“Have you heard about Painesville, the little city that could?”
Envious New Yorkers, such as myself, who are involved in green energy solutions often mention this small city, by our standards, about 30 miles Northeast of Cleveland, OH that has embarked on an ambitious program to expand its renewable energy portfolio through energy storage and wind.
Most large urban areas are having enough difficulties getting their programs even considered, but Painesville‘s now-retired forward-thinking City Manager, Rita McMahon, and the city council made the decision to reduce its carbon footprint and has moved on it in a bold, but conscientious way. The major difference between New York City and Painesville is that utilities need to satisfy their investors; municipalities are directly responsive to its taxpayers.
And the City Council has many dedicated, talented people involved with this project. Katie Jenkins, for instance, a relatively new council member, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Studies, Masters of Public Administration, and earned a certificate in Local and Urban Management. She is passionate about reducing the carbon footprint, “We just have to do this for the sake of our environment”.
Another City Councilperson, Lori DiNallo, is a self-styled fiscal Conservative who is just as passionately interested in the financial benefits to the city, accountability, job growth, as well as diversification of their green energy portfolio.
So what initially sparked all this conversation concerning Painesville in the Empire State? Simple: Energy Storage.
“Energy storage is a big deal,” former Energy Secretary Chu said in 2010, noting that the federal government had already put over $620 million into demonstration projects.
One of these ‘Smart Grid’ demonstration projects, partially funded by these grants, is Painesville. They will be installing a cutting-edge eight hour an 8 megawatt hour (MWh) vanadium redox flow battery (VRFB) for Painesville’s Municipal Power Plant as part of the ‘Smart Grid’ which, according to the DOE, generally refers to a class of technology people are using to bring utility electricity delivery systems into the 21st century, using computer-based remote control and automation.
“It’s a regenerative fuel cell, like a hydrogen fuel cell, that takes electricity from wind, solar, or conventional fossil power plants, stores it in the battery system through electrolyte”, explains Norma Byron, President of Ashlawn Energy, the company that is designing, manufacturing, and installing, the VRFB. She goes on, “The vanadium is the active element that stores the electricity in charged liquid”. Vanadium is a chemical element that occurs naturally in about 65 different minerals , in fossil fuel deposits, and resembles a hard, ductile, silver-gray metal.
Pretty heady stuff, but then, what would you expect from a woman who had already set up manufacturing of hydrogen fuel cells for the Department of the Army? That’s what brought Ms. McMahon’s attention to Ms. Byron.
“Through my fuel cell manufacturing experience in Painesville for the Department of Defense, I gained a high regard for the skills and work ethic of the people, but I was ready to make a change to something more positive than ammunition, and energy storage just seemed to be a logical step for the community. I simply approached Rita (McMahon) and she carefully considered my proposal.”
Byron founded Ashlawn Energy in 2008 and based it in her hometown of Alexandria, VA. The city of Painesville then partnered with the company to win the DOE Smart Grid Demonstration Project, one of 16 projects, selected from 150 applicants and funded half the project, which covered the R&D costs. You see what I meant about the, ‘little town that could’?
Both were also committed to keeping the manufacturing in Painesville and Ashlawn agreed to hire over 200 permanent advanced technology and other jobs for the area.
It seemed like a win-win situation.
But with all good things there have been a few challenges:
DiNallo described a major setback with the other half of the funding that was supposed to come from former Gov. Strickland and the State of Ohio through Ohio Air Quality Development Authority (OAQDA) “There was a change in administration and Gov. Kasich withdrew all funding for the OAQDA. This left us with an unexpected shortfall, which has delayed the project, and put the city in a different position. Norma is finding and evaluating alternative private funding. DiNallo continued, “Power has its own language and we are currently finalizing a revised contract to make sure that the city is in the best position.”
Power does, indeed, have its own language and Byron, the Virginian, has been driving to and from Painesville for the many council meetings in order to make herself available for any technical questions that might arise or needed clarifications.
Jeff McHugh, the Electric Power Superintendent of Painesville Municipal Power Plant has been anxiously awaiting the end of the contractual process between Painesville and Ashlawn. According to DiNallo, “The electric department has been working tirelessly for this.”
McHugh totally gets it. As the head of a coal-fired plant, he understands, from that perspective, the many benefits of energy storage such as enhancing generation, transmission, distribution, peak shaving, ‘black starts’, and saving money. The battery will help, environmentally, by significantly reducing greenhouse gasses. “We’ve already built the building, and it is ready for the battery,”
After the contract is finalized, the City Council will vote on the project, this time under the administration of Anthony Carson, Jr, the new City Manager; a positive vote will give the ‘green light’ for Ashlawn to get its own financing.
Meanwhile, up the road apiece, in North Perry Village, Minnesota-based Juhl Energy will be installing two 426-foot-tall wind turbines, manufactured by GE in Colorado, to further diversify Painesville energy portfolio. It will be Painesville’s first foray into wind energy.
Yusef Orest, the Project Developer at Juhl Wind, is proud to, “benefit a community’s balance sheets” by providing a “cost-effective energy option”.
While Juhl Energy is a publicly traded company, Orest maintains it still has the grassroots and family feel. Juhl will be subcontracting jobs in the area; some temporary, for construction; some permanent, for monitoring and maintenance.
When asked if energy storage would also be beneficial to the wind turbines, Orest instantly replied, “100,000%!”
The eyes of envious New Yorkers are upon Painesville, Ohio: All American Energy City
I wonder if someday Marye will write a follow up article about the "Little city that couldn't or didn't?
Presently we have built a 5000sq.ft. empty building. Juhl Energy has all of Painesville's Green Energy credits. And we got zilch!
You know after living here most of my life, Painesville reminds me of DisneyWorld Tomorrowland without ever producing any attractions.