There’s an Electrical Micro-Grid Growing in Brooklyn By Jesse Charles
Windmills, Micro-Turbines, Solar Panels, Oh My!
You can add a lot more to the energy technology list above such as geothermal, fuel cells, net metering, and smart-grids applications just to name a few. There is the notion that the energy industry can provide new “green collar” jobs, careers, and business opportunities. With the demand and need for more alternative energy rising higher and higher, there is a growing need for more workers to install the solar panels, maintain the windmills, drill the holes for geothermal pipes, etc. The want for clean and affordable green energy is pushing innovation to new heights, and it’s pushing creative entrepreneurial vision to new altitudes in Bedford Stuyvesant, NY. Is Bedford Stuyvesant a viable example worthy of being emulated in Yonkers? Learn about Bedford Stuyvesant; then decide.
Adopting much the green energy philosophy of Van Jones of the Ella Barker Center for Human Rights in Oakland California, Sanyakhu-Sheps Amare is directing a new national sustainable organization called, Phoenix Communities. Phoenix jumped into the energy arena with some philosophy of their own --The Gates Avenue Electrical Micro-Grid Project. A pilot project slated for Central Brooklyn, NY, one of three electrical micro-grid projects Phoenix is working on.
“A Micro What?! Most people look at me like I’m from another planet when I mention electrical micro-grids,” says Amare. So I asked him, “What is an electrical micro-grid”? “Mostly everything and everyone is connected to a regional and local electrical grid, through which we get our electricity. Three years ago there was a blackout for a week or so in Queens, NY. A lot of folks lost their businesses and the oppressive heat took a few lives. Had the residents and businesses of that neighborhood been part of a local micro-grid generating their own electricity, the blackout (and the numerous ‘brown-outs’) would not have affected them.” “What’s more” he said, “if you generate more electricity than your grid customers require, the public utility could “wheel” your extra green energy to someplace else on their grid that needs it. In some cases this is done at a state regulated rate.”
It could have been a win-win situation for everyone. Well with one exception. I asked, “What exception?” He said, “The electrical power grid infrastructure cannot even support the wheeling of additional green energy or any other energy for that matter in its present condition. That’s how bad it is. We need these electrical power grids, because by linking them to each other, we can begin the formulation of a new power distribution infrastructure, small but it’s a start.”
Amare pointed out that electrical micro-grids are not new. “What’s new about them is we may begin to see them cropping up in our neighborhoods, and we will probably know the people who own them…us!” He further stated, “many colleges, universities, police departments, the military, hospitals, emergency centers, etc. for years have had their own “backup/off the Grid” systems. It made sense. Now with the advancement of gas micro-turbines, solar panels, and other green alternative energy technologies, electrical micro-grids are now reachable and affordable to all kinds of communities and businesses”.
Take the Dr. Betty Shabazz and Medgar Evers housing complexes on Gates Avenue in Central Brooklyn for example. The tenant associations of both housing complexes, with the help of Settlement Houses in NYC, assumed ownership of their buildings, which include approximately 1500 – 2000 units. Amare’s view is that Phoenix can expedite and develop an electrical micro-grid that will supply the energy for the two housing complexes, as well as generate enough power to either:
• Sell excess green energy back to the public grid,
• Store the excess power for themselves,
• or both.
He feels that the energy savings should also in some real way reduce overall building maintenance costs, and he is pushing hard for such a demonstration project.
I asked Sanyakhu, “So how do you fund this kind of project”? He replied, “My background is in community economic development (CED); therefore, it is Phoenix’s idea to reach out to the companies who build these grids and entice them to develop the grids as a joint venture, with the tenant-owners in this case sharing in the equity of the partnership. This would be CED at its best!” It is Phoenix’s objective to develop financial packages where it is profitable to the business investment and philanthropic mission-investing communities, to invest their monies and endowments. “If this pilot works,” he said, “we’ll will take it across the country.”
Towards that end Mr. Amare has been working very closely with three Phoenix’s Advisory Board members, who he says along with his board, have really been keeping Phoenix’s dream alive. They are:
* Stephen Bradberry, the 2005 Awardee of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation,
* Urban Advisors a financial firm in Charlotte, NC headed by David Sharp, and
* Kevon Makell, Vice President & GM at BELCO, PureNERGY Renewables Ltd. Bermuda.
It was Kevon Makell who concretized Phoenix’s micro-grid project as a “community economic development/ reinvestment project utilizing green energy Renewables;” David Sharp identified the micro-grid projects as good mission-investing targets for foundations, and Steven Bradberry who has identified the community targets for electrical micro-grid development sites around the country.
Mr. Harry Frazier, Phoenix’s Vice Chairman announced recently that the organization has a new head. Amare is really excited about Phoenix’s new Chairwoman, Olayinka Ladeji. He says she is one of the youngest members of their board and is already providing a much needed stimulus to Phoenix’s forward movements.
“The energy industry is growing rapidly and we can’t wait for the government, though we really can use their help. We have to cut our own business deals now. Rapidly deteriorating electrical grid system structures are attracting new alternative energy investors and creative technological developments. The investors are waiting to see when the public utilities are going to be forced to look more favorably upon new profit-sharing paradigms, thus creating better financial incentives.
We have new energy markets now and poor communities need increase awareness and assistance in positioning their consumer energy power usage power into partnerships with energy generating companies, instead of just being consumers.” He said he is potentially optimistic that the president-elect will look favorably upon these kinds of new and innovative project concepts, but again he just isn’t waiting.
I asked Amare to comment on how will be get by the public utilities or get them to cooperate? After all this is their market and they have a legal monopoly so to speak. Amare’ said they should want to cooperate, but in his opinion they have little to no choice. “Just like back in the late 80’s when the internet service providers were trying to stave off the public utilities and cable companies from jumping into the internet business, that fight lasted 5 years and the rest is history. Hey what goes around comes around! It’s just the law of cycles. If you look at the energy RFPs’ (government request for proposals) coming out in NY State and Pennsylvania you will see that they are paying for diverse, innovated ways to generate energy/electricity and are actually looking for “products to bring to the market”. So the public utilities need to readjust, form new partnerships and alliances like with Phoenix Communities and change with the times. They simply cannot maintain their status quo for long”.
Amare didn’t say which companies Phoenix has reached out to when I asked, but he did mention that their vetting covered companies nationally and globally. For him, the greening of Central Brooklyn and other similar communities is open to partnerships and investors from all over the world.
I must admit I was a little amazed that Phoenix was moving along with the development of its micro-grid projects without operating funding. I asked Amare’ to comment on that. He said jokingly, “yes we need a capacity grant for sure, but It’s Van Jones’ fault. Though I have never met the man, I’ve merged most of what I call Van’s creative guerrilla organizational development with mine. Hey, we are just going to do the job we see needs to be done, and if we have truly good pilot projects, the funding will come. ”
• Sanyakhu-Sheps Amare is Executive Director of Phoenix Communities, Inc., 1-347-365-8585
Jesse Charles is a freelance writer open to your reading your perspective. Direct email to firstname.lastname@example.org.