4 Ways Local Solar Projects Benefit Cities
By Lacey Shaver
When a city decides to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, headlines follow. But the work has only just begun. Cities have many options for generating and purchasing renewable electricity, each of which comes with distinct benefits and challenges.
Large, off-site projects tend to offer scale and help make a measurable difference towards locally-defined renewable energy goals. But they can be legally and financially complex and harder to sell to elected officials and residents. For this reason, the first renewable project that a city undertakes is often based in its own community. This might be an on-site solar project, which is installed at the same location where the electricity is consumed. Or it could be a community solar program, which allows residents to subscribe to a shared solar project within the community.
These kinds of projects visibly demonstrate a local government's dedication to climate action. The clean electricity they provide to municipal facilities and residents can reduce community-wide greenhouse gas emissions.
But fewer emissions and cleaner air aren't the only reasons that cities want to go renewable. Many are using local solar projects to achieve broader community benefits and align with other priorities. These include saving money, creating local jobs, expanding renewables access to low-income residents, and advancing local resilience.
1. Saving Money and Managing Future Price Risks
Generating wind and solar is increasingly more competitive or cheaper than other forms of energy. That means switching to renewables can help municipal governments save taxpayers money. Nevertheless, the upfront cost of installing solar can be daunting to cash-strapped local governments.
One way a city can manage costs is by entering into an on-site physical power purchase agreement (PPA), a financial contract in which a solar developer owns and maintains a solar photovoltaic system that is installed on a municipally-owned building and sells the electricity to the city at a discount. A PPA allows a local government to leverage one of its key assets — land and roof space — in exchange for a cheap, fixed-term source of clean electricity.
This is exactly the kind of arrangement completed by Washington, DC. In April 2018, Mayor Muriel Bowser gathered community members to announce the completion of a 10.9 megawatt system comprised of on-site solar projects spread across 35 municipally-owned properties, including schools, hospitals and recreation centers. Over the 20-year term of the contract with developer Sol Systems, Washington anticipates saving $25 million from reduced electricity costs.
Fayetteville, Arkansas used a similar model to make progress toward its goal of achieving 100 percent municipal use of clean energy by 2030. In November 2018, Fayetteville's City Council signed an agreement with Ozarks Electric Cooperative and Today's Power, Inc. to install 5 megawatts of solar panels and 12 megawatt-hours of battery storage at each of the city's two wastewater treatment plants, which combined make up about two-thirds of municipal electricity use. The 20-year project is expected to save the city $6 million.
2. Stimulating the Local Economy and Creating Well-Paying Green Jobs
In 2018, the U.S. added 110,000 net new clean energy jobs, outnumbering jobs from fossil fuels by about three to one. Leading cities are working to bring these well-paying jobs to their own communities.
In August 2018, Philadelphia's Office of Sustainability released a roadmap for how the city can reduce carbon emissions 80 percent from 2006 levels by 2050 while emphasizing equity and community health. Local stakeholders encouraged the city to take a holistic view of energy and climate action when developing the plan and identify the potential for co-benefits such as job creation and air quality improvements.
Leading the roadmap's implementation is the Philadelphia Energy Authority (PEA), an independent municipal authority that provides targeted expertise for local energy efficiency and generation efforts and facilitates the purchase of energy services on behalf of the city. PEA is leading the Philadelphia Energy Campaign, an effort that leverages $1 billion in public and private financing to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency. The Campaign is expected to create more than 10,000 jobs for Philadelphia residents in 10 years and create $200 million in savings for the local economy.
Philadelphia leaders announce Solarize Philly as part of the $1 billion Philadelphia Energy Campaign.
Flickr / Philadelphia City Council
3. Expanding Clean Energy Access to Residents Who Can't Install Solar on Their Property
To bring clean electricity to renters and low-income communities, cities are launching innovative community solar programs, which allow residents to purchase a share of a solar installation and reap the benefits of clean energy (including cost savings) without having to physically install panels on their property.
Austin, Texas spearheads multiple initiatives to meet the solar requirements in the city's renewable portfolio standard — for example, solar rebates and a utility green pricing program that allows customers to pay a premium for wind projects from across the state. However, wealthier residents tend to take advantage of these programs more often than those from low-income neighborhoods: Austin zip codes with an above-average median family income received 75 percent of all solar rebates in 2017. To expand solar access more equitably across the community, Austin Energy has created a community solar program and is piloting an innovative shared solar solution that targets hard-to-reach solar markets, like multi-family affordable housing and non-profits.
Programs like these are more than just feel-good — they offer financial benefits to those who need it most. Minneapolis, which has one of the most successful community solar programs in the country, saves money for 92 percent of their solar subscribers, and nearly a third of the program serves public entities such as schools.
4. Contributing to Local Resilience
In addition to cost savings, renewable energy projects can also increase community resilience. Pairing renewable energy with storage or microgrids can reduce dependence on the grid in times of natural disaster.
Too often, city resilience efforts begin with a catastrophic local event. In September 2013, Boulder, Colorado experienced a 100-year flash flood event that caused fatalities, widespread power outages and critical infrastructure damage. As part of the recovery, Boulder sought to rebuild in a more resilient way that would mitigate the risks and damages of future floods. The city partnered with Boulder Housing Partners (BHP), an affordable housing developer, to implement a solar-plus-storage system that allows operations to continue during emergencies. It includes electric vehicle charging stations to ensure that emergency transportation is available even if the grid is down.
Similarly, Santa Barbara County, California was ravaged by a series of wildfires in late 2017, followed by disastrous flooding and mudslides in the following year. Besides suffering extensive property damage, cities and towns in the area dealt with a series of widespread power outages. Perched at the edge of the Pacific Ocean, the community is located at the end of Los Angeles' transmission line, where natural disasters can quickly leave residents in the dark. To reduce grid dependence, local cities like Santa Barbara and Goleta are exploring the potential to pair distributed renewable electricity generation with a microgrid and storage to mitigate future power outages.
It Takes Multiple Approaches
To achieve their clean energy and climate goals, cities will need to take a creative portfolio approach to renewable energy procurement that combines the tangible benefits of local solar projects with the scale of innovative large, off-site procurement options. The portfolio of renewable energy solutions will vary from city to city and should be paired with energy efficiency initiatives that reduce future electricity demand and enable a net zero-carbon electricity system. Successful implementation of local solar projects can be an effective first step to build momentum for other more ambitious renewable projects.
A Tale of Two Cities: How San Francisco and Burlington Are Shaping America's Low-Carbon Future… https://t.co/54F0M04M7a— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1521483808.0
The Renewables Accelerator is a key resource for cities already leading on renewable energy and those kickstarting their clean energy programs. Learn more about renewable energy procurement options for cities and the American Cities Climate Challenge Renewables Accelerator at www.cityrenewables.org.
Lacey Shaver is the city renewable energy manager within the global energy program at World Resources Institute.
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By Ana Maldonado-Contreras
- Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
- Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
- New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.
You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.
How Do Resident Bacteria Keep You Healthy?<p>Our immune defense is part of a complex biological response against harmful pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. However, because our bodies are inhabited by trillions of mostly beneficial bacteria, virus and fungi, activation of our immune response is tightly regulated to distinguish between harmful and helpful microbes.</p><p>Our bacteria are spectacular companions diligently helping prime our immune system defenses to combat infections. A seminal study found that mice treated with antibiotics that eliminate bacteria in the gut exhibited an impaired immune response. These animals had low counts of virus-fighting white blood cells, weak antibody responses and poor production of a protein that is vital for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1019378108" target="_blank">combating viral infection and modulating the immune response</a>.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0184976" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In another study</a>, mice were fed <em>Lactobacillus</em> bacteria, commonly used as probiotic in fermented food. These microbes reduced the severity of influenza infection. The <em>Lactobacillus</em>-treated mice did not lose weight and had only mild lung damage compared with untreated mice. Similarly, others have found that treatment of mice with <em>Lactobacillus</em> protects against different <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/srep04638" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">subtypes of</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-17487-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">influenza</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">virus</a> and human respiratory syncytial virus – the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-39602-7" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">major cause of viral bronchiolitis and pneumonia in children</a>.</p>
Chronic Disease and Microbes<p>Patients with chronic illnesses including Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease exhibit a hyperactive immune system that fails to recognize a harmless stimulus and is linked to an altered gut microbiome.</p><p>In these chronic diseases, the gut microbiome lacks bacteria that activate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">immune cells</a> that block the response against harmless bacteria in our guts. Such alteration of the gut microbiome is also observed in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1002601107" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">babies delivered by cesarean section</a>, individuals consuming a poor <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12820" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">diet</a> and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nature11053" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elderly</a>.</p><p>In the U.S., 117 million individuals – about half the adult population – <a href="https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/guidelines/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">suffer from Type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease or a combination of them</a>. That suggests that half of American adults carry a faulty microbiome army.</p><p>Research in my laboratory focuses on identifying gut bacteria that are critical for creating a balanced immune system, which fights life-threatening bacterial and viral infections, while tolerating the beneficial bacteria in and on us.</p><p>Given that diet affects the diversity of bacteria in the gut, <a href="https://www.umassmed.edu/nutrition/melody-trial-info/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">my lab studies show how diet can be used</a> as a therapy for chronic diseases. Using different foods, people can shift their gut microbiome to one that boosts a healthy immune response.</p><p>A fraction of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease, develop severe complications that require hospitalization in intensive care units. What do many of those patients have in common? <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6912e2.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Old age</a> and chronic diet-related diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.</p><p><a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2008.12.019" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Black and Latinx people are disproportionately affected by obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease</a>, all of which are linked to poor nutrition. Thus, it is not a coincidence that <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6933e1.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these groups have suffered more deaths from COVID-19</a> compared with whites. This is the case not only in the U.S. but also <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/blacks-in-britain-are-four-times-as-likely-to-die-of-coronavirus-as-whites-data-show/2020/05/07/2dc76710-9067-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in Britain</a>.</p>
Discovering Microbes That Predict COVID-19 Severity<p>The COVID-19 pandemic has inspired me to shift my research and explore the role of the gut microbiome in the overly aggressive immune response against SARS-CoV-2 infection.</p><p>My colleagues and I have hypothesized that critically ill SARS-CoV-2 patients with conditions like obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease exhibit an altered gut microbiome that aggravates <a href="https://theconversation.com/exercise-may-help-reduce-risk-of-deadly-covid-19-complication-ards-136922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">acute respiratory distress syndrome</a>.</p><p>Acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening lung injury, in SARS-CoV-2 patients is thought to develop from a <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cytogfr.2020.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">fatal overreaction of the immune response</a> called a <a href="https://theconversation.com/blocking-the-deadly-cytokine-storm-is-a-vital-weapon-for-treating-covid-19-137690" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cytokine storm</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">that causes an uncontrolled flood</a> <a href="http://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-2600(20)30216-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of immune cells into the lungs</a>. In these patients, their own uncontrolled inflammatory immune response, rather than the virus itself, causes the <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s00134-020-05991-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">severe lung injury and multiorgan failures</a> that lead to death.</p><p>Several studies <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trsl.2020.08.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">described in one recent review</a> have identified an altered gut microbiome in patients with COVID-19. However, identification of specific bacteria within the microbiome that could predict COVID-19 severity is lacking.</p><p>To address this question, my colleagues and I recruited COVID-19 hospitalized patients with severe and moderate symptoms. We collected stool and saliva samples to determine whether bacteria within the gut and oral microbiome could predict COVID-19 severity. The identification of microbiome markers that can predict the clinical outcomes of COVID-19 disease is key to help prioritize patients needing urgent treatment.</p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.01.05.20249061" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">We demonstrated</a>, in a paper which has not yet been peer reviewed, that the composition of the gut microbiome is the strongest predictor of COVID-19 severity compared to patient's clinical characteristics commonly used to do so. Specifically, we identified that the presence of a bacterium in the stool – called <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em>– was a robust predictor of COVID-19 severity. Not surprisingly, <em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> has been associated with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1053/j.gastro.2011.05.035" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">chronic</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/S0002-9440(10)61172-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">inflammation</a>.</p><p><em>Enterococcus faecalis</em> collected from feces can be grown outside of the body in clinical laboratories. Thus, an <em>E. faecalis</em> test might be a cost-effective, rapid and relatively easy way to identify patients who are likely to require more supportive care and therapeutic interventions to improve their chances of survival.</p><p>But it is not yet clear from our research what is the contribution of the altered microbiome in the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection. A recent study has shown that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.12.11.416180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">SARS-CoV-2 infection triggers an imbalance in immune cells</a> called <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/imr.12170" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">T regulatory cells that are critical to immune balance</a>.</p><p>Bacteria from the gut microbiome are responsible for the <a href="https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.30916.001" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">proper activation</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1198469" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">of those T-regulatory</a> <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nri.2016.36" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cells</a>. Thus, researchers like me need to take repeated patient stool, saliva and blood samples over a longer time frame to learn how the altered microbiome observed in COVID-19 patients can modulate COVID-19 disease severity, perhaps by altering the development of the T-regulatory cells.</p><p>As a Latina scientist investigating interactions between diet, microbiome and immunity, I must stress the importance of better policies to improve access to healthy foods, which lead to a healthier microbiome. It is also important to design culturally sensitive dietary interventions for Black and Latinx communities. While a good-quality diet might not prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection, it can treat the underlying conditions related to its severity.</p><p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/ana-maldonado-contreras-1152969" target="_blank">Ana Maldonado-Contreras</a> is an assistant professor of Microbiology and Physiological Systems at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.</em></p><p><em>Disclosure statement: Ana Maldonado-Contreras receives funding from The Helmsley Charitable Trust and her work has been supported by the American Gastroenterological Association. She received The Charles A. King Trust Postdoctoral Research Fellowship. She is also member of the Diversity Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/a-healthy-microbiome-builds-a-strong-immune-system-that-could-help-defeat-covid-19-145668" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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