Local Governments Want Communities — not Utilities — to Control Microgrids in California

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A coalition representing 14 cities and 23 counties in California this week urged state regulators to give communities a chance to control community microgrid pilots and not restrict them to utilities.

community microgrid

By mirzamlk/Shutterstock.com

The Local Government Sustainable Energy Coalition (LG) said the state’s current “top down” approach — which puts utilities in charge of community microgrid programs — is not working. The group filed the comments before the state California Public Utilities Commission which is looking at how to more quickly commercialize microgrids (Rulemaking 19-09-009).

The coalition noted the failure of several utility microgrid projects to go forward this year, and said that many of those that are being built rely on diesel generation.

“A more effective approach to piloting community-based microgrids would be to develop them in the context of communities, empowering LGs to take the lead on designing, developing and executing community microgrids,” said the coalition.

The coalition said it represents three-quarters of California’s population which accounts for two-thirds of the state’s electric demand. In addition to municipalities, its members are community choice aggregations, regional energy networks, school districts, council of governments, and non-profit organizations.

How it would work

Under the proposal, communities with experience managing large energy project would serve as microgrid program administrators. As such, they would receive money carved out by the state for community microgrid pilot programs. 

In addition, the communities would receive funding for ‘resiliency officers,’ who would bring expertise to microgrid planning that local elected officials and city staff lack. The funding would go to communities where wild-fire related power outages last more than four hours in 2019 and 2020.

The community-led pilot programs also would serve as testing ground for microgrid tariffs being contemplated by the commission.

The coalition said it wants to see tariffs that encourage clean energy microgrids over “dirty diesel generation backup generators.” It also recommended that the tariffs take into account microgrid and utility functions not only during outages, but also during blue sky conditions.

Problems with the status quo

The group raised several concerns about the status quo, citing delays microgrids face when interconnecting with utilities — a frequent concern raised within the industry.

Interconnection difficulties stem from utility “hostility” toward distributed energy resources, a situation that the coalition described as born of skewed financial incentives. 

The interconnection process is “largely stacked toward the for-profit utilities with little hope that any disputes that arise will be resolved in the ratepayer’s favor,” the coalition said.

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The group added, “There is no apparent arbiter to intervene when interconnection fees escalate; no way to validate if infrastructure costs borne by customers are fair and just; confusion on equipment approval; and an unlimited array of required and ancillary and prerequisite upgrades to the grid infrastructure, including telemetry.”

The coalition comments were filed as part of the second phase of a commission proceeding to help commercialize microgrids. The first phase culminated in June when the commission ordered a number of short-term modifications required of utilities, including steps to expedite applications and approvals.

In the second phase, the commission is taking on more complex issues affecting microgrids, among them microgrid tariffs and  community microgrid pilots.

Faltering year for California utilities

The second phase comes in what’s proven to be a faltering year for utility microgrid plans in California.

Pacific Gas & Electric, the state’s largest utility, in March backed out of plans to initiate an estimated $1 billion in permanent microgrid projects after receiving bids and realizing it could not get the projects built before 2020’s wildfire season, as planned. The utility initially said it would postpone the permanent microgrids this year, but take them up next year. Since then, it has canceled the program entirely. Instead, it has focused largely on installing simpler, temporary microgrids that rely on diesel generators. 

Southern California Edison also nixed plans to build microgrids this year. The utility cited a tight schedule to get the microgrids built that drove up costs.

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Elisa Wood About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com. She has been writing about energy for more than two decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.

Comments

  1. Eric Ackerman says:

    Who has developed applications that make use of renewable sources? We faulted the Puerto Rican Power Authority for deciding that applications to support critical facilities could only be powered by thermal resources.

    • Is Not that what the Environment Defense Fund was invented to address? PREPA is a criminal organization entrenched in the power supply of Puerto Rico. I understand at least one large Energy company from Canada has a proposal for many micro-grids to replace destroyed or under maintained electrical infrastructure, with hardening what grid is left.

      “Marcel Castro-Sitiriche, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez, is working to promote a “bottom-up grid” that relies on home systems with 2 kilowatts of solar PV and 10 kilowatt-hours of energy storage. According to Castro-Sitiriche’s research, if the last 500,000 residents connected to the grid post-Maria had access to an islanded solar-plus-storage system, it would have reduced the blackout hours that Puerto Rico’s electricity customers endured by two-thirds.”

  2. Where is CAISO in all of this? There are so many micro-grid with control and analysis software being offered as a package, it would be hard to say one needs committees and ordinances to “enable” a micro-grid to operate in a particular area.

    Once again the CCAs can take their ques from the next day electricity market and operate their micro-grid as “pass through”, arbitrage or grid regulation and smoothing services throughout the day. CAISO should be allowed to interface and allocate micro-grid resources rather than “curtail” alternative energy and use fueled generation resources to ramp around grid load demands.

  3. The Oakmont Village Association began fact finding and coalition building outreach in 2019 to design, execute and implement a facilities micro-grid with a long range plan of creating a community micro-grid or VPP. The OVA signed contracts for the first phase; three carport PV systems to power their community meeting and activities facilities. Permitting from the city planners and fire officials have delayed construction and OVA will not see that system with PTO until some time 2021. Talks with micro-grid developers who have expertise and funding have stalled due to regulatory and statutory hurdles by PG&E and the CPUC. Potential BESS projects with EPRI and CEC have evaporated due to our not having “assets” and DER’s. It’s very frustrating that our PSPS energy resiliency is diesel power. We’re ready to go green, but the utility monopoly prevents our transition.

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