Community Microgrid Gets Boost from Energy Storage in California’s Goleta Load Pocket

Sept. 2, 2020
As part of an ambitious project that aims to deploy a community microgrid that will help avoid outages due to fires, earthquakes, mudslides and other disasters in the Goleta Load Pocket, 40 MWh of utility-scale storage will go online in December.

As part of an ambitious project that aims to deploy a community microgrid that will help avoid outages due to fires, earthquakes, mudslides and other disasters in the Goleta Load Pocket, 40 MWh of utility-scale storage will go online in December.

Groundbreaking on the project, called the Vallecito Energy Storage Resilience (VESR) project, has just begun in the load pocket, which has been affected by the rolling blackouts imposed as a result of high temperatures and an energy shortage, according to the Clean Coalition. The organization initially envisioned and is facilitating the community microgrid project, called the Goleta Load Pocket Community Microgrid.

The storage will be up and running by the end of the year.

“You have 40 MWh of energy that will help make sure you don’t have to have rolling blackouts,” said Craig Lewis, founder and executive director, Clean Coalition.

VESR will be located in Carpinteria, Calif. and is the first piece of a community microgrid–planned to go online in 2025 or so–that will provide resilience to an area that desperately needs it. The storage will be owned by ORMAT, an independent power producer.

Good start for community microgrid

In order to provide 100% resilience, the area needs 200 MW of solar and 400 MWh of storage. “This will make up 40 MWh, 10% of what’s needed,” said Lewis. “This project is a good start.”

Meeting the solar and storage goal for the microgrid is achievable, he says. The goal represents about five times the solar now online in the area, and about 7% of the area’s technical solar siting potential on rooftops, parking lots and parking structures.

The Goleta Load Pocket, where mudslides in 2018 destroyed 400 homes and killed 23 people in the Montecito area, is home to about 300,000 people.

It covers 70 miles of the Southern California coastline, from Point Conception to Lake Casitas, and includes the cities of Goleta, Santa Barbara (including Montecito), and Carpinteria. It is located at the end of the grid and relies on the grid, getting much of its power from one set of transmission lines that run through 40 miles of mountainous terrain.

Southern California Edison (SCE) has said the transmission lines are at risk of catastrophic failure due to fire, earthquakes, or heavy rains, and if they go down, a blackout would result for weeks or months, said Francescato.

The VECR project earlier was awarded a 20-year Energy Storage Resource Adequacy Agreement by the utility.

Technology includes lithium-ion battery cells rated at 10 MW to 40 MWh. It will have a 16 kV interconnection to a feeder served by SCE’s Carpinteria substation. In the future, an advanced controller will provide monitoring, communication and controls. It’s expected to help reduce the need for gas peaker place and reduce the need for natural gas, which can be unavailable during emergencies.

The energy storage project is seen as a model that will support Santa Barbara County’s emissions reduction goals and boost the performance of the grid.

While utility will use the energy storage to provide resource adequacy and local capacity, the storage will also be available to bid for grid services.

“Ormat, the owner, can bid it in for services such as energy arbitrage outside of the contracted obligation they have to Edison,” said Lewis.

VESR will set the stage for the four additional utility-scale battery projects that are expected to come online within the GLP by March 2021,” according to the Clean Coalition.

As envisioned by the Clean Coalition, the community microgrid will serve critical community facilities, including the Carpinteria High School, which is an official Red Cross emergency sheltering site. More than 15 MW of solar will be sited at the Carpinteria High School.

Additional solar is planned. “Because we have a bunch of behind the meter opportunities we have to unleash, we need to get a feed-in tariff (FIT) into the load pocket to crank up the opportunities there,” said Lewis.

By David Prahl/

Santa Barbara in final stage of vendor selection for microgrid

One way to achieve this goal is for schools — including the Santa Barbara Unified School District (SBUSD) — to participate in Community Choice Aggregation (CCA).

In December, 2019, SBUSD approved a series of solar and storage microgrids, with solar installed at the school site parking lots. The Clean Coalition and Sage Energy conducted feasibility studies for solar microgrids at all 18 sites, and hopes to contract with a developer by late September. The microgrids would produce about 5 MW across 14 SBUSD sites and about 5 MWh of energy storage across six solar microgrid sites. About two-thirds of the solar is at the six solar microgrid sites, said Rosana Francescato, communication director, Clean Coalition.

The contract is not yet signed. “We have just made a final vendor selection through the RFP process, and now that has to go to the SBUSD board for approval, which will happen at their next board meeting in September… We got excellent bids and are very excited about the winning one, which we’ll be able to provide details on after the board approval,” she said.

The Santa Barbara project is a building block for an eventual Goleta Load Pocket Community Microgrid (GLPCM), as is the VESR Project.  Santa Barbara serves as a model that can be followed by Carpinteria schools, including the Carpinteria High School — an official Red Cross emergency sheltering site — which is located very near the VESR project.

The new storage facility and efforts to create solar microgrids at schools, represent “nested layers of resilience” that will pay off big time when the community microgrid is up and running.

“The VESR fits into this, providing local resilience for Carpinteria and contributes to the overall Galeta Load Pocket,” said Lewis.

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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

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