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New report tracks projects that meet electricity needs without adding transmission lines

Non-wires alternatives gain traction as utility regulations adapt to better recognize value of distributed energy resource investments

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Non-wires alternatives, or NWAs, represent one of the most exciting opportunities for the transformation of U.S. utility business models. NWA projects can use distributed energy resources—including energy efficiency, demand response, solar, storage and microgrids—as least-cost energy solutions. By using NWAs, some utilities are delaying or deferring the need for comparably more expensive infrastructure, such as transmission and distribution projects.

To show how these often-complex projects are evolving, the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA), E4TheFuture, and PLMA (Peak Load Management Alliance) have released a new report: Non-Wires Alternatives: Case Studies from Leading U.S. Projects.

“If you look for solutions beyond stringing power lines, you can find plenty of real-world examples of less expensive alternatives that meet consumers’ energy needs, enable clean energy, allow utilities more flexibility, and shrink energy infrastructure’s environmental footprint,” said Steve Cowell, president of E4TheFuture, the nonprofit organization that funded the report. “The new report’s case studies offer excellent guidance and documentation — there’s no need to completely re-invent the wheel.”

“E4TheFuture was eager to secure the combined experience and skills of SEPA and PLMA, to address key unanswered questions about the NWA projects and opportunities in our industry,” said Cowell. “NWAs offer a proven path to evolve the utility model and role to achieve lower costs, with more reliability and resilience. In our early years as Conservation Services Group, we conducted some efforts in this area. The industry and regulators have since made significant strides. This report’s documentation of recent developments will enable more focused and successful efforts in the future.”

The report profiles 10 industry-leading NWA projects of different sizes and types across the U.S., detailing the critical insights and lessons learned each has provided for utilities and other project developers. It is available for free download on the websites of all three organizations.

Key takeaways include:

  • Existing NWAs have successfully delayed or deferred infrastructure investments, providing significant cost savings. For example, the Punkin Center NWA project in Arizona provided Arizona Public Service a more cost-effective alternative to stringing 17 miles of wire over rough terrain.
  • Load growth forecasts don’t always get it right. NWAs helps avoid large up-front costs by offering the flexibility to implement solutions in phases as load grows. They can also prevent stranded assets in cases where load growth doesn’t materialize, as in the GridSolar’s Boothbay project.
  • Open and technology-agnostic approaches fostered project success. The most successful projects explored potential solutions without preconceived notions and an open approach to technologies. In the case of Consolidated Edison’s Brooklyn Queens Demand Management project, an initial request for information helped widen the utility’s understanding of different technologies, which led to a portfolio approach to the project.
  • NWAs encourage new utility business models. Case studies included innovative utility compensation approaches and the use of customer-sited storage as demand response. Central Hudson Gas & Electric in New York collaborated with state regulators to create a unique, incentive-based compensation model that ensured the program financially benefited the utility and its customers.

“What was really exciting for us to see was the range of technologies and the different applications being used in these projects — behind and in front of the meter, combined heat and power, solar, storage, and energy efficiency,” said Brenda Chew, Research Analyst at SEPA. “Technology-agnostic approaches to these projects are providing multiple avenues for innovation, flexibility and reliability that benefit both customers and the grid.”

“Over 40 industry professionals collaborated in this joint effort to nominate and select the case studies, and then peer-review the findings,” said PLMA Chair Michael Brown of NV Energy. “Valuable lessons were learned from energy and load management practitioners that could help shape the evolution of our industry.”

Non-Wires Alternatives: Case Studies From Leading U.S. Projects is available for free download from SEPA here, from E4TheFuture here and from PLMA here.

Steve Cowell of E4TheFuture, Sarah Arison of Bonneville Power Administration, Mark Sclafani of Central Hudson Gas & Electric, Tiger Adolf of PLMA, and Brenda Chew of SEPA will be discussing insights from the report at the Non-Wires Alternatives panel, at 3:30 p.m. CST, Nov. 13 at the PLMA Conference in Austin. SEPA, E4TheFuture and PLMA will also co-host a free webinar on the report 11 a.m. PST/2 p.m. EST on Dec. 6; register here.

Media contacts:

SEPA: K Kaufmann, kkaufmann@sepapower.org or (202) 379-1637

E4TheFuture: Carina Daniels, carina@storyandreach.com or (510) 847-1617

PLMA: Ed Thomas, ethomas@peakload.org or (707) 652-5333

About SEPA

The Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) is an educational nonprofit working to facilitate the electric power industry’s smart transition to a clean and modern energy future through education, research, standards and collaboration. SEPA offers a range of research initiatives and resources, as well as conferences, educational events and professional networking opportunities. SEPA is founder and co-sponsor of Solar Power International (now North American Smart Energy Week) and winner of the Keystone Policy Center’s 2016 Leadership in Energy Award. For more information, visit www.sepapower.org.

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About E4TheFuture

E4TheFuture is a nonprofit organization advancing clean, efficient energy solutions. Advocating for smart policy with an emphasis on residential solutions is central to E4TheFuture’s strategy. “E4” means: promoting clean, efficient Energy; growing a low-carbon Economy; ensuring low-income residents can access clean, efficient, affordable energy (Equity); restoring a healthy Environment for people, prosperity and the planet. Dedicated to bringing clean, efficient energy home for every American, E4TheFuture’s endowment and primary leadership come from Conservation Services Group whose operating programs were acquired in 2015 by CLEAResult. Visit www.e4thefuture.org.

About PLMA

PLMA (Peak Load Management Alliance) is a non-profit organization founded in 1999 as the voice of load management practitioners. PLMA’s over 140 member organizations share expertise to educate each other and explore innovative approaches to demand response programs, price and rate response, regional regulatory issues, and technologies as the energy markets evolve to represent a broad range of energy. Learn more at www.peakload.org.

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