Building Urban Resilience by Integrating Community-based Power Supplies

January 15, 2022

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FUSE Corps

New Orleans faces immense challenges in the wake of hurricanes and their aftermath that have been exacerbated by power outages and electric grid failures – most recently highlighted in August/September of 2021 when Hurricane Ida knocked out all eight transmission lines into the city. To enhance the resilience of its power grid infrastructure and improving the overall resilience of its community, New Orleans will partner with FUSE Corps for one year to support the implementation of a pilot of microgrids, community resilience nodes, in areas of the city with a large number of infrastructure services.

This fellowship project begins on April 25, 2022, and ends on April 24, 2023. The fellowship begins with a multi-day virtual orientation the week of April 25, 2022. The selected Executive Fellow will begin their first day of providing services to the host agency on May 2, 2022.

PROJECT CONTEXT 

For the City of New Orleans, 2020 marked a critical inflection point – signaling the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the 10th anniversary of the BP oil spill. From each disaster, the city has rebuilt, and in 2015 New Orleans launched the world’s first city resilience strategy – Resilient New Orleans. This strategy envisions that New Orleans is a dynamic and prepared city that adapts to its changing natural environment, invests in equity, creates flexible and reliable systems, and prepares for future shocks. The Resilient New Orleans plan is bolstered by the Climate Action Plan and Climate Action Equity Project. These plans work hand-in-hand to ensure equity is centered in implementing the city’s climate strategy and that all residents can benefit from city investments in curbing climate change and building resilience.

One area of urban resilience New Orleans is focused on improving is within the electric grid. The electric grid is central to the web of interconnected systems that must operate resiliently to serve communities during times of extreme weather. From medical treatment to dry shelter, food, and clean water, nearly every service that residents depend on is heavily dependent on electricity. New Orleans’s immense challenges in the wake of hurricanes and their aftermath have been exacerbated by power outages and electric grid failures. System-wide power outages have made it challenging to resume essential recovery activities such as flood control operations, water supply and treatment, transportation, emergency response, and banking. This was most recently highlighted in August/September of 2021 when Hurricane Ida knocked out all eight transmission lines into the city. At least eleven people were reported to have died of heat exhaustion or carbon monoxide poisoning while trying to cool their homes, access to food was difficult, and gas for cars was in short supply, with low income and Black-neighborhoods particularly affected.

As storms and hurricanes happen more frequently and grow more intense, New Orleans recognizes that enhancing the resilience of its power grid infrastructure is essential to improving the overall resilience of its community. The city has identified microgrids as a particular grid modernization solution that is highly effective at providing a neighborhood-level resilient power supply. In this context, New Orleans will partner with FUSE Corps for one year to support the implementation of a pilot of community resilience nodes, areas of the city with a large number of infrastructure services where the employment of microgrids will have a positive impact on community well-being and climate resilience. The FUSE Executive Fellow will engage with technical experts and community organizations to map out the processes, timeframes, and regulatory and financial interventions needed to bring 8-20 community resilience nodes to scale. This system of community resilience nodes will ultimately improve the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems to survive, adapt, and grow despite the chronic stresses and acute shocks of climate change.

PROJECT SUMMARY & POTENTIAL DELIVERABLES

The following provides a general overview of the proposed Executive Fellowship project. This summary and the potential deliverables will be collaboratively revisited by the host agency, the Executive Fellow, and FUSE staff during the first few months of the Executive Fellowship, after which a revised scope of work will be developed and agreed upon by the FUSE Executive Fellow and the host agency.

Starting in April 2022, it is proposed that the FUSE Executive Fellow will engage with a wide range of critical stakeholders, including staff across city departments; Entergy, the local utility; nonprofits, such as the Alliance for Affordable Energy; technical and content experts, including Sandia National Laboratories; private energy solution providers, like Tesla and PosiGen; community members and community-based organizations, such as those involved in the Stay Lit initiative to conduct an in-depth landscape analysis. The Executive Fellow will utilize these connections to understand how to implement a system of community resilience nodes successfully. This will include mapping the technical aspects of integrating microgrid systems into the larger energy grid and researching national best practices and models of other cities that have successfully established microgrid systems, assessing applicability locally.

The Executive Fellow will build off of existing progress and collate this information into a plan that details the recommendations for how the city will invest in and scale the community-resilience-node model over the next 3-5 years. These recommendations will include policy changes, such as specific regulations or incentives that would require electric utility providers to make resilience investments in the grid, among other innovative microgrid-specific regulations. A critical part of the plan will include modeling the financial commitments or resource investments required to scale and sustain the grid investments. Conducting research and supporting applications for potential sources of funding, such as programs that will be announced through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

In the next phase, the Executive Fellow will begin implementing community resilience node pilot projects in critical city sections. These sections will include low-income and Black-neighborhoods that are most vulnerable to the stresses and shocks to grid failures. This will consist of facilitating public-private partnerships to support the procurement of technical pieces of the microgrid and leveraging potential philanthropic donations to cover installation costs. The Executive Fellow will also work to support ongoing community microgrid campaigns, ensuring they are easily integrated into the pilot programs and are consistently sustained by any financial or technical assistant available from the city. By April 2023, the Executive Fellow will have overseen the following: 

  • Conduct a thorough review of the current landscape Conduct an in-depth landscape analysis of recent efforts to implement microgrids throughout New Orleans; review research conducted by content experts; collating all relevant partners, policies, and processes that will impact microgrid installation; map potential barriers to implementation and identify areas of opportunity; determine national and international best practices and benchmarks for success
  • Engage stakeholders and catalyze buy-in – Interview stakeholders and strengthen existing lines of communication between them; build cross-departmental collaborations and public-private and community-based partnerships that can facilitate implementation
  • Develop a scalable plan for community resilience nodes and utility-scale grid resilience– Establish short-term and long-term goals for grid resilience in New Orleans post-pandemic; form policy and financial recommendations that support the integration of 8-20 nodes throughout New Orleans; bring proposals before the City Council for approval; identify a timeline for each recommendation’s integration, set roles and responsibilities for all stakeholders, determine workflows
  • Leverage financial assets to support strategy implementationDetail the financial commitments and resources required to sustain and successfully scale the pilots, planning to leverage multiple funding streams over time; include provisions for how to successfully utilize the one-time federal funds of the American Rescue Plan/Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act dedicated specifically for grid sustainability and resilience
  • Oversee pilots and ensure strategy sustainability – Implement pilots in key neighborhoods; ensure technical requirements for implementation are strategically phased, and technical experts for integration are procured; support community-based microgrid programming; develop the necessary internal and external systems to ensure that recommendations are successfully implemented, work with stakeholders to identify relevant KPIs and success metrics for the pilots, tracking progress on and capturing lessons learned; support capacity building and work with stakeholders and department leadership to manage the pilots

KEY STAKEHOLDERS

  • Project Supervisor – Jeffrey Schwartz, Director, Department of Economic Development

QUALIFICATIONS

  • Approximately 10 to 15 years of professional experience in program development or consulting, with a background in renewable energies and a passion for environmental sustainability issues
  • Technical (financial/regulatory) experience implementing solar energy or renewable energy utilities highly preferred
  • Prior experience working in or with the New Orleans renewable energies market
  • Experience working in politically charged environments, prowess in managing delicate situations or stakeholders with patience
  • Strong record of success in stakeholder engagement, using facilitative leadership techniques to manage and coordinate stakeholder activities
  • Ability to effectively present policy and financial recommendations, involving and investing a wide range of audiences with varying perspectives
  • Superior critical thinking and analytical skills
  • Ability to synthesize information from a variety of sources into clear and concise recommendations
  • Creatively resourceful in coming up with innovative solutions to complex problems.
  • Cross-cultural agility, relating to a wide variety of diverse audiences with strong emotional intelligence and empathy
  • Robust success in cultivating partnerships, relationship and coalition building, and fostering collaborative environments
  • Flexibility, adaptability, persistence, humility
  • Ability to confront challenges with tenacity, resilience, and patience; creating direction and quickly pivoting within potentially ambiguous environments
  • Exceptional written and verbal communication skills with ease in public presentations
  • A self-motivated and goal-oriented leader who can also be an independent worker
  • Ability to synthesize complex information into clear and concise recommendations
  • Understands the need for solutions to support all people in a community regardless of race, religion, gender, immigration status, or ethnicity
FUSE Corps is an equal opportunity employer with a core value of incorporating diverse perspectives into our work at every level. We encourage candidates from all backgrounds to apply for this position.
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