• Energy Storage Microgrids
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  • Clean Energy

Push for Community Resilience Microgrids Continues in California

Mar 16, 2022

Solar panel

Efforts to increase resilience for communities in California have faced a range of institutional and regulatory barriers, reflecting diverse viewpoints on what kind of projects should qualify as microgrids and who should own and operate them. This debate is hardly restricted to California. However, the recent spate of wildfires has raised the urgency level to new heights. One could argue that California has one of the most urgent needs for clean energy microgrids in the US.

California’s microgrids tend to be cleaner than the rest of the country’s due to broader public policies on climate change and specific prohibitions from state agencies such as the California Energy Commission (CEC) on funding under the Electric Program Investment Charge program. However, there is not a coherent public policy framework in place to target public and private funds for clean energy community resilience.

Clean versus Dirty Microgrids

As noted in a previous blog, the default solution for resilience remains diesel generators, even in California. California’s state government has supported this status quo solution when funding resilience projects for critical facilities, including water, fire, and other services particularly vulnerable in rural areas and disadvantaged communities. These are the facilities that need government funding the most.

California’s Office of Emergency Services is still primarily funding diesel-based solutions, with recent grants to local governments totaling $125 million to enhance resilience with these polluting solutions. The California Public Utilities Commission continues to support diesel solutions too—authorizing diesel capacity additions despite their conflict with the state’s climate and renewable energy goals. An interesting new program offered by Pacific Gas and Electric Company makes the creation of personal microgrids easier by circumventing the often lengthy and burdensome interconnection process. However, the program will primarily benefit homeowners relying upon fossil fuel generators for resilience (though batteries are eligible to participate).

Of course, a much more innovative approach to resilience would be to tap the batteries in the many EVs already purchased in California. These could also serve as grid assets—a possibility that has been championed by vendors such as Schneider Electric and AutoGrid.

New Proposed Legislation Points the Way

According to Guidehouse Insights’ forthcoming Microgrid Deployment Tracker update in 1Q 2022, California has implemented approximately 230 microgrids, representing 1,160.8 MW of capacity. The number of these projects serving rural communities and health clinics is a minority, and microgrids providing resilience to disadvantaged urban communities is virtually nonexistent.

Senate Bill (SB) 833, new legislation authored by Senator Bill Dodd, calls upon the CEC to develop and implement a technical assistance and grant program to support the creation of clean community energy resilience plans led by local governments. Those receiving grants would partner with utilities to identify areas most likely to experience power outages. Then, local governments could develop plans to ensure that a reliable electricity supply is maintained at critical facilities while providing grid benefits under “blue sky” operating conditions. The legislation, which passed out of the Senate’s energy committee on March 14th, recognizes that the cheapest and cleanest way to enhance resilience in communities is to augment existing customer assets. These include the million California homes and businesses that have already installed solar PV systems with batteries.

California is hardly alone. No US state has developed an ideal microgrid strategy that meets the needs of all stakeholders. Yet, given California’s reputation as an energy innovator and pioneer, SB 833 is an important step in the right direction.