Where’s the Resilience? California’s Climate Strategy Found Lacking

Nov. 26, 2021
The current draft of the California Climate Adaptation Strategy fails to mention power outages and doesn’t suggest distributed energy resources (DER) and microgrids as resilience measures, say a group of stakeholders.

The current draft of the California Climate Adaptation Strategy fails to mention power outages and doesn’t suggest distributed energy resources (DER) and microgrids as resilience measures, say several stakeholders.

The draft aims to accelerate climate adaptation movement in the state and identify how state agency measures can fit together to meet climate priorities. It also aims to build on the successes and lessons learned since the first strategy was released in 2009,

But stakeholders say it is missing key ingredients for addressing climate change.

“Energy resilience is a key adaptation strategy, yet it is currently missing from the draft plan,” said joint comments from The Climate Center, Vote Solar, Sierra Club California and California Alliance for Community Energy, sent to the California Natural Resources Agency and the Office of Planning and Research (OPR).

Comments led by The Climate Center argued the two agencies need to add a section to the Climate Adaptation Strategy that focuses on increases in climate-related power outages. They ask for the agencies to identify specific strategies for mitigating the harm to California residents without using fossil-fuel solutions.

Help local communities

The groups argued in their joint comments that local governments should be charged with resilience, and should receive state funding for implementing projects. Local governments should determine where to site projects, working with the local distribution utility, “rather than having crucial local electrical resources investment decisions made solely by a utility disconnected from local priorities and needs,” the comments said. The group also argued that utilities don’t usually invest in community-level clean energy resilience programs — such as microgrids — in part because they don’t control local public facilities such as roofs and parking lots at municipal utilities.

In fact, the comments led by The Climate Center called for a new technical assistance and grant program that would allow local governments to create community energy resilience plans.

“Instead of expanding diesel generation to ensure energy reliability, California should take advantage of its already-large fleet of existing distributed, clean energy resources, including a million solar roofs and a million electric vehicles,” Kurt Johnson, director of community energy resilience at The Climate Center told Microgrid Knowledge.

With policy leadership from the state, California could be a pioneer in moving toward a decentralized electricity system that’s clean, affordable, reliable, equitable and safe, Johnson said. It’s especially important to prioritize energy resilience for vulnerable communities that are exposed to air pollution and power outages. One of the best ways to achieve that resilience is to integrate thousands of clean energy microgrids into the macrogrid, Johnson said during the interview.

In their comments, the groups provided hard data to demonstrate the disadvantages of using diesel generators during outages and public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) — and the advantages of using DERs.

Power outages costing consumers billions of dollars

For example, the group’s comments cite a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) review of public safety power shutoff (PSPS) events in 2019 and found that Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) customers experienced power outages ranging from 14 to 55 hours, affecting nearly 2 million customers. The costs to California customers have been estimated in the billions of dollars, said the group’s comments.

“Back-up diesel generators, one of the most polluting sources of electricity, are currently the default solution to maintain resilience across all customer classes in California,” the groups said.

A recent study by M.Cubed, which provides economic and public policy consulting services to public and private sector clients, found that the use of backup generators — 90% of which burn carbon-intensive diesel fuel — has increased in the Bay Area by 34% over the last three years.

In southern California, the use of generators — including diesel — has grown 22% in cities and counties in the South Coast Air Quality Management District, said the study. Pollution from the generators creates health impacts for disadvantaged communities, the study found.  M.Cubed estimated that the health costs associated with the increase in emissions in the Bay Area and South coast are $31.8 million and $103.9 million annually.

“As noted in a Vote Solar report, on-site solar plus storage is more cost effective than fossil fuel back-up generators when factoring in lifecycle cost, and can provide revenue and load shifting benefits on a daily basis, unlike diesel generators which only provide sporadic value during grid outages,” said the comments from the groups led by The Climate Center.

“Under the federal Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 (along with state legislation), local governments have primary responsibility for fostering resilient communities, obligations that overlap with reliability-related energy services provided by load-serving entities,” said the groups in their comments.

Only a few large local governments — such as Los Angeles County — have the capacity to tackle resilience, they said. In fact, the County of Los Angeles proposed creating a regional microgrid agency that would establish a centralized resource to help local governments and public agencies implement microgrids, and would immediately build three microgrids totaling 15.95 MW. However, the proposal has drawn criticism from the state’s investor-owned utilities, which described it as speculative and said it could lead to cost shifting.

By buffaloboy/Shutterstock.com

To help meet the need for resilience, the state could take advantage of its electric vehicles (EV), said the groups. These mobile batteries, already paid for by homeowners and businesses, could serve as a backup power source for homes, businesses and local governments, if included in an integrated plan. The batteries could be integrated into microgrids that can keep operating when the grid goes down.

“Those same batteries can be orchestrated by intelligent software to form virtual pools of resources that can also help fill in gaps in supply in wholesale markets, as occurred during power outages of August of 2020,” the group said.

One recent study estimated that California’s existing EV fleet could provide 40 GW, and that could increase to 100 GW by 2025. This is a largely untapped resource that could provide resilience, said the groups.

While the draft climate strategy doesn’t identify DERs as potential climate fighting measures, it does acknowledge that California has been hit hard by climate change.

“In the last decade, Californians have endured severe droughts, floods, historic wildfires, rising seas, and record temperatures. Californians now see, feel, and breathe what scientists have been explaining for decades: greenhouse gas pollution is warming our planet and generating threats to life on earth,” said the draft climate strategy.

Make microgrids metric for success

The Microgrid Resources Coalition (MRC) also argued in favor of the Climate Adaptation Strategy incorporating the impact of climate change on communities and clean energy resilience.  The MRC said in a letter to the Office of Planning and Research (OPR) that microgrid deployment should be a metric of success for achieving higher levels of community clean energy resilience.

“In recognizing the crucial role that a comprehensive climate strategy plays in realizing the state’s clean energy future and achieving community resiliency, the MRC suggests OPR include energy resilience objectives in the final Climate Adaptation Strategy. In particular, microgrids and distributed clean energy solutions will be key to enabling California to meet state decarbonization and climate policy goals.”

As the MRC sees it, deploying microgrids and clean DERs can serve as an effective strategy that focuses on community energy resilience.

“Microgrids and clean fuels will help California meet its deep decarbonization goals while providing meaningful long duration resilience for customers and communities, while improving overall system reliability,” said MRC.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration released a draft of the 2021 California Climate Adaptation Strategy on Oct. 18 and held a series of workshops on the document in October and November. Public comments were due November 17.

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About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

Twitter: @LisaECohn

Linkedin: LisaEllenCohn

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