PG&E Gets Nod to Help Locals Build Community Microgrids in California

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The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PG&E) plan for helping local governments and tribes set up community microgrids to protect critical facilities when there are widespread power outages.

community microgrids

Photo by Tada Images/Shutterstock.com

PG&E’s Community Microgrid Enablement Program, approved March 18, grew out of the commission’s efforts to support the commercialization of microgrids, as required by a state law, SB 1339

Last summer, the commission directed California’s investor-owned utilities to speed up their microgrid plans in an effort to reduce the effects of power outages related to wildfires.

Through the community microgrid program, PG&E will help communities explore their options for microgrids covering multiple critical facilities, help guide applicants through the technical study process for approving microgrids and help them get the microgrids online. The program is set to run through next year.

Proposed projects must be in a high fire-threat zone deemed to be “elevated” or “extreme,” in an area that has been hit by planned power outages called public safety power shutoffs, or in an area highly prone to power outages.

The decision may open the door for more complex multicustomer microgrids in PG&E’s service territory, which are difficult for private developers to build because they cannot legally supply energy to customers if it requires crossing a utility right of way to reach an adjacent property — what’s known as the over-the-fence rule. (Some dispute the common interpretation of the law.) The commission loosened the restriction somewhat in January by allowing local government microgrids to serve critical customers on adjacent parcels.

The Redwood Coast Airport Microgrid is an example of a multicustomer microgrid already underway in PG&E’s territory. It is being built with a partnership that includes PG&E, the Schatz Energy Research Center and the County of Humboldt.

$27 million to prepare for community microgrids

In this week’s decision, the commission authorized PG&E to spend up to $27 million in matching funds this year, and, in 2022, to make distribution system upgrades needed to bring the community microgrids online. The program reserves $9 million a year for disadvantaged and vulnerable communities. Usually, the upgrade costs are paid entirely by the owner of the microgrid.

The commission also approved a pilot Community Microgrid Enablement Tariff, which governs the eligibility, engineering studies, development, and island and transitional operation of community microgrids.

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The tariff is likely to evolve, according to the decision. “The commission does not want the [program] or the [tariff] to cause unintended consequences that may unintentionally impair the compensation streams that may be necessary to foster commercial microgrid development.”

The commission rejected a call by Concentric Power to lift PG&E’s proposed 20-MW cap on a single microgrid. The commission directed PG&E to consider raising the cap when the utility evaluates its program. Concentric is building a 35-MW microgrid project in Gonzales.

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Expands definition of critical facility

In a change from PG&E’s proposal, the CPUC agreed with stakeholders that the utility should expand its definition of “critical facility” to include things like food banks, grocery stores and pharmacies.

“I’m glad to see the PG&E Community Microgrid Enablement Program launch as it will provide the technical tools and some financial resources to local and tribal governments to create and invest in microgrids for critical facilities and vulnerable customers such as fire stations, schools and nursing homes,” CPUC Commissioner Genevieve Shiroma said.

PG&E has about 16 million customers across central and northern California.

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Comments

  1. Kevin Bell says:

    What if locals don’t *want* PG&E help? THe CPUC and PG&E have deliberately structured structured this program to throttle any independent private, public, or community choice aggregator from developing microgrids on their own. This program is a fraud, which will delay microgrid development in PG&E service territory for at least five more years.

  2. “Proposed projects must be in a high fire-threat zone deemed to be “elevated” or “extreme,” in an area that has been hit by planned power outages called public safety power shutoffs, or in an area highly prone to power outages.”

    The part about , “….highly prone to power outages.”, is going to become more prevalent in California no matter what electric utility services their electricity needs. Baseload generation is being targeted for decommissioning within the next 10 years. As baseload wanes another utility control scheme will need to be in place. Something like, just in time load response and generation. This will depend a lot on distributed energy generation and storage being ‘called’ upon to meet grid needs. The California utilities will either learn to formulate and cultivate partnerships with distributed energy generation and energy storage from the aggregate residential, business, community CCA or even large commercial and industrial complexes for a reliable grid service. Over the next 10 years, California will need a couple of hundred GWh of energy storage distributed throughout the grid to service not only domestic electricity needs but transportation needs if the electric vehicle as the only vehicle sold in California from 2035 on is to be serviced. Somehow California will have to convince every home, business, apartment, townhouse, commercial or industrial entity to install solar PV and or wind with energy storage in their own aggregate micro and mini grids to service daily energy needs.

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  1. […] PG&E Gets Nod to Help Locals Build Community Microgrids in California – The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved Pacific Gas and Electric’s (PG&E) plan for helping local governments and tribes set up community microgrids to protect critical facilities when there are widespread power outages. Mircogrid Knowledge 3/19/21 […]

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