Sunday, May 26, 2024

Solar microgrids planned for Shreveport neighborhoods

by BIZ Magazine

By Wes Muller, Louisiana Illuminator

Community leaders in Caddo Parish are proposing solar microgrids for neighborhoods around Shreveport to give residents places to shelter during disasters. 

North Louisiana Interfaith, a coalition of congregations and community groups in the northern part of the state, joined with local and state officials Monday to announce plans for four Community Lighthouses in the Shreveport area. 

The Community Lighthouse Project, spearheaded by the nonprofit umbrella group Together New Orleans, installs solar-powered microgrids with battery storage systems at neighborhood facilities such as churches, health clinics and community centers in underserved areas. The lighthouses serve as places of refuge during natural disasters and power outages. 

Caddo Parish Commissioner John-Paul Young, Shreveport City Councilman Alan Jackson and Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell have all endorsed the plan, according to a North Louisiana Interfaith press release. 

The Caddo Parish Commission planned to introduce a motion Monday to provide $500,000 in seed money for the project, the press release said. 

“We have all recently lived through weather emergencies that have left Shreveport without electricity and water for sustained periods,” Young said in the release. “There is no reason to doubt that such events will recur, so it’s essential for the government to support and invest in backup infrastructure to cope with extreme weather events.” 

The lighthouses will be able to provide cooling and heating stations, food preparation and distribution, a backup water supply, oxygen tank exchanges and light medical equipment. They will also support trained disaster response teams who can respond during severe weather events.

The North Louisiana plan calls for four locations this year, two of which have already been identified. Morning Star Baptist Church has agreed to serve as a Community Lighthouse for the Mooretown area, and the Highland Center will serve Highland Stoner Hill neighborhoods. Both sites are already in the design and engineering phase. 

Theron Jackson, Morning Star’s pastor, testified in support of the Community Lighthouse idea when Together New Orleans presented it to the Public Service Commission in February. In Monday’s press release, Jackson said he decided to move forward with it for his community. 

“We are no longer waiting around for somebody else to make a plan,” Jackson said. “We are planning ahead for disaster and also creating jobs, and moving this community toward the energy future that we need.” 

North Louisiana Interfaith said it is working with government officials to ensure the pilot phase is completed by the fall in time for winter weather. The group plans to build at least 20 additional community lighthouses across Caddo Parish over the next three years. 

Together New Orleans came up with the Community Lighthouse Project after many backup generators broke down or ran out of fuel in the wake of Hurricane Ida. 

Unlike gas or diesel backup generators that aren’t designed for continuous use over several days and rely on fuels that can be unavailable during disasters, the solar-powered lighthouses are potentially able to provide electricity indefinitely. They feature load management systems that allow the lighthouses to disconnect from the public power grid and go into backup mode, so users can regulate power to non-essential devices on cloudy days and ensure the batteries maintain adequate charge levels for nighttime use.

The solar power systems are also used as primary energy sources at all times, not just during blackouts. This allows the facilities to save money on energy consumption year-round. 

Together New Orleans has already built a few lighthouses in the Crescent City and hopes to have at least 16 operating by this hurricane season with a long-term goal of about 300 over the coming years. 

The group’s ultimate vision would have a lighthouse within 15 minutes of anyone in Louisiana who needs shelter.

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