacts natural disasters can have on multiple sectors were key themes.
Community solar projects
Legislators discussed the growth and potential impact of community solar projects across the country. Community solar or solar gardens are centrally located solar generation systems that allow households to purchase a subscription to solar energy generation. The Coalition for Consumer Solar Access (CCSA) predicts the United States will be home to more than 2 million rooftop solar systems by the end of 2018.
While the growth of rooftop solar shows strong support for distributed renewable energy generation, not all households can install rooftop PV systems. CCSA advocated for legislation supporting consumer choice, giving the option to residents living in structures incompatible with rooftop solar to support renewable energy generation.
Renewable natural gas
Renewable natural gas, which is carbon neutral, is derived from biomass and compatible with existing pipeline infrastructure. The market for renewable natural gas has expanded in recent years, with renewable natural gas projects in operation or under construction in 27 states.
State policy has played an important role in driving the renewable gas market so far, but industry and researchers see room for new policies to support the expansion of the sector. For example, including renewable natural gas as a resource in renewable portfolio standards could incentivize utilities to further invest in biomass processing plants.
Anne Kolesnikoff is an intern in NCSL's Energy Program.