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U.S. Department of Energy awards $17.2 million for Colorado microgrids

The award will help Colorado communities to improve their electrical grids in the face of climate-driven extreme weather
A Kit Carson solar array. Courtesy of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative

To counter climate-driven extreme weather and aging infrastructure, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded the Department of Local Affairs and the Colorado Energy Office $17.2 million on Sept. 28.

The award will help improve the resilience and dependability of Colorado’s electrical grid during the first two years of five for expected funding. It also supports a study on microgrids’ likely role in furthering state energy goals to counter climate-driven extreme weather patterns and aging infrastructure.

According to a news release, the state will also invest $2.6 million into the grid resiliency work on top of the DOE’s award.

The funds will support Colorado’s Microgrid Roadmap’s development while bringing forth three grant programs – Microgrids for Community Resilience grant program, Grid Hardening for Small and Rural Communities Grants and Advanced Grid Monitoring Grants – that will open applications this fall for the state’s communities.

The Microgrid Roadmap program

Colorado’s MCR program primarily focuses on developing new microgrids, particularly centered around community-level systems. The program highlights reinforcing essential infrastructure and/or community-based anchor institutions’ resiliency, including hospitals or other health care facilities, public safety agencies, law enforcement, libraries, emergency medical providers and schools.

In total, DOLA awarded $236,517 to eight Colorado counties during the first round of MCR Planning Grants in July 2023 with state funds from HB22-1013.

DOLA awarded Dolores County with a $30,000 grant to the San Miguel Power Association. The project that the utility company undertook, named the Rico Microgrid for Community Resilience, is a solar study in Rico, which frequently experiences power outages.

DOE’s funds will broaden the budget and reach of the MCR Program, where additional grant opportunities for microgrid projects will be given, including a total of $12.3 million for construction/implementation grants for storage/microgrid controllers over the next two years.

Additionally, $565,000 from HB22-1013 will go toward the construction/implementation of microgrid-tied generation that will be used for rural cooperative electric associations and municipally-owned utilities for one round of competitive funding.

Also, $500,000 in competitive grants is available for rural cooperative electric associations and municipally-owned utilities.

Grid hardening for small and rural communities grants

This competitive grant opportunity – that offers a total of $4,236,494 – is geared toward Colorado’s rural electric cooperatives and small municipal utilities to improve and upgrade infrastructure to guard it from increasing risks. The grants can be used to improve vegetation management, underground electrical equipment, replace or relocate power lines and for fire resistant technologies.

The grant application period is open between Oct. 2 and Dec. 1.

Advanced grid monitoring grants

These competitive grants to improve grid monitoring technologies for Colorado utilities, which include grid modeling, distribution pole sensors, advanced vegetation management and fire prevention systems, will help quicken responses to incidents and minimize service disruptions.

Utilities can also use these funds for studies to recognize how to tactically deploy these technologies.

All Colorado utilities are eligible to apply for advanced grid monitoring grants and the application period is open between Oct. 2 and Dec. 15.

Microgrid roadmap

CEO plans to identify how and where microgrids are most needed to harden the grid and increase electric reliability through a Microgrid Roadmap.

Currently it is in the process of choosing an expert contractor who will recommend actions to facilitate future microgrids’ development, identify vulnerabilities in Colorado’s electric grid and conduct extensive stakeholder engagement.

CEO will also work directly with utilities to recognize and fund the projects that are most in need to reduce the frequency of power outages and minimize impacts – most notably in remote mountain and prairie communities and disproportionately impacted communities.

CEO and DOLA will offer an informational webinar about the opportunities on Thurs., Oct. 5 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Interested applicants can sign up here.