IMEA & IMUA Seek Grant Opportunities to Modernize Municipal Utilities

Date Posted: 2023-08-21

The federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 are making billions of dollars available to allow the electric industry to shore up and modernize systems and accelerate efforts to meet climate change objectives. Funds are being made available through a plethora of grant programs. The Illinois Municipal Electric Agency (IMEA) and the Illinois Municipal Utilities Association (IMUA) are working on behalf of member municipalities to ensure that municipal electric systems are not overlooked when it comes to these opportunities.

IMEA’s efforts often involve working with other units of government and private-sector entities to leverage our combined expertise and submit far-reaching grant proposals that are more attractive to grantors. At this point, the Agency and the Association have filed several proposals and are awaiting some final decisions from the granting institutions. Below is a listing of just some of the opportunities the Agency and the Association are pursuing on behalf of Illinois’ municipal electric systems.

Electric Vehicle Infrastructure & Charging Stations/Smart Thermostat Rebates
IMUA and IMEA submitted an innovative project proposal to the Illinois Finance Authority (IFA) that was ultimately included in the IFA’s Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnership Plan submitted to the Department of Energy (DOE). Upon approval from the federal government, the IMUA’s project will help municipal electric utilities better integrate the coming wave of electric vehicles and buildings into the electric grid by mitigating peak loads and better accommodating the move to a new, electric-based transportation system.

IMUA and IMEA are excited at the prospect of partnering with the state in this two-phase project. Under Phase 1, IMUA plans to develop and operationalize an optimized charging operations center that will establish effective, real-time consumer communications infrastructure that will enable informed customer electric consumption decisions and provide meaningful grid benefits. IMUA and IMEA will deliver effective enrollment incentives to encourage customers to participate in the program, along with the opportunity for customers to earn a rebate when they sign their advanced thermostat into the program.

During Phase 2 of the program, IMUA and IMEA will establish a managed electric vehicle charging initiative. This will utilize the infrastructure built during Phase 1 to provide signals to Level 2 EV charging customers to shift patterns of demand to provide grid benefits. The program will feature effective enrollment incentives and ongoing rewards to participants with verified performance.

If fully funded, there is a potential for a $13-$18 million grant to finance this dynamic program.

Grid Resilience State Formula Grants Section 40101(d)
Recognizing the importance for municipal electric utilities to improve reliability and resilience for their systems, IMUA and IMEA worked with the Illinois Finance Authority (IFA) on the Authority’s application for a Grid Resilience State Formula Grant. As part of the IFA application, the state may award sub-grants. After discussions and information sharing, IFA listed IMUA as one of the planned sub-grantee recipients to ensure there will be grant opportunities set aside for public power systems.

If funded, the IMUA and IMEA will coordinate the offering of grants to municipal electric utilities seeking to undertake projects that will result in resilience, particularly projects related to climate-related hazards. Examples of projects that could be eligible for funding include weatherization, undergrounding service utilities, pole replacement, advanced conductors, vegetation management, distributed energy resources (including microgrids), system protection, modeling, and hardening of systems.

The IFA grant application has been submitted, and IFA and IMUA are awaiting word on whether it will be accepted by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Renewable Energy Projects
As part of the IMEA’s continuing effort to increase its renewable generation resources, the Agency has been working with various renewable energy developers, including SolAmerica Energy. IMEA decided to assist SolAmerica in securing a forgivable loan to increase the opportunity of lifting off several local solar projects in IMEA member communities. If successful, the result will be a win-win, where IMEA members will receive the energy from these renewable projects at a reduced cost, while also receiving local economic development benefits.

SolAmerica was recently given the authorization to submit its full proposal to for the Powering Affordable Clean Energy (PACE) program. SolAmerica’s proposal focuses on a portfolio of solar energy projects to provide affordable, reliable, and clean energy in four IMEA member communities – Carmi, Metropolis, Highland, and Rantoul.

IMEA provided a letter of support for this application to the Department of Agriculture. The Agency also solicited Congressional support for the project application.

Energy Efficiency
IMUA recognizes that the most sustainable Watt is the Watt not generated. As such, the Association has long supported many energy efficiency programs, including the IMEA’s program that has made $1 million of incentives available for member cities and their commercial/industrial customers for each of the last 12 years.

More recently, the federal government has introduced the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) Program. This program is designed to assist states, local governments, and tribes in implementing strategies to reduce energy usage, to reduce fossil fuel emissions, and to improve energy efficiencies. IMUA alerted many of its electric utility members whose cities or counties were designated for set-asides through this program. This action ensured that the municipal electric utility could properly apply to receive the formula grant funds.

Cyber Security
IMUA and IMEA met with the Department of Energy (DOE) staff and participated in the Department’s listening session to encourage the DOE to include useful options for municipal electric utilities as part of the Department’s new Rural and Municipal Utility Advanced Cybersecurity Grant and Technical Assistance Program (RMUC).

This program will provide opportunities for funding and training to enhance the cybersecurity posture of eligible electric utilities to protect against, detect, respond to, and recover from cybersecurity threats.

Within the coming months, IMUA anticipates that the DOE will announce more specifics about the program, and, at that time, the Association will evaluate the program’s opportunities for Illinois’ municipal electric systems.

And More to Come
The IMEA and IMUA will continue to keep member communities updated on forthcoming state and federal grant opportunities, and the IMEA and IMUA will continue to pursue opportunities on member’s behalf whenever it is appropriate and feasible.