Lakeland’s Utility Committee is discussing a $2.75 million partnership with home developers and a solar company to create a new subdivision that incorporates solar panels and a battery for each home to generate a microgrid of power, which would allow the neighborhood to contribute to Lakeland Electric’s electric supply and remain with electricity during and following major storms.
There is already funding is in the budget for an innovative program and would pay to equip at least 50 homes with solar panels and batteries. If the city receives a federal grant for which it has applied, it could double the number of homes served.
Cindy Clemmons, Lakeland Electric’s manager of legislative and regulatory relations, told the utility committee on Friday that the pilot project — the first of its kind for Lakeland Electric — would not impact ratepayers.
“We did a lot of analysis and cost analysis and, you know, how does this look, being a new technology?” Clemmons said. “One of the things that stands out is we will get tax credits … we will get almost 30% back on this project just through tax credits, and that’s through the IRA, which is the Inflation Reduction Act … which we’ve not been eligible before in the past (and) is really going to make this project viable.”
Clemmons said she has been researching federal incentives for about two years and has formed a consortium with BlockEnergy, owned by Amira, which also owns Tampa Electric Company. Block Energy’s slogan is “Power clean communities, a block at a time.”
The BlockEnergy System would be installed in a new, yet-to-be-determined development and would include rooftop solar panels, along with an energy storage unit attached to each home, and distributing controls.
According to the company, the homes are then joined together in a network, creating self-sustaining microgrids, able to independently power homes without disruption — handy in hurricane-prone Florida. The microgrids are also able to seamlessly join with the local grid when needed.
“It improves customer reliability,” Clemmons said. “Let’s say there’s a storm and their area gets hit. For whatever reason — you know, trees are down, etc. — they can actually island off and sustain.”
BlockEnergy has solar-powered a project at Kirkland Air Force Base in New Mexico and is in the process of outfitting a low-income housing project in Maryland.
Clemmons said a TECO pilot project in Wimauma was forced to do just that following Hurricane Ian last year.
“They were able to sustain themselves for several days,” she added.
Clemmons also explained that if a neighbor working from home and running multiple appliance starts to run low on power, his BlockEnergy control will pull power from a neighbor.
“That’s the thing about the technology is that it knows how to balance itself out,” she said. “Even if … something happens, you know, a tree hits or lightning hits it. It’s a mesh network. They’re not going to see a flicker. It’ll continue going.”
Mayor Bill Mutz asked about disproportionate users – someone who uses much more than the average household.
“Say we have four families in this 50 group that all run their air conditioning at 65 and you know, they have 12 kids and all that kind of stuff,” said Mutz, who does have a dozen children. “And so what happens to the neighbors, what do they think about these people?”
DeLaine Bacon, BlockEnergy’s vice president of business strategy and analysis, said the system is designed to incorporate a situation like that.
“This is justified and built to serve the whole community, so if one house uses more and one house uses less, that’s okay, that happens all the time,” Bacon said. “You build them appropriately. The reason why that works is because we have justified … that the cost, this is a cost effective way to serve all of those new customers.”
Souk Detsouvanh, a utility committee member, asked about battery life.
“So from what I’ve learned about lithium batteries, they pretty much last for a long time,” Detsouvanh said. “But depending on how much they get charged and discharged and how fast, they could last at least 15 years or more is my understanding.”
“That’s what we were expecting, as well,” Clemmons said.
BlockEnergy would maintain the equipment for two years, but it would then fall under Lakeland Electric purview.
The pilot program is still in the planning phase. Clemmons said they are waiting to see if they receive the federal Grid Resiliency and Innovation Project Grant, adding that they should know by September. Once that happens, they will bring it back to the utility committee for approval.
A video of the presentation begins at 33:35 here.
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