A group meets to discuss the Clean Energy to Communities Program and how they can improve access to clean energy in their area.
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C2C closes the gap

What is the Clean Energy to Communities Program, and Who Is Eligible?

Steve Hansen
October 30, 2023

If you’re not immersed in the world of renewable energy, you might not know that the U.S. Department of Energy runs a few laboratories dedicated to a host of projects, including renewable energy research and programs.

One of those programs is called the Clean Energy to Communities Program, C2C, and it’s funded by the Department of Energy and managed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado. Also supporting the program are Argonne National Laboratory in Argonne, Illinois; Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California; Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington.

The program connects experts from those labs with local governments, electric utility companies, community organizations, and other locally focused groups who want to accelerate “the deployment of clean energy systems that are reflective of local and regional priorities.”

The real magic of this program is in connecting the massive expertise of the renewable-energy experts in the labs with the people scattered around the country who, wanting to improve their communities, probably have more clean energy ambitions than knowledge or resources. “By bringing together innovative technology, state-of-the-art modeling, and unique abilities to test clean energy plans before installing them in the field,” the C2C site states, “C2C can help close the gap between clean energy ambitions and real-world deployment.”

Different Levels of Engagement for Different Communities

C2C has three different levels of engagement with different time commitments: Expert match, Peer-Learning Cohorts, and In-Depth Technical Partnerships. Each option offers a different level of engagement depending on that community’s point in the process of adopting renewable energy.

Expert Match: This version of the program is set up as free, short-term assistance (40–60 hours over 1–2 months) from one or more technical experts from the lab(s) to about 200 community stakeholders and decision-makers within:

  • Local governments—city, town, or county.
  • Tribal governments.
  • Metropolitan planning organizations.
  • Nongovernmental organizations.
  • Community-based organizations.
  • Regional planning organizations.
  • Utilities.
  • Universities.

For-profit organizations are not eligible to participate in this program. The program is really designed for groups like those listed above who would like to undertake clean-energy projects in the near term but may lack in-house expertise. They could be working on projects such as:

  • Community transitions, including jobs and economic development.
  • Electric vehicle adoption and deployment.
  • Energy-efficiency measures for residential and commercial buildings.
  • Microgrids.
  • Renewable energy procurement.
  • Solar projects, both residential and commercial, in cities, rural areas, and tribal communities.

Peer-Learning Cohorts: This approach is a collaborative, multi-community process of about six months duration that can include a range of stakeholders and decision-makers who act as primary applicants, such as:  

  • Tribes
  • City, town, or county governments
  • Metropolitan planning organizations
  • Regional planning organizations
  • Utilities
  • Community-based organizations
  • Other public entities, such as transit agencies, school districts, and housing authorities.

Primary applicants may include secondary partners on their applications, such as community-based organizations, Clean Cities coalitions, other public agencies, electric utilities, and so on. NREL manages peer-learning cohorts with funding provided by the U.S. Department of Energy and support from the World Resources Institute. It’s expected that the program will enroll about 100 communities in this version of C2C.

Each cohort of up to 15 entities meets regularly to learn from lab experts and from each other while developing strategies, program proposals, action plans, and/or best practices on a predetermined clean energy topic. Participants will have access to case studies, analysis and modeling tools, templates, training, and facilitated collaboration via lab experts.

In addition, the peer-learning model is designed to enable participants to:

  • Exchange case studies, experiences, and insights with other communities that can inform their own activities.
  • Gain insights that can help them access upcoming funding or programmatic opportunities.
  • Develop proposals, action plans, and strategies to overcome common challenges and enable accelerated clean energy progress.

In-Depth Technical Partnerships: In this format, six communities are selected to engage with lab experts for three-year partnerships to develop affordable, reliable, secure, resilient, and equitable clean energy systems. Their projects can be any energy efficiency, renewable energy, or transportation electrification planning project, focusing broadly on renewable energy, buildings, and mobility. Other topics that are open for consideration include energy security, disaster preparedness, resilience, environmental justice, and energy equity.

In-depth technical partnerships can focus on the following projects, though others can be considered as well:

  • What are the costs of a clean electricity grid in the region, and what are the quantified benefits?
  • What does achieving clean energy goals mean for jobs, air quality, health, the local economy, and environmental justice?
  • How can a community make sure that the new system is reliable under extreme events such as fires and heat waves?
  • Does reaching clean energy goals mean big changes locally—such as building new transmission lines or power plants?
  • How might demand for electricity change with more adoption of energy technologies such as electric vehicles and rooftop solar?

These long-term, in-depth partnerships are intended to provide sustained, expert-level support to communities and organizations that are ready to develop a realistic and validated clean energy project. Local decision-makers from various organizations have the opportunity to work with national laboratory staff to apply modeling and analysis tools to their proposed projects and test their hardware scenarios adapted to their communities’ unique conditions and contexts. This strategy delivers meaningful results while lowering risks to implementation.

In addition, the program is tailored to each individual community and delivers:

  • A dedicated point of contact within the national lab system.
  • Direct subcontract funding to support staff or consultants.
  • Facilitation and community engagement support.
  • Extensive technical support from the DOE national laboratory complex.

Direct Support for Renewable Energy Projects

The Clean Energy to Communities program is currently underway and has recently announced another $25 million funding package for the latest selectees for the In-Depth Partnerships Program. They include:

  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Delaware Valley, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey
  • Moloka’i, Hawaii
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Sitka, Alaska.
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