Solar and Resilience in Emergency Management: Lessons Learned From Solar Energy Innovation Network Round 2 Teams
Jan. 17, 2023 by Wilson Rickerson and Shoshana Cohen
Solar Energy Innovation Network (SEIN) partners from Tampa Bay, Florida, and Reno, Nevada, discuss three crucial lessons learned by cities seeking renewable energy answers to resilience challenges
The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of NREL, the U.S. Department of Energy, or the U.S. government.
Disasters such as the wildfires in California, Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico, and the Texas winter storm of 2021 have caused catastrophic power outages that left communities without power for weeks or even months, demonstrating the importance of energy resilience for critical facilities and services. Responding to these types of incidents requires support from multiple government departments that have different operational processes and missions, increasing the need for cross-department planning and collaboration prior to and during disaster events.
There are opportunities for emergency management and sustainability staff to put the booming clean energy markets to work in support of energy resilience. This type of cross-functional collaboration between local government departments can help scale sustainable energy, attract new resources to emergency management priorities, and better position communities to absorb shocks and bounce back stronger. Here, we take a deeper dive into key insights and lessons learned about how local energy and sustainability staff are collaborating, based on experiences from SEIN Round 2 teams.
This post focuses on the experience of SEIN teams: the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council's Clear Sky Tampa Bay project and the City of Reno's effort to add resilience to its Public Safety Center, both of which explored the role of solar-plus-storage to enhance resilience at critical facilities.
Lesson 1: Incorporate Solar and Storage Projects in Emergency Management Processes and Policies
Local emergency management policy is rooted in national doctrine established by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). National emergency management policy is complex and can present a steep learning curve for city energy managers and sustainability staff. The SEIN Clear Sky Tampa Bay project developed a resilience-based siting toolkit for solar and storage that provides primers on emergency management policy and practice for municipal energy officials. Three key takeaways from the Clear Sky process are discussed below.
Emergency Managers Focus on Seven Community Lifelines, of Which Energy Is One
According to FEMA, community lifelines are the "fundamental services in the community that, when stabilized, enable all other aspects of society of function." FEMA's National Response Framework introduces community lifelines as the basis for organizing national, state, and local emergency management. Local energy and sustainability staff can support emergency management by grounding their work in the community lifelines. The Clear Sky toolkit, for example, suggests that one of the first steps in siting solar and storage projects is to identify the community lifelines they would support.
Emergency Management's Focus on Back-Up Power Can Be a Pathway for Solar and Storage
Generators are the "go to" back-up power solution for emergency managers. Federal Emergency Management Agency guidance for critical facility emergency power emphasizes diesel and natural gas generators, and provides recommendations for how to design, operate, and maintain reliable energy sources for critical facilities after a disaster event. Local energy and sustainability officials can use the established pathways for assessing critical facility emergency power needs as a way to begin conversations about how solar and storage could supplement (or replace) current and planned fossil fuel generators. For more information, see FEMA guidance on the Whole Building Design Guide.
Focus on Critical Loads That Support Critical Functions
Community lifelines rely on specific facilities, whose missions in turn rely on critical loads. Identifying the specific loads that need to remain up and running can help right-size and streamline solar and storage solutions. Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council worked with graduate student teams from the University of South Florida to identify critical loads at facilities across the Tampa Bay Region and developed case studies of their findings for municipal staff. Under the Reno SEIN project, the city focused specifically on the critical loads at its new Public Safety Center, which will combine police and fire services in a renovated, former newspaper building. Reno's analysis of the Public Safety Center focused on solar and storage to support critical functions such as emergency dispatch and evidence storage. For more information, see the Solar Market Pathways Critical Load Document on the San Francisco Environment Department website.
Lesson 2: Assess How Clean Energy Can Support Local Emergency Management Requirements
Emergency managers build and maintain plans for how municipalities can prepare for and respond to disasters. Energy and sustainability staff can help identify where solar and storage would support their local plans' objectives and where clean energy funding might help fill emergency management resource gaps. Planning requirements for local governments differ from state to state, so energy staff should consult their emergency management colleagues about what plans they use and on what timelines the plans are renewed. Several types of local plans include the following.
Comprehensive Emergency Management Plans
Comprehensive management plans (CEMPs) describe the types of disasters to plan for and assign roles and responsibilities for preparing for, mitigating, responding to, and recovering from disasters. State laws in many states require counties, towns, and cities to adopt and update CEMPs. CEMPs typically specify energy support functions that may be of particular relevance to energy and sustainability staff.
Post-Disaster Redevelopment Plans
Post-disaster redevelopment plans (PDRPs) identify how communities will redevelop, recover, and rebuild in the long-term after disasters. Energy and sustainability staff can use PDRPs as a gateway to conversation for future energy projects that reduce disaster impacts and speed up recovery. The State of Florida, for example, requires all coastal counties and cities to have a PDRP in place. Florida state guidance encourages communities to take energy efficiency and green building measures into account as part of rebuilding efforts within PDRPs. In the Tampa region, Pasco County's PDRP encourages sustainable energy, renewable energy, energy efficiency, solar power generation, and green building practices alongside rebuilding for resilience and storm hardening.
Hazard Mitigation Plans
Hazard mitigation plans (HMPs), which are also referred to as local mitigation strategies, summarize the current and future risks and hazards that a community faces. Emergency managers identify critical infrastructure and outline prioritized mitigation strategies in their HMPs. Jurisdictions must have an active HMP to receive FEMA funding. HMPs must be updated at least every 5 years. The prioritized lists of critical facilities included in HMPs are valuable resources for energy and sustainability staff in siting resilient solar and storage. For more information, see the FEMA Local Hazard Mitigation Planning fact sheet.
In the Tampa Bay region, for example, the county mitigation strategies identify close to 200 emergency generators that will require close to $25 million to be built. Energy and sustainability staff can engage with their emergency management colleagues about which prioritized facilities might benefit from solar and storage and how federal, state, and/or utility clean energy funding might provide matching funds for emergency management dollars. For more information, see the Tampa Bay Regional Policy Landscape Analysis.
Lesson 3: Understand How Emergency Management Funds Can Support Clean Energy Projects
Clean energy projects that support energy resilience are eligible for federal and/or state emergency management funds. In the past, federal funds could be used primarily to invest in areas damaged by disasters. Expanded and new federal funds, however, allow for investments to protect against future disasters. Eligibility for FEMA programs has also expanded dramatically as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. For the first time in American history, all 59 states and territories qualified for a disaster declaration. The Stafford Act of 1988 set up federal funding mechanisms and a recovery planning processes for state and local governments after disasters, including programs such as FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Assistance and Public Assistance Program, among others. The following Hazard Mitigation Assistance programs, in particular, can be a source of funding for resilient solar and storage.
Hazard Mitigation Grant Program
FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) is a foundational program in the emergency management community designed to lessen or mitigate future disaster losses. The HMGP program can be used to support clean energy microgrids, and FEMA emphasizes microgrids as an eligible use. Energy and sustainability staff can engage in local mitigation strategy development (see above) to determine whether solar and storage might fit into current or future requests for HMGP funds.
Building Resilient Community Infrastructure Program
FEMA'S Building Resilient Community Infrastructure (BRIC) is the first program of its kind to prioritize resilience over response to disasters. The program was created following the Disaster Recovery and Reform Act of 2018. This annual program funds mitigation or capability and capacity-building projects that reduce or eliminate hazards and increase resilience, especially around critical lifelines, such as energy projects. BRIC funding increased from $1 billion in Fiscal Year 2021 to $2.295 billion in Fiscal Year 2022.
The City of Reno successfully applied for BRIC funds to support the proposed solar and storage system at the Public Safety Center. The city demonstrated that the solar system would support both the communications and the safety and security FEMA community lifelines. For more information, see the City of Reno Resilience Planning and Funding Opportunities.
The experiences of the City of Reno and Tampa Bay cities and counties demonstrate the power of collaboration between energy and emergency management staff. As extreme weather increases and federal disaster programs expand, there will likely be even more opportunities in the coming months and years for local government departments to connect in new ways to support community resilience.