The national clean energy transition begins locally—in cities, towns, on tribal lands, and in rural, remote, and island communities. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to clean energy planning and installation, though, because each place has its own unique geography, climate, economy, and social and environmental concerns.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recognizes that what works for Miami won’t work for Minneapolis. That’s why local governments, communities, and DOE’s national labs are working together to define and advance place-based clean energy solutions that address the specific needs of every community, including low-income areas and industry towns. DOE has programs and initiatives to facilitate this work.
What Are the Community Benefits?
Enabling communities to make decisions about how clean energy and energy efficiency measures are implemented in their jurisdiction is essential and effective, because local residents, businesses, schools, hospitals, nonprofits, and other stakeholders understand their own needs and concerns best.
Customized clean energy technology solutions can provide the following community benefits:
- Economic development
- Job creation and training programs
- Lower energy costs
- Improved health and safety, leading to lower health care bills
- Resilience, or rapid recovery after power disruptions
- Energy equity and environmental justice
- Shorter transition period
- Youth engagement
Community Benefits in Action
At the Cities Summit of the Americas on April 27, DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Acting Assistant Secretary Alejandro Moreno, elected local officials from three states, and researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory discussed how communities are incorporating the benefits they want to see into their local energy development plans and how DOE can help them translate those plans into action.
Mayor John Ortega of Questa, a village in New Mexico, said that when a molybdenum mine closed in 2014, 300 people, or about 17% of Questa’s population, lost their jobs. (Molybdenum is an element used to strengthen metals, like steel.) Now through DOE’s Communities LEAP program, a study is underway to determine whether infrastructure from Questa’s former mining facilities can be transformed into a clean hydrogen plant, creating jobs.
Christian Clegg, city manager of Bakersfield, California, discussed how Kern County’s clean energy transition plans will affect its oil- and agriculture-based economy. Identifying existing assets, like infrastructure and job skill sets, and engaging with community members to obtain input will pave the road toward a just and equitable transition.
DOE Enables Community-Driven Transitions
Switching to 100% clean energy may seem daunting, especially to communities with limited budgets and staff. Whether the concern is ensuring training for new clean energy jobs or installing microgrids to improve energy resilience, DOE makes it easier through the following funding and technical assistance programs:
- Communities LEAP supports communities that are low-income, energy-burdened, or impacted by environmental injustice or a shift away from fossil fuels.
- The Energy Transitions Initiative Partnership Project works with remote and island communities seeking to transform their energy systems and increase resilience. Communities that wish to participate can apply by May 19.
- Clean Energy to Communities fosters peer learning and partnerships and connects local governments, communities, and utilities with national lab experts for tailor-made support. Application periods are open twice a year. Apply by May 8.
Furthermore, DOE frequently issues funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) soliciting projects to advance clean energy technology research and development. In November 2022, DOE awarded $10 million to three projects exploring place‐based energy generation through energysheds, or areas in which energy that is produced locally sustains that area’s energy consumption.
FOAs also require applicants to submit community benefits plans to describe how their projects will support the communities in which their projects will be designed, developed, demonstrated, or deployed. Additionally, FOA project proposals are scored according to how they meet criteria supporting equity and environmental justice, workforce development, and other areas.
With all hands on deck to implement clean energy and energy efficiency solutions across the country, the United States will achieve its goal to decarbonize the economy by 2050.