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San Diego’s CleanTECH Wins $154M in Stimulus Funds

The U.S. Department of Energy announced the winners of the federal stimulus funding in San Diego.  There were 135 applications totaling $2.4 billion, which is more than four times the money allotted.  While San Diego Gas and Electric’s bid for $100 million for smart-grid technology failed, CleanTECH got the approval for the $154 million Clean Renewable Energy Bonds for 192 solar installations. “There were a number of high-quality, technically attractive projects that we just weren’t able to fund,” said Jen Stutsman, an Energy Department spokeswoman. The candidates were scrutinized on the basis of the technical, financial and job-creation prospects offered by their projects.  The funding is expected to generate hundreds of green jobs in the region besides adding 20 megawatts of electricity that amounts to 40 percent of solar energy produced locally.

The news came as a major disappointment for the officials of SDG&E who had signed up a coalition of two-dozen companies, universities, government agencies, non-profit organizations and a union for the application of the federal funds.  Lee Krevat, SDG&E’s smart-grid director, said “If we won, we’d be further ahead because we’d know how to fund this project we’re so excited about. The priorities within that proposal will continue. … We don’t feel like we’re back to Square One.” The federal stimulus was to fund the 1.4 million “smart meters” that can be used to track the electricity utilization in 15-minute increments instead of once a month along with high-tech technology enhancement.

“For the last round we applied for one $1.3 million project and won that,” said Lisa Bicker, referring to CleanTECH’s previous CREBs application. “This time around the private sector offered pro bono help with the applications. I think that’s what made the difference.” The submission of the application was the outcome of the joint-efforts put in by volunteer organizations including Latham & Watkins LLP, Stone & Youngberg LLC, PE Consulting, the San Diego Foundation, the California Center for Sustainable Energy, Southern Contracting Co., and the UCSD mechanical engineering students Karl Olney, Michael Gollner, Kevin Peng and Ihab Khayal, working with Jan Kleissl, their professor in the Jacobs School of Engineering.

While the efforts made by Latham & Watkins threw light over the fact that the IRS had awarded the previous funds for the smallest-value projects, they turned their attention into grouping the local applications into smaller projects instead of one major one, along with the support of Stone & Youngberg who made the financial plans for public agencies planning solar projects. This was followed by the other volunteers who donated engineering services. The university students, on the other hand, used the Google Earth to map the addresses that required the solar panels and linked it with the online tool PVWatts Solar Calculator to estimate annual energy output, resulting in a spreadsheet that is capable of calculating the 10- to 15-year payback for each project. This tool reduced the time taken to complete an application to ten minutes that did wonders as the public agencies applying for the sites didn’t have adequate staff to perform the task.

The federal funding had concentrated on unpredictable wind and solar energy storage projects as it plays a key role in ensuring continuous power supply to meet the demands. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said: “This funding (federal stimulus) will be used to show how smart-grid technologies can be applied to whole systems to promote energy savings for consumers, increase energy efficiency, and foster the growth of renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.”

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