The Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA), along with a coalition of partners, announced a grant on Oct. 18 from the Department of Energy for $250 million for the Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnerships (GRIP) program, which is aimed at enhancing resiliency and flexibility of the electric grid.
GRIP is a product of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed into law by President Biden in Nov. 2021 and looks to, “ensure the reliability of the power sector’s infrastructure, so all American communities have access to affordable, reliable, clean electricity anytime,” according to its website.
Partners with GEFA included Oglethorpe Power, Georgia Transmission Corporation, Georgia System Operations and Green Power EMC. Collectively, they serve 4.4 million Georgians across 38 EMCs.
Towards a sustainable, resilient future for rural communities
“This public-private partnership will help build a resilient energy future for Georgia,” said GEFA Executive Director Hunter Hill.
GEFA focused their application on rural, underserved communities. The $250 million grant will be part of a larger investment of over $500 million that will go towards the goal of strengthening the grid with clean energy and resiliency. A traveling microgrid that premiered at the annual sustainability event Ray Day is just one example of possible future resiliency.
Batteries, microgrids and more are expected to be implemented, and around 80 miles of new transmission lines — mostly in Southwest Georgia — are expected to be completed by 2030 from this funding.
Additionally, one of the most important aspects of the clean energy future will be energy storage — batteries — and what to do with excess electricity produced so that it can be used strategically, when and where it’s most needed.
“As we navigate the clean energy transition while simultaneously responding to increased electricity demands, we expect this energy storage project to enhance grid resiliency and enable the deployment of increased intermittent emission-free energy on Georgia’s electric grid,” said Oglethorpe Power President & CEO Mike Smith in a statement.
The funding will include, “25 MW for 4 hours of moderate-scale battery storage” — also by 2030 — according to Terry Buttrill, public affairs director of Georgia Transmission Corporation, an intermediary between state-sponsored energy generators and rural EMCs.
Energy efficiency for rural communities
Another key focus will be energy efficiency, which is instrumental in helping low-income households use less energy and thus lowering their energy burden. Energy burden is a household’s mean energy bill (electric and gas) divided by its mean household income — i.e. its percentage of household income spent on energy bills. In Georgia, research by Groundswell, Inc. found that, “While Georgia has lower electricity rates than the national average (of 14.12 ¢ / kWh), Georgia’s statewide average energy burden for low- and moderate income (LMI) households is 19.4 percent.”
While there is no consensus across all researchers on what amount of a household income should go towards energy bills, it’s clear that lower and moderate income households’ energy bills are a larger share of their overall income than they are for higher income households. That same study found that, “The average energy burden for Georgia households living at 50% of the Federal Poverty Level is 30 percent — five times that of Georgia households earning $55,500 (or 200% FPL) or more per year.”
This can be attributed to a multitude of reasons, like older homes in rural areas that are not energy efficient or lack proper insulation to resist thermal changes or lower rural wages that adversely affect the ratio of energy bill to income.
Moreover, as evidenced by the GEFA grant, rural areas are often served by EMCs — electric membership cooperatives. These EMCs are relatively self governing and as such, do not necessarily have external forces pushing them towards energy efficiency programs or education.
“We believe that every community deserves the same standard of reliability; however, delivering on that commitment can prove challenging due the ruralness of these areas. These grant dollars, and the ability they provide us to deploy innovative technologies, makes that reliability and resiliency possible,” said Barbara Hampton, president & CEO, Georgia Transmission Corporation.
This is reason to further believe that this GEFA grant will go a long way in advancing clean and affordable energy in rural Georgia.