Not Only Texas Went Dark in February: After Storm, Portland, Oregon Tests Resiliency Partnerships

March 23, 2021
While all eyes were on Texas in February, another part of the US — Oregon — also faced widespread power outages. For Portland General Electric the outages underscored the need for its new resilience and microgrid initiatives.

Texas captured worldwide attention in February when a devastating storm crippled the state’s power system. But at about the same time, and to much less fanfare, part of the Northwest struggled with similar issues. Portland, Oregon, experienced power outages because of severe weather that left about 200,000 customers in the dark, some for several days.

The outage followed last summer’s wildfire-related public safety power shutoff in the Mt. Hood region, affecting about 5,000 customers near the mountain known for its outdoor recreation opportunities.

For Portland General Electric (PGE), the utility that serves Portland and the surrounding areas, the outages underscore the need for its new resilience programs that test utility use of energy storage situated on the premises of its customers. PGE created the pilot programs to help the utility respond to outages sparked by different types of disasters, including earthquakes, wildfires and storms.

Under two PGE pilot partnerships, the utility owns and deploys batteries behind the meter at customer sites, and the customers provide solar and other on-site resources to create microgrids. PGE has also launched a residential pilot program under which customers buy their own batteries — in some cases, at a discount — that can be aggregated and utilized by PGE.

“When we have customer sited energy storage, it can provide grid services day in and day out without emissions impact. And it still provides customer support in the event of grid scale outages,” said Darren Murtaugh, senior manager, grid edge solutions for PGE. “When the utility participates, it leverages so much more value.”

This model will help PGE reach for its goal of 100% clean energy, he added.

PGE has already deployed a battery at the Beaverton Public Safety Center and is planning to deploy another one at the Oregon National Guard’s Anderson Readiness Center.

Microgrid projects for public safety and military readiness

At the Beaverton Public Safety Center, PGE aims to provide resiliency with a microgrid that is both grid connected and can island. The microgrid includes 250 KW/1,000 kWh of battery storage — owned by PGE — 300 kW of solar, and a 1 MW diesel standby generator owned by the city. The microgrid controller comes from PXiSE.

This project, now operating, showcases a model in which the utility owns the storage and the local government owns the solar and other assets such as diesel. The partnership establishes a division of assets that allows PGE to prioritize storage for grid services under normal operations. The storage system can discharge to the grid to support frequency. It can also support voltage at the feeder level by charging or discharging in response to the needs of the grid.

The Anderson Readiness Center project is now in development. PGE will own the 500 kW/1 MWh battery. The Oregon Military Department (OMD) just completed installing 268 kW of solar PV, which the military will own. Also part of the project are two 800 kW diesel generators owned by the OMD that have been participating in PGE’s dispatchable standby generator (DSG) program for many years. In fact, the diesel generators kept the readiness center powered during a brief outage caused by the February storm, said Kenneth Safe, chief facilities & maintenance officer for the OMD.

“The opportunity to partner with PGE on the Anderson Readiness Center microgrid is a win-win,” he said. “PGE can utilize the backup generators and the battery storage in their Dispatchable Standby Generator program.” And the Oregon Military Department can use the solar PV and energy storage when it’s not needed by PGE. During grid outages, the backup generators are also available for use by the OMD.

Under the DSG program, which has been in place for many years, PGE uses backup generators that are located at customers’ sites when it needs extra power.

During the February storm, PGE focused on ensuring that DSG participants could operate their resources for their own use, rather than having PGE use them. “Our focus was making sure our DSG customers could run their own power. It was a wild success. Their units are well maintained by PGE,” said Murtaugh. PGE managed refueling for the customers.

Residential battery pilots

Residential customers also have the opportunity to participate in battery pilot programs. Under the Residential Energy Storage Pilot, PGE aggregates customer owned batteries and dispatches the power as a virtual power plant.

This project is possible in part because more and more customers are seeking resiliency and installing storage, said Murtaugh.

“Customers are ready to make resiliency investments. They could make them on their own or the utility can participate,” he said.

Thirty-four residential customers are now participating — many of whom already owned batteries — and the program has a cap of 525 participants. Customers who live in certain “residential testbed” regions qualify for a $3,000 rebate on the batteries. PGE pays all participants $20 to $40 a month for the right to dispatch their batteries.

PGE aims to utilize up to 4 MW, 8 MWh of residential energy storage. Most of the existing participants have Tesla Powerwalls that are 5 kW, 13.5 kWh batteries, said Murtaugh.

Photo by buffaloboy/

Next up: EVs

The Portland based utility is also looking into vehicle-to-grid pilot projects aimed at boosting resiliency.

“We want to test vehicle to grid, especially for resilience support. Whether we can make the business case, we don’t know yet, but we are exploring it,” Murtaugh said.

More recently, during the February storm, PGE was able to test the residential pilot program. When it was clear that bad weather was coming, the company asked residential customers in the storage pilot to charge their batteries and put them in standby mode.

“In many cases, there were outages and the batteries ran,” said Murtaugh.

Going forward, PGE wants to learn more about how to utilize batteries to provide more benefits.

“We are in the process of collecting data and figuring out not only how does this [residential] project perform but what additional value can we provide, and what can we learn. How can we evolve our program to provide more benefits through the pilot?” he said.

Interested in microgrids? Learn more at Microgrid 2021: The World Awakens to Microgrids, a virtual conference hosted by Microgrid Knowledge. Participation is free for those who register in advance.

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

Facebook: Energy Efficiency Markets

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