MK: Cuyahoga County takes next step to create a microgrid-friendly utility

(Article repurposed from Microgrid Knowledge, sister publication of EnergyTech).

Ohio’s Cuyahoga County has an ambitious microgrid plan underway that last January made Microgrid Knowledge’s 22 Intriguing Projects to Watch in 2022.

As we move into 2023, the county is making good on its promise, last week achieving a significant milestone — the selection of a partner to help it form its own utility. The partner is Compass Energy Platform, a California-based clean energy developer and financing platform.

Cuyahoga County wants to become a microgrid industry hub of the US as part of its economic development plan. But it said rules and fees applied by its local utility are causing roadblocks.

That led the county to make the unusual decision to form its own microgrid-friendly, county-run utility.

Projects of this magnitude sometimes end up by the wayside because a champion leaves the organization or it just proves too ambitious for available resources.

But Cuyahoga County has persistently moved forward. In July, the county issued a request for information seeking ideas about how it could execute its vision. The response was robust with about 40 entities providing their input, among them Ameresco, Compass, Eaton, Enchanted Rock, Mesa Solutions, PowerSecure, S&C Electric and Schneider Electric.

Then, in October, the county issued a request for qualifications for a partner to get the utility up and running, resulting in the selection of Compass for the job.

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“A lot of great foundational work has been done in 2022 for our new county utility,” said Mike Foley, the county’s sustainability director. “With the help of a utility operator like Compass and great consultants like Go Sustainable Energy and Cleveland State’s Energy Policy Center as well as wonderful support from Sen. Sherrod Brown, our hope is that we will be a national leader in the coming decades in creating resilient and clean energy microgrid districts.”

Federal funding

US Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat from Ohio, shepherded $1.5 million in federal funds to the project, specifically for building a microgrid around an industrial corridor south of I-90 along E. 222 St. Earlier, the county received $300,000 to design a microgrid district in a hub designated for economic development known as the Aerozone region.

The county is seeking an additional $1.8 billion through the federal Grid Innovation Program created by the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 

What Compass will do

As the operational and strategic partner for the county utility, Compass will put together technical standards for developers, bill customers, create reports for regional and national grid operators, assist with financing projects and act as the first point of contact for the nuts-and-bolts operations of the utility.

Compass will fund startup and operational expenses and, along with project developers, will fund microgrid construction. The company will seek to recoup its investments from tariffs and power purchase agreements with microgrid customers.

“The county will benefit greatly from working with Compass Energy Platform, based on their extensive experience putting together hundreds of utility scale electrical projects,” said County Executive Armond Budish. “They have a strong team ready to establish the utility in 2023 and their wealth of knowledge will lend to the creation of a sustainable power source for Cuyahoga County.”

Rick Bolton, CEO of Compass, described the county’s utility and microgrid plans as bold. “As the county’s utility partner, we look forward to establishing the utility and to defining its initial microgrid projects. We anticipate that the county microgrid utility will serve as a model for other communities in their efforts to adapt to climate change.”

The county has begun soliciting agreements with cities where microgrids could be developed. As of December 2022, Euclid, Cleveland Heights, Brooklyn and Brook Park had passed legislation that enables the county utility to operate within their borders.

The first microgrids are not expected to be built and operating until at least 2024.