Infrastructure

Cleveland Microgrid Proposal Promises Stable, ‘Cybersecure’ Power System

Proponents say customers would also be insulated from a regional or national blackout because the microgrid would be designed to "island" itself from the larger grid if needed.

by John Funk, The Plain Dealer / October 22, 2018
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(TNS) — Downtown Cleveland would become a power-secure site for new businesses that cannot afford power failures and want a grid insulated from cyberattacks, says a proposal prepared for the Cleveland Foundation.

The Energy Policy Center at Cleveland State University and the Great Lakes Energy Institute at Case Western Reserve University are proposing that the city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County build a microgrid powered in part by a new power plant at Cleveland Thermal.

The microgrid would encompass an area from Lake Erie border south to Carnegie Avenue, from the Cuyahoga River east to E. 55th Street.

In the proposal, commercial customers willing to pay a delivered price of 14 cents per kilowatt-hour would have clean power delivered in a cybersecure system designed to be operational 99.999 percent of time, or "less than 6 minutes of power loss per year."

Additionally, customers would see improved power quality, in other words, no voltage sags or changes in frequency. And they would not have to spend as much on their own backup power generators, though the studies contemplate that the private systems could also be integrated into the new grid as additional backup supplies.

Customers would also be insulated from a regional or national blackout because the microgrid would be designed to "island" itself from the larger grid if needed.

The all-new downtown microgrid, aimed to be operational in 2022, would be connected to Cleveland Public Power's system, which would deliver the electricity from a "combined heat and power" plant Cleveland Thermal would build.

Combined-heat-and-power plants are considered among the most efficient gas-fired systems because they make both steam and electricity and Cleveland Thermal envisioned adding power generation to its new boilers installed last year.

Cost of the project, which is being proposed as an economic development tool, has been estimated at $100 million. And economic impact study predicts the project by 2026 would create as many as 2,264 jobs with annual earnings of nearly $162 million.

The two feasibility studies, to be released by the universities Monday, are among topics that will be discussed next week at a cybersecurity conference at the IX Center.

One additional feasibility study is pending. An initial study published last fall noted that the marginal cost of secure power adds over 5 cents per kilowatt-hour to the regular commercial rate of around 9-10 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Andrew Thomas, executive in residence at the Energy Policy Center, said the study teams surveyed 150 companies in an effort to see whether there would be potential customers for the microgrid.

He said companies were interested if the grid could provide the power at 14 cents per kilowatt-hour or lower. The projected price on the grid is 13 cents.

"These prices would be pretty attractive right now," he said. "Our goal here is growth, not to steal customers from the Illuminating Co. or Cleveland Public Power," he said.

"We identified three areas that had the largest [loss of productivity] in the event of an outage, professional and technical services, health care and insurance."

Some county and city leaders have seen the early versions of the feasibility studies, he said, but will need a lot of time to digest the information.

County Executive Armond Budish said he is interested in further research and discussion.

"I am very interested in exploring how a microgrid could make a difference here in Cuyahoga County," he said in a written statement. "We've seen the problems in the past few years of large electric grids going down and customers losing power for days and months.

"A microgrid district like the one being envisioned with clean, affordable and reliable power could be a great economic development attraction for us. From the County's perspective, we want to help make this a reality."

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