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Key Drivers of the Energy Transition? Utilities, MPOs and IIJA Funding

Transportation Infrastructure

As cities work to achieve decarbonization goals, it will continue to leave lasting impacts on our communities, transportation systems and vital infrastructure. That’s why Itron is focused on helping our customers successfully navigate the opportunities and complexities of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). In the first blog of our series, we provided an overview of IIJA funding and eligible Itron solutions. The second blog of the series highlights the transition to electric school buses, and the third blog takes a look at the pivotal role IIJA funding plays in accelerating utility and city carbon reduction initiatives. In this blog, we’re digging into the role of metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and why collaboration with utilities is key to driving the energy transition forward. 

Understanding the Role of MPOs
MPOs are entities established in urbanized areas that facilitate regional planning and decision-making and play a crucial role in ensuring that federal transportation funds are allocated efficiently and effectively. MPOs are required to represent localities in all urbanized areas with populations over 50,000, as determined by the U.S. Census. For areas with a population of over 200,000, MPOs have a stronger voice in setting priorities for implementing projects focused on transportation improvement and are responsible for additional planning.1 MPOs’ main importance lies in their ability to provide a coordinated approach to addressing transportation challenges, ensuring that infrastructure investments lead to improved mobility, reduced congestion and enhanced environmental sustainability for the surrounding area. 

Here are some of the main IIJA funding programs currently available for MPOs across the country:

While MPOs are mostly focused on issues related to transportation, MPOs, utilities and Itron all have a key goal in common: to create better-connected communities. So, why not work together to turn this goal into a reality?


Alignment of MPOs and Utilities to Solve Complex Problems
Utilities and MPOs have an opportunity to partner and find innovative ways to ensure resiliency and reliability in the face of increasing climate-related challenges. As billions of dollars in funding is rolled out by the IIJA over the coming years, these entities have ample opportunity to collaborate on how this funding is allocated while leveraging tools that lead to a climate-resilient future. Itron can help MPOs and utilities do just that – so their communities can reap the benefits.

Technology Solutions: The Glue for Utility and MPO Partnerships
At Itron, we have the technology, solutions and expertise to make the most of IIJA funding – and we can support the coordination and buy-in process across various stakeholders along the way. A number of Itron solutions can help utilities and MPOs meet the needs of their communities with IIJA funding:
  • Moving to Electrified Transportation: Funding from IIJA can be applied to tackle one of the most pressing challenges facing transportation systems everywhere: the rapid growth in electric vehicles (EV). As fleets transition to electric, it’s crucial for both utilities and fleet managers to adjust their charging infrastructure to meet the increase in demand. Itron’s EV solutions can take into account the specific needs of utilities, fleet operators, MPOs and the surrounding community - and offer the adaptability and expertise needed for a smooth shift to electrification. Additionally, our solutions help overcome obstacles associated with EV adoption including but not limited to delays in supply chain and coordination between utilities and key stakeholders. As the accelerating adoption of EVs continues to unfold in the years to come, now is the time for utilities and MPOs to take action and prepare their communities for a successful transition. 
  • Lighting the Way to Net Zero: Traditionally, cities and transportation agencies have relied on static models to estimate energy and carbon generation. However, with networked smart streetlights and a comprehensive Central Management System (CMS) like Streetlight.Vision in place, communities can accurately measure consumption, energy savings and carbon reduction. This infrastructure can also be leveraged for other critical issues like traffic and pedestrian management, air quality improvements and more that directly address the challenges many MPOs are facing. Beginning with a proven anchor application like smart lighting provides utilities with immediate return on investment and paves the way for additional applications to be layered in over time.
  • Utilizing Distributed Energy Resources: Itron’s DER Optimizer solution enables utilities to expand their legacy demand response programs to include a wide range of distributed energy resources (DERs), including EVs, which is equally important for MPOs as accelerating EV adoption continues to take a toll on transportation infrastructure. The DER Optimizer’s real-time analytics and optimization engine allows utilities to strategically grow their program portfolio from traditional reliability programs to a wide range of DER-based grid services. Examples include economic dispatch, non-wires alternatives, local grid balancing and microgrid use cases – all of which contribute to more climate-resilient communities. 
Now what?
Collaboration between MPOs and utilities to deploy these solutions can result in a quicker rollout, reduced project costs and improved outcomes for communities. Here are some ways these entities can work together to deploy them:
  • Share funding opportunities: If you aren’t already leveraging joint funding opportunities, the IIJA is the perfect place to start. There are multiple funding programs being awarded, such as the ones we outlined above, that are mutually beneficial to both utilities and MPOs and can help each entity meet their objective of creating better-connected communities. 
  • Share data and mapping plans: If you’re a utility, consider sharing GIS (Geographic Information System) layers, infrastructure maps and future plans with MPOs. This can lead to coordinated planning, especially when transportation and utility projects intersect (EV adoption, smart streetlights, etc.).
  • Facilitate joint planning meetings: Consider establishing a regular meeting cadence with your local utility or MPO. By discussing planned projects in tandem, both entities can anticipate potential conflicts, plan synergies and create efficiencies. 
  • Collaborate on public engagement: MPOs often have established processes for engaging the public in transportation planning. Utilities can benefit from these processes and collaborate with MPOs during public outreach initiatives, especially when projects impact both transportation and utility services.
  • Share learnings and key takeaways: Utilities and MPOs have unique expertise. By organizing joint training sessions or workshops, both entities can share knowledge, best practices, innovative solutions and priorities moving forward.
  • Co-strategize lobbying and advocacy: On issues of mutual interest, MPOs and utilities can join forces to lobby for regulatory changes, funding or policies at higher levels of government.


To learn more about the steps involved in facilitating improved utility and MPO collaboration, especially as it relates to IIJA funding, reach out to Dave Stensland, business development director, IIJA. 

Sign up for future information and announcements related to IIJA at www.itron.com/iija. IIJA will also be discussed in detail at Itron Inspire 2023, where utility and industry leaders will share lessons learned and tips for positioning for future rounds of funding. Register here for an opportunity to learn about the IIJA and how Itron solutions can help you make the most of it.